Terms & Definitions

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Terms of Relevance

 and their explanations!

Tell me…. I’ll Forget….

Show me… I’ll Remember…

Involve me…. I’ll Understand…

I Really Know when I can Help Others to Learn Too!

Thomas Jefferson


Terms of Relevance


When starting down the path in understanding how to grow food naturally yourself there are terms of the industry that must be understood. This is to help you become aware of what industry you are truly supporting, conventional (chemical) or natural (organic).

Here is a list of explanations to help with just that!


Agro: agriculture – raising of food for consumption

Forestry: raising a variety trees

Agro-Forestry: raising trees and other plants together to be utilized as food for consumption as well as other textile and lumber.

This term refers to the ancient practice of combining a variety of useful trees together to form a dense forest. It is further defined as raising two or more trees for a product including food in a ecologically responsible manner (long term) and not for immediate cash crop. 

Annual Plant:

For the purpose of this class an annual is a plant that lives its entire lifespan in less than one year and will not grow back without reseeding. These include many common vegetables like lettuce, broccoli, tomato, cilantro, beets, radishes and carrots. 


Microscopic lifeforms that encompass our entire earth. Over 300,000 bacteria can fit into a pen point! They are the earliest life forms here on earth. Bacteria reproduce through cell division meaning that one bacteria turns into two, then those two spit to become four. Those four further split in half to become eight and so on. They are the largest portion of life residing in healthy soil, a teaspoon of soil can contain a billion. 


Please See: Pest 


Abbreviated: C. Carbon is a very common molecule around our planet. It is most commonly known and associated with the brown, dead and dry materials around our planet including but not limited to, dry leaves, hay, wood, bark, wood chips, and cardboard. 

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Chemical Fertilizer:

Google defined: “any inorganic material of wholly or partially synthetic origin that is added to the soil to sustain plant growth.” 

Chemical Pesticides:

A chemical most commonly combined to a salt in which is used to aid people against pests that affect crops including those of insect, bacterial, fungi and virus origin. 


A chemical pesticide aimed at killing fungus including molds.


A pesticide aimed at killing weeds.


A chemical pesticide aimed at killing insects.


A chemical pesticide aimed at killing rodents including rats, rabbits and moles. 


          Compost is the end result of composting (see Composting). Compost is full of humus.


The action of soil microbes breaking down organic matter. Humus is produced through composting. 

Compost Pile:

Raising microbes in a stationary pile of specifically layered organic matter. Composting requires proper ratio of C:N (Carbon : Nitrogen), the continual additions of oxygen (most commonly by turning the pile) and the need to be carried away and dispersed when finished allowing for leaching of nutrients. This method requires an abundance of energy, time and labor. Composting in a pile produces compost that is full of humus. 


Dirt is a material on the planet that does not contain all the necessary components to be considered soil.  (See Soil)


For the purpose of this class a plant disease is a sign of imbalance in your ecosystem and a sign of poor soil health.


The study of interactions among ALL organism and their environment. Humans are just one of those organism and everything we do affects everything else around us. It combines the study of biology and Earth science.

This is important in natural agriculture in that through the study of ecology it is being shown that synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides are harming our environment on a larger scale than that initially thought 100 years ago when applications began. 


A community of living organisms accomplishing different functions interacting as a system. These include the soil microbes, insects and earthworms in addition to the non-living components of the environment including air, water and minerals.         


The definition of a farm also varies by context. A farm is a place where food in the form of plants and livestock are grown for consumption.


A term used to describe plant nutrients. There are two main types of fertilizers synthetic and natural (organic). Commercial Synthetic Fertilizer are quick release, water soluble, synthetically derived major nutrients attached to a salt used to grow plants in sterile soil. Natural (organic) fertilizer are most commonly comprised of some sort of animal manure like cow, horse, fish, chicken and earthworm. 


Microscopic lifeforms that encompass our earth. There are over 100,000 different species and it is estimated that there are over a million that have yet to be discovered and named. The largest organism on the planet is a fungi in Oregon covering over 2,500 acres. A mushroom is the fruit of a fungi and a method of spreading spores and reproducing. As spores are dispersed they produce a hyphae which is similar to a root on a plant. Hyphae of the same species will connect together forming mycelium, the white fuzzy covering on fallen leaves in a forest. This mycelium is what connects the fungi together. 


For the purpose of this class, Glucose represents a simple sugar that is produced through the photosynthesis process. 


A term within permaculture used to define a series of plants working together to fulfill all of nature’s requirements of variety and ground cover with preselected plants that work together as one to supply all their own nutrients, pest control and weed control. 


Humus is the dark, rich, crumbly soil like material on the surface of the earth that is        required for natural ecosystems to exist. It is the end result of composting (decomposing organic matter) which is full of nutrients and soil microbes. These soil microbes have attached themselves to nutrients through mineralization and are released to plants in exchange for a sugar. Humus can hold 4-6 times its weight in water making it one of the best substances in nature to absorb and hold water for future use to prevent problems associated with drought. The expanding with and shrinking without water allows for natural aeration of the soil. Humus is a negatively charge complex particle which attracts positively charged nutrients like nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Charles Darwin describes the continual reactions, both chemical and mechanical that are happening in the humus as “constantly changing yet constantly the same”. 

IMO; Indigenous Micro-Organism

The microbes’ native to your location. These microbes specialize in the decomposition of organic matter and symbiotic relationships with specific plants and growing media within your natural landscapes. Microbes are extremely small and are only able to consume specific materials. Hence why there are literally billions of types of bacteria. IMO’s is a newly coined term used mainly by those who follow Korean Natural Farming methods of raising microbes and growing plants, but is becoming increasingly popular with newly started natural gardeners. There are a lot of products beginning to be sold with IMO’s. Remember, Indigenous means, from your area. You should not buy IMO’s unless they are from your neighbor, for you are purchasing someone else’s “IMO’s” and who knows what they specialize in.

Industrial Agriculture:

Also known as intensive farming is a method of agriculture that relies on high inputs and machinery to increase yields to maximum capacity while decreasing fallow (an areas allowed to sit crop free) time. The majority of American farmland is now dominated by this style of agriculture. It is now being proven that industrial agriculture uses the most oil and has the highest pollution rates than any other industry. 

Korean Natural Farming:

A method of natural farming coined by Master Cho from Korea which puts emphasis on utilizing IMO’s to increase soil fertility and decreasing the need for synthetic fertilizer or chemical pesticides. 

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Tiny, microscopic lifeforms that include an array of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, amebas and nematodes that live in soil which help in breaking apart and decomposing organic matter back into the nutrients and minerals in the form that plants need for utilization. Microbes differ from location to location, season to season and crop to crop. Due to their size, microbes are extremely sensitive to ultraviolet rays when exposed to sunlight, as well as lack of oxygen when compacted by machinery and to other toxic substances including synthetic salts. 


The action of soil microbes converting organic matter into the basic elements, minerals and nutrients needed for plant growth and life. 


Raising microbes in place in which continual additions of organic matter is added to keep a 2-6 inch layer on the surface of the soil. Also known as composting in place, sheet mulching and cover cropping. This method reduces labor requirements (no turning, no hauling and no leaching), increases efficiency by doubling as a weed preventative, and builds soil without the need for tilling. .


Used to indicate the proportion of [Nitrogen : Phosphorus : Potassium] molecules within  commercially produced fertilizers including both organic and chemical based. Organic   derived fertilizers are usually in the form of organic manures in which their NPK number will be much lower and released slower attaching themselves to microbes as their mode of dispersement: Example: 4 – 2- 3.  Chemical based, non organic, synthetically derived fertilizers will have a much higher NPK number like 16 – 16 – 16. These are attached to salts which kills the soil microbes and are water soluble in which causes leaching of excess to surrounding areas. 

Natural Farming:

Natural farming also referred to as permaculture (See Permaculture), sustainable agriculture or agroforestry is a farming style which utilize natures cycles and abilities to grow an array of plants and animals in the best possible manner for the earth. Natural farmers do not utilize tractors or tillers. Soils are never exposed and farms are comprised of variety rather than a single crop / livestock.


Abbreviated: N. An element on the periodic table. Nitrogen is a common molecule found all over our planet. It comprises about 80% of the air we breathe. It is needed to make proteins and cell membranes in our bodies. It is the green in all plants and is highly mobile. It is thought to be needed in abundance in the soil for optimal plant growth. 


Organic has several meanings depending upon context.

Please See: Organic Agriculture, Organic Matter

Organic Agriculture:

Food and other agriculture products grown according to the USDA Organic Certification Process. These methods are intended to reduce use of chemical aids and synthetic fertilizers (although they have a list of “approved” chemicals that may still be utilized on the farm, to the land and upon your food. 

Organic Matter:

The material that is from nature and has the ability to be broken down by natural microbial life to a state of humus. Organic matter includes but is not limited to, tree trunks, twigs, sticks, fallen leaves, cut grass, fruit and fruit peels, manures, dead carcasses, blood, dried algae, feathers etc. This material can also extend to include man made materials that are made from organic material including cardboard, paper, egg cartons, newspaper, chopsticks, paper towels, paper plates, tissue paper and down pillows.

USDA Organic:

United States Department of Agriculture Organic Certification is a federally owned term that must be applied for and granted according to farming practices. Generally speaking USDA Organic Farms do not utilize synthetic fertilizers or chemical pesticides to grow our their produce or livestock but rather instead utilize organic techniques including composting, green manures, crop rotation, grass fed, no cage, free range techniques.  It must be understood that there is a list of “approved” chemicals that may be utilized on organic farms. Also not all organic farmers practice natural farming techniques and instead till the land, utilize tractors and harm the land only to utilize organic manures for crops. 


“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labor; of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.” Bill Mollison (founder of permaculture word, permaculture.net website)

This definition of permaculture expresses a basic concept in permaculture – examining and following nature’s patterns. Permaculture advocates designing human systems based on natural ecosystems. But, there are many other definitions of permaculture, just as there are many definitions of sustainable living.

The term permaculture is a contraction of the words “permanent,” “agriculture,” and “culture.” Although the original focus of permaculture was sustainable food production, the philosophy of permaculture has expanded over time to encompass economic and social systems.  It is a dynamic movement that is still evolving.  For example, some practitioners are integrating spirituality and personal growth work into the framework of permaculture.


Pest is also often used to reference an unwanted plant, insect or other animal by those who are utilizing conventional agriculture methods and lack the full understanding of natural agriculture. In natural agriculture this would be interpreted as a sign of imbalance and the insect or animal present is there to help in creating balance and restore harmony upon nature and the natural environment. Controlling Pest:

Conventional Agriculture

Please See: Pesticide

Natural Agriculture

See Composting, Humus, Natural Agriculture, Permaculture.


Please see Chemical Pesticide


Abbreviated: P. An element on the periodic table. Phosphorus is thought to be the second most utilized nutrient in growing crops on farmland.  It is found naturally in a rock form. It is commonly associated with the healthy root systems in plant growth.


Abbreviated: K. Potassium is another element that is thought to be needed in abundance for plant growth. It is commonly associated with the flowering process in plant growth. 


Latin: Essential Qualities

Ancient Times: Birth

Today: wilderness, untouched by humans, the realms in which a plant / animal live without human inputs.


For this class’ purpose, nature refers to what is without human input. Furthermore, depending on who you are talking to or what you are referring to, the terms definition can change making “Natural” a very easy word to manipulate when selling products to the public. There is no agency that regulates “natural” like there is for “organic”.. For example; a natural bed could be a bed made out of natural wood in your house or an actual nice shady spot under a tree that can be used as an actual bed. Understanding who you are talking to and in what concept is key to using this word and understanding how the word is meant to be used. This becomes important if choosing products for your garden. 

Natural Farming:

This method relies on the microbial life that resides within living soil to provide all necessary nutrients and pest control. This method sometimes includes organic agriculture depending upon individual farms processes.


Microscopic, non-segmented round worm that encompasses our earth. In a teaspoon of soil there can be as many as 50! There are many types of nematodes and they differ by what they consume, bacteria, fungi, plant, etc. 


Natural occurring molecules (combination of natural occurring elements) needed for plants to live, grow, produce seeds and survive diseases and pests.

Organic Matter:

Abbreviated: OM. Organic Matter is known as the pieces of nature that is full of nitrogen and carbon that can be broken down by the living microbes in the surface of the soil. Examples of organic matter include fresh cut grass, fallen leaves, rotting animals, dried grass clippings, fallen flowers, seaweed, manures, bark, kitchen waste, etc 

Perennial Plant:

For the purpose of this class a perennial is a plant that lives longer than three years. These can include trees, shrubs, bushes, grasses and vegetables. 


A system of agriculture based on working with, rather than against nature. Based on concepts and integrated systems combining functions both in terms of plant and animals needs as well as human desirers and living standards. Coined by Bill Mollison and David Holggren, it combines all aspects of agriculture into one complex, yet easily understood system based on nature and the natural surroundings.


The process of converting light energy to chemical energy and storing it in the bonds of glucose (sugar). The process occurs in plants and some algae. Plants need only sunlight energy, carbon dioxide and water to make the sugar. 

Root Zone:

The area directly under the plant where roots would normal grow out. Depending upon location, soil health, soil depth and plant species the root zone can be deep and narrow or wide and shallow.


Dictionary: “Unconsolidated (fragmented) mineral and organic material on the immediate surface of the earth that serves as the natural media for most plant growth.”

Basic: Top six to eight inches of the earth’s surface that can grow plant life made up of small pieces of rocks, oxygen, water and dying organic matter.

To A Natural Farmer: Soil is a living component of their life and its health is just as important as their own.

So then, what is dirt? Dirt is what gets on our clothes or under our fingernails. It is soil that is out of place in our world – whether tracked inside by shoes or on our clothes. Dirt is soil that has lost the characteristics that give it the ability to support life all on its own– it can no longer grow plants without additions. Humans can make dirt through poor agriculture practices including use of tractors and tillers in the tropics. Humans can also make soil through natural agriculture practices and allowing time for the land to heal. 


The ability to continue a defined behavior indefinitely. Sustainable agriculture is currently a goal set forth to reduce our current spending and using habits. We have to change our consumer behaviors in order to reach true sustainability. This can be accomplished through utilizing natural agriculture methods of growing food, living and raising livestock. 



Natural environment on earth that has not been significantly modified by civilized human activity. Also defined as “the most intact, undisturbed wild natural areas left on the our planet- those last truly wild places that humans do not control and have not developed with roads, pipelines or other industrial infrastructure.” (“What is Wilderness Area” http://www.wild.org/main/about/what-is-a-wilderness-area/, The Wild Foundation)

This is not a complete list, but a running list of terms to help you out in understanding agriculture. They are as accurate as possible- BUT if you see a mistake, please CONTACT US and let us know! Thanks in advance.

If you find yourself enjoying the information, please support us by purchasing one of our many farm products or services! Thank you for your support!

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