These are thoughts on simplifying various natural farming techniques, specifically Korean Natural Farming. I have read studies on KNF and results range from positive to mixed so I’m not 100% sold on all their claims but I do look forward to more published studies because if the promises are true, this could save farmers a lot of money on inputs.
I have no idea how any of these compare to the original formulas—these were thoughts bouncing around in my head and I wanted to hear what others thought.
Also, I have been experimenting with this myself in my home garden. Nothing has died yet but I’ve also been using wood chips, cover crops and compost so my small sample is far from scientific.
Fish amino acids (FAA) This is made by mixing equal weights sugar and discarded fish parts, maybe a bit of lactic acid bacteria serum and IMO-2, and fermenting for months. The sugar pulls moisture from the fish and the fermentation process breaks proteins into amino acids. It’s claimed that the result is high in nitrogen but my understanding is there are cheaper forms of nitrogen and I would bet the big benefit comes from sea minerals, if salt water fish is used, and proteins and lipids which presumably break down into amino acids, which I guess fungi love. In some workshops people actually taste the 9-12 month old solution.
So this got me thinking: doesn’t this sound like Asian fish sauce, or old Roman garum? Other than the addition of salt instead of sugar, the process is the same: fish, salt/sugar, and time. It’s also the same as fermented soy sauce or other high-protein vegetables and the end result are also amino acids. So if you’re not one with easy access to fish scraps, or don’t want to wait months for a result, I would guess you could use fermented fish sauce instead. Or you could make your own bean ferment, mixing a whole bunch of different cooked beans and grains to get a variety of amino acids.
I understand there are some soy and fish sauces that may not be first pressings which, I believe, are done cold while the subsequent liquids may be processed with high heat and/or acids and then mixed with hydrolyzed* vegetable protein. If that matters, and I’m not sure it does but I’ve seen no studies, then grab the cheapest, bottom shelf fish sauce or tamari (made by fermenting soy beans and not chemical hydrolysis) and use that as a substitute for FAA.
Cost wise: I bet they would be comparable. FAA is used diluted and the largest hard cost of making it traditionally is sugar.
Would the salt content in fish sauce be an issue? I don’t think so because first, the original FAA is diluted heavily. And if saltwater fish is used, well, they’re already salty. Additionally Bryant Redhawk has noted that it takes a whole load of salt to harm the soil and some cultures actually use salt water floods to prep for planting in order to get non-terrestrial minerals into the ground. Plus, KNF uses diluted sea water in their formulations anyway. I’m biased because I’m in Oregon and the rain would wash a lot of the salt down in time.
Indigenous micro-organisms (IMO) Per Su Ba’s comment, she learned at a KNF workshop that one can substitute dark, moist, non-sunburnt leafmold into compost piles instead of collecting them in a rice box and cultivating them with sugar. I like this very much since it would save about 5-7 days and one can skip right to the IMO mixing portion. Me, I’m even more lazy than that and just mix leaf mold and duff into my compost, but that is not The True KNF Way so whatever, I’ll be sent to KNF Jail.
But this also got me thinking: I make rice wine and have a lot of leftover rice solids, rice lees, which are full of fungi (aspergillus oryzae or some sort of rhizopus, depending on the supplier) that convert starches to sugars and yeasts that convert sugar to alcohol. Typically, the lees are used to make a slightly alcoholic soup, can be used to preserve fish and vegetables (sake kasu) or as a flavoring or condiment. And these fungi are related to, if not the same, as used in soy sauce fermentation and natto, a strong-tasting Japanese fermented soy bean dish. Since the indigenous fungi collected in the original KNF recipe likes to eat rice, why not use leftover rice lees as a substitute and mix it into your IMO pile and continue the technique from there? I realize this fungi may not be indigenous but they are relatively harmless and I would imagine the subsequent cycle of microorganisms that dominate after they’re gone are indigenous.
Oriental Herbal Nutrients (OHN) I have no idea if OHN works at all. I’ve seen no studies but farmers, commercial and otherwise, are enthusiastic about it so I’ll give them a benefit of a doubt. I know that cinnamon is believed to be a rooting agent by some and garlic has potent anti-microbial effects but the other stuff I just don’t know. I’d like to see more studies (most of the English ones I’ve found were out of the University of Hawai’i) but despite my skepticism, I made my own batch.
Boy, that liquor can be expensive, even the cheap stuff. I know the original formula was made for Korean farmers with access to their own rice wine, makgeoli, and had I started making rice wine before I made OHN I would have substituted it for the vodka, but if I were a low income farmer who had no idea how to make any type of beer or liquor, I might be prohibited from alcohol extracting those 5 ingredients.
Recently I remembered another thread by Bryant Redhawk. It was a book by a lady (I’m sorry, her name escapes me but I read her book) who came up with her own spin on faster biodynamic preparations. Her main idea was to grind up dried flowers and herbs, mix them in water and incorporate it into compost. Now in OHN, all but the garlic and ginger is usually dry and the first step is to rehydrate them. Why don’t we copy her homework: grind up dried angelica and licorice in the spice grinder and use a few shakes of their powder into these preparations? Cinnamon is available in the West already ground, as are garlic and ginger, so that saves time. Other than the fermentation step that the garlic and ginger undergo, and I don’t know how valuable that is since everything will be broken down by bacteria and fungi in the soil anyway, I don’t see how it’s all that different. Is it like making a fish amino acid preparation vs. burying a whole fish like Native Americans used to? Maybe. I’m not one to say but I think that would be a good experiment.
How have I been using these? I first started making compost tea with vermicompost from my bins, and traditional KNF additives like OHN, lactic acid bacteria serum, IMO-2, brown rice vinegar and a plant extract.
Ever one toward making my life easier and cheaper, I’ve changed to using vermicompost, ground powders of OHN ingredients, lactic acid bacteria serum, rice lees leftovers from rice wine, a few teaspons of fish sauce and old kombucha that started to sour. I have no microscope so I couldn’t say which had more organisms than the other but they both smell like cinnamon and garlic and my plants and lawn have not suffered. I’m a simple man so I’m going to assume that’s good.
Again, these are just random thoughts. I’m a tinkerer by nature, I don’t have anything to sell and have no horse in this race. My passion is for growing things and experimenting keeps me curious. I spend my nights reading science papers and the last few nights I’ve been fascinated with hydrolysates and their many uses. I’m sure I’ve made false assumptions above and look forward to having them corrected.
Thanks for reading this far.
*Chemical hydrolysis involves mixing a protein under high heat with an acid and, after some time when the proteins are broken down into amino acids, it’s neutralized with something else (baking soda, maybe something else I think?) we’re left with sodium. Some soy sauces are made this way because they can turn soybeans into sauce in days versus months with traditional fermentation, but the drawback is a harsher flavor due to a more complete break down of proteins into amino acids. Is one a better garden amendment than the other? Got me.
Edit: The book--upon research, more like a booklet--I mention above is called Common Sense Compost Making: The Quick Return Method by Maye E. Bruce and I heard about it from a post by Rory Turnbull.
good post Tio, if I may I'd like to put a reminder here about the KFN methods.
It is always helpful to keep in mind not only where a particular technique was developed but also who did the developing and why they did the work to develop their method in the first place.
KFN is related to the original farmer following the teaching of farming by traditional, organic, Korean farmers and the work of Fukuoka san, which came first might be a question for some.
If we look at the time line it would start with the traditional farming methods then came along Fukuoka San with his "easier" methods for planting and growing in traditional fields but with out working the soil as is done in traditional methods.
Then along came the creator of KFN, who was trying to develop methods to improve soil fertility and a more complete microbiome diversity.
Thing is, almost all of these methods sprung forth from the originators studying Steiner's writing on soil improvement and his development of his preparations.
This makes them all related in a very elongated way, the KFN focused on "easier ways to come up with the microorganisms that Steiner's preparations propagate.
When any of these methods are used in the manner described by the developer of the method, they all work quite well.
When we try to cobble together bits from this method with other bits from other methods, we might not see the results we expect, but rather open up the opportunity for one method's pieces to negate another methods pieces.
I'm not saying that it will happen for certain, however, it does mean that when we attempt such changes to any of these microorganism gathering and growing methods, we need to become record keepers, our note booksshould fill up with every nuance of every trial we perform so we can learn what does work and what didn't work the way it was expected to work.
I derived my Steiner short cuts over a period of four years, first I read Steiner's works and then I broke down what he was trying to do with each of his preparation methods.
Next I trialed each, following his instructions to the letter, next came microscope work to determine which microorganisms increased in numbers and which ones didn't.
The next step was to simplify by substitution of container type and on and on until I found that I could get the microorganisms desired in less time, with more easily located and acquired container materials.
Once I had all the preparations developed with these substitutions, I trialed them all three times and compared the results of each duplication trial, when the data showed I had succeeded, all that was left was to transfer each shortcut method into a single paper so anyone could use them should they desire to do so.
Indeed, if I had the space I certainly would be doing a lot of testing. I do not which is why I wanted to get my thoughts out there so that others who do have the space and curiosity might.
And if I had the space another test I'd run is against compost from a Johnson-Su bioreactor and cover crops. I love that thing.
I didn't know KNF came roundabout from Steiner's methods, but that makes sense. He was a... uh problematic is generous.. person and I disagree with much of his methods but I really enjoyed your series on his biodynamic preparations.
hau Tio, I tend to do trials in a 2' x 4' garden space, it makes it small enough to manage several at one time and it isn't so large that I can't really count the results of the trial.
For trialing any method or part of a method all you really need is a 2 foot square of garden space, once you see the trial is giving you the results you want then you can scale up the planting area if desired.
Most of the folks here are not looking to do research for publication or even for a degree, they are looking to learn the best methods for their land, so they really don't need to do a massive trial.
Even those of us that do research for publication and degrees don't need to start the process on a large scale, we typically start very small then as results come in we start scaling up the project size.
hau Tio, yes trial plots are usually small for a trial start, then, once we have worked out any kinks we then start designing the super test, a trial that will represent what ever part of agronomy we are trying to improve.
My field trials of bacteria and fungi (for my PhD) were not large at all, I used the 2 x 4 plot size because it was easier to manage and it didn't require lots of instruments to sit outside just the probes were under the sky.
That is why it is good to be able to use small plots for trails, imagine having to have 30 electric field meters, pH meters, along with prepping 120 slides every day, not really feasible except in the academic world where you can have students performing some of the basic work if not most of it.
Small is good also because it keeps everything not only manageable but it means less loss of time and money should something go terribly wrong.