Natural Farming with Indigenous Microorganisms is a method of farming using naturally occurring soil microorganisms which are deliberately collected and cultured. It has been practiced throughout Asia and Korea for centuries. It enhances soil fertility and plant nutrient uptake through the introduction and proliferation of these beneficial soil microbes or mycorrhizae. The originator and founder of Natural Farming, Mr. Han Kyu Cho or Master Cho, has visited Hawaii several times and this practice is taking root, getting attention and support from the county and state as well as from many small scale and commercial farmers.
While the most important aspect of Natural Farming is making IMO #4: a soil additive made from indigenous microbes cultured in rice bran or a wheat bran base, Mr. Cho’s system also includes the use of homemade calcium, phosphate, and nitrogen-rich inputs and sprays as well as other preparations. Many of the inputs use vinegar to enhance the availability of nutrients and to ferment and preserve the preparations. Consider the oriental history of the use of fermented, cultured products such as kim-chee, miso, tempeh and pickled daikon radish. Mr. Cho emphasized that the inputs must be made with care, exactly, preferably in the morning and with the “best heart, best mind” to get the optimum results.
The most widely used input is Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ), which is made from freshly picked leaves. Leaves of plants are full of microbes and lactic acid as well as other nutrients, which are drawn out through the osmatic action of brown sugar. FPJ will keep indefinitely once made, if stored in a dark, cool place. FPJ is commonly made from fast-growing, vigorous plants such as mugwort or dropwort, which is high in iron and manganese. Sweet potato, comfrey, banana flower, purslane, leaves of false acacia, and bamboo shoots can be used, one plant at a time. Lettuce (thinnings) and the lateral branches which are pruned off of tomato and cucumber can also be used. These should be picked before dawn, while the morning dew is still on the leaf. Plants grow during the night – so pre-dawn is when the most growth hormones are concentrated in the growing tips – only these growing tips should be collected and used. The size and length of the tip will vary according to each plant’s size and rate of growth – but generally, it’s 3″ to 6″ in length. Cucumber and tomato shoots or thinnings can be used to make a FPJ which will specifically benefit the cucumber or tomato plants. Use one species of plant at a time – don’t mix plants.
After picking your plant material, shake off the dirt, don’t wash with water. Weigh the total amount, then weigh an equal amount, or up to 2/3 more, the amount of brown sugar. Use the best grade brown sugar you can find.
Now chop this material finely and layer and pack into a crock with the sugar, topping it off with a layer of sugar. Pack the crock to the brim and place a weight on top, to force the air out. We’ve used a heavy trash bag filled with water, which covers the surface evenly as a weight (don’t let this makeshift water balloon leak or spill!). A stone with a wooden cover works also. After a day, this weight can be removed. The volume inside the crock should have shrunk down. Now cover with a breathable, natural fabric and secure with a rubber band. Place in a dark spot. After a few days, to a week, at 65-70 degrees, a brown, syrupy liquid will accumulate. Pour off the liquid FPJ and store in a glass container or crock in a refrigerator or cool, dark place. If storing at room temperature, pour a small amount of vodka on top to preserve it.
FPJ can be used as a spray at almost any stage of a plant’s growth cycle. It helps in nutrient absorption, adding vitality and color to plants and fruits. It should be diluted with water, 1:500 and is commonly used in conjunction with other inputs. Don’t use in greenhouses if fungal problems exist. FPJ can be added when making IMO #3 and #4 and in many other preparations.
Oriental Herbal Medicine (OHN) is used widely as a highly effective nutrient enhancer which also helps to balance environmental stresses. It is the most costly input to make, using five herbs and liquor. The herbs can be bulk-ordered to reduce the cost. It is also the most time-consuming to make, in that it needs to be stirred daily. The herbs can be re-used 4-5 times. It uses cinnamon bark, angelica* and licorice, which are weighed and put into separate glass jars which are then filled 2/3 full with rice wine, vodka or a good quality beer, which is equal in weight to the herb and should cover the herbs. (*Angelica is used double the amount of the other ingredients 2:1:1:1:1.) Cover and let the jars sit 1-2 days, and then add brown sugar equivalent to the weight of the herbs and wine or vodka. Fresh ginger and garlic are also used: smashed, and put into separate jars with rice wine, filling each jar 2/3 full. Add brown sugar equal in weight to the wine and ginger or garlic. The soaking in wine step is not necessary with the ginger and garlic. Cover the jars with paper and secure with a rubber band. After 4-5 days pour off 2/3 of the liquor from all five jars, leaving 1/3 full, and store separately. Refill the jars with rice wine and stir clockwise with a wooden spoon every morning. The OHN can be poured off when the herbs are finished. The five ingredients can then be mixed together and stored in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark place.
OHN is diluted 1:1000 and used when making IMO #4, as part of a seed soak solution and soil treatment solution. It can be mixed with FPJ and BRV and sprayed every 10-12 days to make plants stronger.
Another important input, used with fruiting plants and trees is Water-Soluble Calcium Phosphate (WCP). This is made from charred cattle or pig bones soaked in brown rice vinegar (BRV). A charcoal grill, long handled tongs, charcoal and clean, boiled bones are needed. Get the charcoal hot, then place the bones directly touching them, turning a few times so they blacken evenly. This will take about 45 minutes on low heat. When they are done – they will be gray evenly on every surface. Black is underdone, white is overdone.
Let them cool a bit, and weigh them. The proportion of bones to BRV should be 1:10. Place the charred bones into a wide-mouthed, glass container which is almost filled with BRV. The bones will give off bubbles, sizzling like ginger ale. This is the phosphoric acid being released. Leave 1/3 empty space on top for air. Store in the dark at 72 degrees. The liquid should stay fairly clear. Strain after a week and store in a glass container.
To use, dilute with water 1:1000. Spray on leaves during flowering stages or growth periods. Use also when buds have weak differentiation or growth is poor.
Water Soluble Calcium (WCA) is made from oyster, crab or shrimp shells in a similar way. A grill is used to slowly char the shells, turning them occasionally among the coals over low heat. A pungent smell will be released, which will be gone when done. After 45 minutes they should be evenly gray. Let cool, then break apart with your fingers and drop into BRV, The proportions are by weight, 1 part shell to 10 parts vinegar. They will bubble as they hit the vinegar. After one week, strain and store in a cool, dark place.
WCA will improve root growth, fruit ripening and low sugar content, and nutrient uptake. Dilute with 1:1000 with water and spray on leaves. It can be used with FPJ and oriental herbal nutrient (OHN) to increase it’s effectiveness
Another recipe for water soluble calcium is made from eggshells. Collect several dozen eggshells, wash and take the inside membrane out. Crush them into 1/4″ pieces and brown in a frying pan over low heat. When evenly golden brown, place into BRV in a jar. The proportion of eggshells to BRV is 1:10. The eggshells will emit bubbles when they are immersed in the vinegar. After a week, the vinegar should still be fairly clear and eggshells the same color. Pour off the liquid and store in a glass container.
Bio-char is another important ingredient. It can be mixed with IMO #3, 4 and 5 and provides a place for the IMO’s to live. It lowers soil acidity, improves soil quality and acts like a long-term fertilizer, helping soil retain nutrients. It also reduces the need for irrigation while reducing the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. Biochar can be made at home. On a calm, not windy, damp day, clear the area of your burn of any loose, burnable matter, such as twigs and leaves. Dig a trench and loosen the soil. Save this soil on the side. This can be done directly in your garden. Keep the area small enough to monitor easily. Add dry brush and ignitable materials and light the pile, avoiding the use of gasoline to ignite your fire. Let the fire burn fast and hot. When the smoke turns grayish, cover the pile with dirt to cut off the oxygen. Let it smolder until the larger pieces are the size of charcoal. Now douse with water and monitor until the fire is completely out. Small coals can re-ignite. Any unburned larger pieces can be pulled out the next day. Be sure to use biochar with at least equal parts compost or it may stall plant growth.
Fish amino acids (FAA) is another valuable input. Imagine making your own fish emulsion! Ours smells like expensive fish sauce! If you have a source of fresh fish waste – it can be put to use with this recipe, which is easy to make. Simply take fish parts (the head, bones and organs) and cut up is necessary and layer with an equal amount of brown sugar in a clay pot or cooler – a spigot on the cooler is handy for straining later. Two of three handfuls of IMO #3 or 4 can be added to help in the process. Stones can be laid on the bottom to help with straining.
The fish will liquidize in a few days. In about six months the FAA will be done. The liquid can be poured off and stored. It should be diluted with water 1:1000. It is high in nitrogen and amino acids and can be used on soil and leaves to boost vegetative growth.
Put the leftover bones in BRV. They will decompose and make calcium phosphate.
Pepper-soap spray for aphids and mites can be made from bar-type laundry soap. Take a 7 oz bar of laundry soap and cut into slivers. Boil in 5 gallons of water until dissolved. Let the mixture cool and mix into 50 gallons of water. This soap mixture can be stored.
Now take .7 quarts of the soap mixture and mix into 5 gallons of water. To make the soap spray with a little more kick, add 1/4 tsp. BRV, 1/8 tsp. OHN, 1/8 tsp. WCA and peppers. Take 10-12 peppers and chop fine, and boil in 1 quart water until the water is reduced by half. Strain and mix into the solution. Use this mixture immediately, as it will not store.
Don’t make these recipes after drinking the night before or while smoking. They should be made, as Mr. Cho stated, with “devotion and loving kind effort” for their maximum benefit. To farm in harmony with nature – that is Natural Farming’s ultimate purpose.
For more information on the Hawaii natural farming club, go to www.naturalfarminghawaii.net.
For another look, including photos, of making IMO #4, go to www.ctahar.org. and search for natural farming.