The carboys with the Cabernet and the Malbec you see in this post moved from basement to dining room table to bedroom dresser, and finally, last weekend, to the kitchen counter, where we emptied them into bottles. The dresser is ready for the seed potatoes.

 

 

All my ducks in a row: FPJ, LAB, rice water, kombucha.

I use LAB primarily in the  chickens’ water, their bedding, the compost pile and my garden’s soil. It’s versatile. The large jar I made last year is almost finished, so  it is time to make some more, and to introduce it. LAB is one of the easiest Korean Natural Farming (KNF) inputs to make, so maybe that’s why I forgot to write it up. But it’s a fascinating input.

This is how I make LAB

  1. I pour the water (non-chlorinated!) in which I have washed rice into a jar, with a cloth on top so it can attract the lactic acid bacteria (LAB) from the air, and so that it can vent. This rice water is nutrient poor, so only the strongest bacteria will colonize it and thrive.
  2. After a week or so (it depends on temperature), the lactic acid bacteria start to propagate and start to give off a sour smell (this is the lactic acid, which has a PH of 2). At that point you add 1 part of the sour water to 10 parts whole milk (organic is best, as antibiotics in the milk will kill the bacteria). Milk is nutrient-rich, so  the bacteria will have a feast!
  3. In about five days there is a separation between the curds (which float on top) and the whey, a yellow liquid (remains at the bottom). The liquid is the lactic acid with the LAB in it. Once the separation is complete, carefully scoop out the curds – make them into cheese, or feed them to the chickens (they too love it). Keep the LAB liquid in the fridge, where they will keep for months.

How does it work?

  1. Yeasts (which are fungi, not bacteria) consume sugars (carbohydrates) and produce alcohol. Hence beer, wine, mead… Bacteria also consume sugars and starches (carbohydrates), but they produce acids. Some of these bacteria also consume alcohol. My favorite, acetobacter, thrives in the air and if it gets its hands on your brew, it will convert it into acetic acid… vinegar! That’s why you want an airlock on your carboy, to let the carbon dioxide bubbles that the yeasts produce escape, but to keep acetobacter out. (*) Acetic acid preserves food by lowering the pH (raising the acid level) and making an environment that is unfriendly to harmful bacteria.
  2. But  with the rice starch we washed off into the water we are catching a different set of bacteria. Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) too are readily available in the air (should that surprise anyone?). As they digest carbohydrates (sugars, starches, etc.), they produce lactic acid. This process is called lacto-fermentation, which is usually anaerobic (not open to the air).  This lactic acid is what produces the sour flavor in yogurt, raw lacto-fermented pickles, sauerkraut, etc.
  3. As the LAB go to town on the sugars in the milk, the rising acidity causes the milk proteins (casein) to tangle into solid masses, the curds. The remaining liquid, the whey, contains only whey proteins. In cow’s milk, 80% of the proteins are caseins, 20% are whey. Human milk, by the way, is 60% whey and 40% casein. The LAB themselves are present mostly in the whey.
  4. In the fridge, the LAB go to sleep (it’s too cold for them, plus you’re not feeding them anymore). When you take them out and add them to drink water or spray them on manure or soil, they wake up again, start feeding, and multiply.
  5. You can pair up LAB with other organisms in AEM (Activated Essential Micro Organisms). More on that here and here.

What is it good for?

  • For animals, LAB are nutritious. They make B Vitamins, Vitamin K2 and enzymes in fermented foods – all good things. LAB are also probiotic.. When you eat them (alive, as you should eat them), you are adding beneficial life forms to your digestive tract. Also, the lactic acid lowers the PH in the gut, and the other the beneficial life forms there like it acidic. Thus the thriving beneficials will crowd out the non-beneficials.
  • For plants, it’s the same. But where is the plant’s gut? It’s its rhizosphere, the soil all around its roots, and its phyllosphere, its leaf and stem  surface. So just as we introduce probiotic organisms into our gut with yogurt, we should introduce probiotics into the plant’s guts by adding it to the soil and spraying it onto its leaves.

What do these LAB do for animals and plants?

  1. Being probiotic to beneficials, lactic acid is also antibiotic to non-beneficial organisms. Its PH of 2 inhibits salmonella and e. coli. and most Gram-positive organisms including spore-formers such as Clostridia Botulinum and heat-resistant spoilage organisms”  (more on that here).
  2. LAB also keep a check on the alcohol-producing yeasts. Yeasts are anaerobes that make alcohol. We don’t want alcohol in our soil because it kills (most of that antimicrobial hand wash is alcohol, which dries out the protective cell walls of most organisms).
  3. We don’t want an anaerobic soil because the pathogenic organisms are predominantly anaerobic (more about that here). Also, roots need oxygen. LAB are facultative anaerobes. In aerobic conditions they breathe in oxygen, in anaerobic conditions they ferment and start bubbling (just like yeasts bubble inside baking bread), which creates pore spaces, which can then fill up with oxygen. So they ventilate a soil that is about to go anaerobic, and help a soil that already is.
  4. While they do this, they also eliminate bad odors. Usually, if it smells bad, it’s bad. The foul odor in a compost pile is due to anaerobic decomposition, which gives off corrosive ammonia. Better not  breathe that in too deeply. Same in the chicken coop: if it smells like ammonia, the bedding is too loaded with manure, or too wet. You can fluff up the compost pile, or change the bedding, but you could also try spraying some LAB. The LAB feed on ammonia. I use LAB in my coop, and they are also sprayed on pig stalls, smelly sports shoes, etc. So waste becomes food.
  5. As part of the plant’s gut, LAB digest minerals that are not easily dissolved, making them available in a form plants can absorb.
  6. If you use it to lactoferment animal feed (more here), that feed is already pre-digested, making it easier to digest, and it will add the probiotics to the animals’ gut. I would not feed only fermented grains to hens, because the bacteria in the gut need to do the work too. A healthy mix is best. Same for plants. You eat yogurt and you know it’s good for you. Let’s put aside this notion that humans are so different from chickens, and that animals are so different from plants. All should get a healthy dose of probiotics!

How to use

  1. Foliar spray
  2. Soil drench
  3. In animal water
  4. In animal feed (more on fermented chicken feed here)
  5. In animal bedding
  6. Spray on compost pile
  7. Clear clogged drains and keep the septic organisms happy
(*) When brewing kombucha you’re playing with the yeast-bacteria balance. Kombucha is the output of a SCOBY – a Symbiotic Community of Bacteria and Yeasts. The yeasts make alcohol and carbon dioxide, which makes the kombucha bubbly, and the alcohol is immediately consumed by acetobacter, was turns the liquid sour. Too much yeast, and your kombucha turns alcoholic. Too much acetobacter, and it becomes too acidic, killing all the life in it and stopping the ferment.

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Today I also gathered the meristems of the fast-growing weeds I could find for another batch of Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ). I still have half a jar from last year,  and one dilutes a lot when using it (1000:1 or 500:1), but it’s good to look ahead. Also, this is time when the nettles and comfrey are at that super-growth-hormonal stage.

2 jars of FPJ and 1 jar with the first stage of LAB (rice water)
1:1 compressed plant material:brown sugar and trusty stomping stick

I’m in good shape for this growing season with the KNF (Korean Natural Farming) applications.

The FPJ (Fermented Plant Juice; explained here, along with OHN) is a beautifully thick and deep chocolate brown, sweet-smelling syrup. My only worry here is that I don’t have a lot, but I’ll be gathering a lot of the meristems of the fast growing (“hormonal”) weeds soon and making more.

My two jars of OHN Oriental Herbal Nutrient) had molded over. The issue was that I had left the cloth on, hadn’t closed the jars, and of course the alcohol that preserves it evaporated. They both looked like this:

OHN is pretty costly to make in terms of $$ and time, so I was a bit worried, but then I saw the mold formed a thick mat that I could scoop up, and the stuff underneath looked as nice as the FPJ. So that’s what I did, carefully. And looks at what these mats looked like underneath:

Wild, what? Wacky landscapes both on the up and the undersides! I added some alcohol to the juice to squash any more mold growth and closed up.

Then it was time to filter the FAA (Fish Amino Acids), of which I had two batches, assembled on 5/6/2016. They had been sitting in my basement till now (so 10 month), with an air lock on them so they could off-gas (though I never smelled a thing). I had checked on them in June and found mold, but Philip Ang (on the invaluable Korean Natural Farming group on Facebook) writes that “molds are normal in FAA. there are fungi which produce protease enzymes which break down protein. the goal of FAA is to reduce proteins to amino-acids which is absorbable by plants. protein hydrolysis can be done via enzymes or acids. microbes produce enzymes to do this while we use hydrochloric acids in our stomachs to do the same. the same principle is used to produce soy sauce by fermenting with the mold aspergillus oryza.” I love that stuff!

When I opened the buckets today it smelled sweet – mostly of the apples I had added, with only a whiff of sourness. When I pushed the mold on top to the side, I found an oily, syrupy juice. I scooped off the mold and set it aside, then strained the juice from the fish bits that hadn’t yet been dissolved and fermented.

It doesn’t look appetizing, but it smelled great!

When I assembled them, I did something slightly different with each batch: in one I had just put fish, brown sugar (each 29 lbs of fish, 7 lbs of sugar), and apples. In the other, I had added some water, because the slurry wasn’t wet enough, and then some kefir. The latter was not as far dissolved as the first: more, and also more recognizable fish bits, less juice. The first also yielded a greyer emulsion, the latter a more yellow one.

My strainer quickly clogged up and needed frequent rinsing. I collected the mold and the thick slurry in a new bucket, and added more brown sugar for a second round. A quick stir leave the lid open a little, and it’ll go back in my basement for a couple of months.

I did most of this in the back yard. The rinse water I offered to the currants, hazels and the cherry tree.  Don’t I look happy?

This jar is for my ready-to-go KNF potions box. We’re ready for the growing season!

Well, almost… I never did catch my IMO (Indigenous Micro Organisms) last year. I tried several times, must have wasted a pound or two of precious (imported!) rice. Having taken several Elaine Ingham “Life in the Soil” classes, I now know why I always caught the colorful and black stuff, never the white hyphae that indicate the well-established, beneficial fungi. I was trying to catch them on my own property and the neighborhood I live in is pretty recent, and it just doesn’t have the good IMOs. By the time I caught on, the weather shut that down, and we spent the entire winter with a couple of bags of wheat bran in our bedroom (didn’t want to put it in the basement or shed due to mice). This year I plan to capture IMOs in my town, about a mile from here, in an older growth forest, undisturbed for a 100 years. Let’s see what happens!

 

Because This:

This:

My apologies for the dearth of posts. As you can see, I am deep into study. So deep I had to move to the dining room table. Where, you can also see, we’re still up to our usual/unusual activities. These need to be bottled, by the way, this weekend. And outside it has begun to snow. And again I cut it short because the books on that able are beckoning. It’s only logical.

After a couple of unseasonably cold and gray days that warranted warm socks and a sweater, we’ve returned to hot (+90F) and sunny again. I return to monitoring my one barrel of rain water, which is about 1/5 full (empty). The couple of rain storms we’ve had and the one night of drizzle failed to fill the bin, let alone my array of four 275 gallon bins. One can have all the storage one wants, but one can’t make the rain fall.

DSCF8121The garden was getting on parched yesterday so I watered with the precious rain water, adding a half cup of fish emulsion and a cup and a half of compost and comfrey tea to each watering can. The tea I had started four days ago: dropping comfrey leaves into the bottom half of a five gallon bucket, adding about two gallons of rain water, then putting about ten cups of fresh compost into a cloth bag and submersing it. Put lid on, put in dark shed, let bubble away. It smelled sweat, going on yeasty, with the typical comfrey smell that I’ve not been able to describe – something like molten rubber? Anyway, it was ready. Though even hotter today, the plants, even the usually droopy tomatoes, look great. I hope the calcium rich comfrey will combat the blossom end rot I’ve spotted on some of the squashes.

Looking west of the garden, here’s an update of what’s going on with the front of our property.

DSCF7053_smallIn February we had a landscaper come with a track hoe to excavate the weeds, brambles and vines that we had combated year in year out – pulling, digging up, covering with cardboard and wood chips – losing the battle. In four hours he had dug them up with the big scoop and put them on one big pile. Then he churned up the massive leaf and wood chips piles that my neighbor had been depositing on our property for years. It looked like a lot of fun, like stirring a massive pot of soup with a massive ladle. This mix he deposited on the newly bared earth, at about a foot deep.

DSCF8032On the slope I sowed white clover, which took really well and is now feeding the rabbit population. I am not sure this is a good idea, but on the other hand, I haven’t had rabbit herbivory in my garden at all this season. Also, it is fixing nitrogen, out-competing most weeds and stopping erosion very well.

Down at the bottom, the hardiest weeds returned slowly, but our neighbor keeps dropping off wood chips and every other weekend or so DH and I go down and pull and cover, pull and cover. The excavation wasn’t a silver bullet that took care of it once and for all, and we never expected that, but our work now is much more manageable, and pleasant. It looks like this now:

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Notice the new pile of wood chips in the center.

The idea is that the micro-organisms need all the nitrogen available to burn up the carbon in the wood chips – leaving less or even no nitrogen for the weeds. That’s how woodsy mulch works. An extra weapon in our arsenal is the deployment of fungi. Most of the weeds we’re fighting are invasive greenies. I’m hoping that aggressively running mycelium in the wood chips mulch will suppress them even more. So I started wood chip fermenting. I learned about it from Paul Stametz in this short and informational video:

It’s an intriguing idea: you basically cultivate a herd of anaerobic bacteria, then you harvest them by killing them by exposing them to oxygen, then give them to the (aerobic) fungi as a meal. It’s like growing fodder for your livestock, only your fodder is bacteria and your livestock is fungi!

Here are my barrels, filled to the brim with a mix of soft and hard woods and tap water that sat out in open buckets in the sun for several days to dechlorinate. I’ll drain the barrels in a couple of weeks and we’ll spread the fermented chips and start a new batch. Hopefully, we’ll have great mycelium running soon!

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DSCF7979My two kombucha Continuous Brews (one with a spiced Indian chai, the other a more subtle Earl Grey) are growing vigorously, the mothers in them giving birth to more SCOBYs (scobies?). They are starting to fill up the jars. Time for a special hold-over vessel: the SCOBY Hotel. I learned about this from the Big Book of Kombucha by Hannah Crum and Alex LaGory of Kombucha Kamp, both of which (the book, the site) I am liking very much.

First photo: Earl Grey kombucha with sour cherry concentrate flavoring for second fermentation. Nicely fizzy! We like the flavors of fresh fruits better though, and those also create an explosive buzz. The sweet cherry and the watermelon flesh flavorings were more of a hit, but not as colorful.

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Separating the older (bottom one) from the newer mother.

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SCOBY motel with four mothers, so far.

 

 

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I tried again to capture those Indigenous Micro-Organisms, again in the leaf mulch pile, and again I got mostly yellow, pink, blue and predominantly black. It smelled sweet, though, so I decided to make a batch of IMO II, adding 1:1 brow sugar. This can be kept indefinitely in a dark, cool spot.

To plant some stinging nettle plants that a new friend – new, but he understands me all too well already! – brought for me, I went into a seldom-visited patch of our property. While digging the trench, I found the soil there to be super soft and hyphal, especially around an old beech tree. It may be that the indigenous micro-organisms are all the colors of the rainbow, not snow-white, but I may try one more time under that tree. I will have to brave some fast growing nettles to get there. Might as well harvest some of the tops and make a nettle tea…

 

 

I visited the two buckets of FAA today – they’re nicely tucked away in the cool, dark basement. Amazing how it doesn’t smell awful or even fishy at all, since it’s just fish and sugar, and some apples. The apple smell dominates, along with a sweet fermented smell. The top of one had a lot of mold, which I just scooped up and fed to my compost bin buddies.

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Underneath that layer the liquefying action is well and truly happening. Basically, only the big fish heads are left. This is what it looks like after a stir:

 

 

 

Meanwhile, outside, this, in case you too were wondering where some of those sumptuous ripe peas went (click to enlarge):

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Ah–ahcronyms! That stands for Korean Natural Farming: Fermented Plant Juice and Oriental Herbal Nutrient. After weeks of prep, FPJ and OHN were ready to “decant” and use and store.

  • FPJ

DSCF7565On 5/2 (about a month ago), I went about in my garden in the early morning collecting the meristems of all the most vigorously growing plants that I could find. The meristems are the undifferentiated growing tips of plants, full of energy and growth hormones. These are the ones you want in your Fermented Plant Juice. I added comfrey (smallest, newest leaves), common and spear mint, and all kinds of mostly unidentified weeds reaching for the sun. This document from the University of Hawaii has a list of which plants to look for, to which Aaron Englander, who taught me this recipe, added the more readily available purslane, nettles, and mugwort.

I packed these leaves and shoots into a jar, mixed them with a 1:1 ratio of raw brown sugar (by volume), leaving 2/3 of head space, adding a lid of sugar on top and packing it down. Then I covered with a cloth and let it sit at room temperature. After a week I found it didn’t make much juice, so I added a small amount of (non-chlorinated) water (a tablespoon) and that got it going really well. Today I poured off the liquid – amazing how much poured out after all. It is stored in the jar with a cloth, in a cool, dark place. FPJ, which is packed with growth energy, is used weekly at the growing stage of plants as foliar feed (at 1000:1 dilution) or a soil drench (at 500:1).

{UPDATE} 4/16: after almost a year, the FPJ is still looking good. I used a lot of sugar. If in the recipe you use only enough brown sugar to extract the juices,  then once you’ve poured off the juice you should add more brown sugar to preserve it, especially if you live in a hot, humid place.

  • OHN

DSCF7567Also on 5/2 chopped up and crushed the five ingredients for the OHN and put them each in their own jar:

  1.  2 parts (by volume) the bark of Angelica acutiloba (which I had ordered from Mountain Rose Herb – I also ordered the seeds so I can start growing it myself). Because the quantity of angelica is double that of the rest, I filled 1/3 of a jar that is twice the size of the other jars. You can also just two jars the same size. Same difference.
  2. 1 part licorice root (Glycurrhiza uralensis), which I have growing in the garden, but the plant isn’t ready yet for harvesting, so I got this from Mountain  Rose Herbs as well (1/3 jar).
  3. 1 part cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum sp.), from Mountain  Rose Herbs (1/3 jar).

I added beer (the one I happened to have in my fridge, a hoppy honey beer; you can also use rice wine) to hydrate these and covered them with cloth.

After 2 days, I chopped and crushed the two wet ingredients:

  • 1 part fresh ginger root (Zingiber officinale), skins and all, organic from the store.
  • 1 part garlic cloves (Allium sativum), stem, skins and all, homegrown.

Then I added 1:1 raw brown sugar to all five so all the jars were 2/3 full and covered them with cloth. I let them ferment for 5 days, then I topped all of them off with vodka and closed the jars with lids. I shook them every day for two weeks. Then I strained the juices (but see *!) into two big jars and covered them with cloth (not sure if that’s necessary, but I guess some more fermentation may happen if not all the sugar has been converted yet, and if the jar is closed off, it might explode). Here’s a good fact sheet on OHN, it also uses turmeric.

{UPDATE} 4/16: after a little less than a year I found both OHN liquids had a thick layer of whacky mold on them. This is because I never capped it tightly. The preserving alcohol evaporated, and mold got in. I simply scooped off the mat of mold, added vodka, and capped.

OHN is used weekly at all stages of plant growth as a health elixir and immune booster, as a foliar spray, soil drench, seed soak, or compost booster. It has to be diluted 1000:1.  It is also one of the ingredients in IMO 4.

 

  • OHN marc compost tea

DSCF7563DSCF7568(*!) Now it turns out I should have poured off 2/3 of the liquid and kept the leftover liquid and marc for another round of extraction – you can use the separate jars up to five times. It was too late when I read that, I had already mushed the marc all together for one final press. Then I read you can use that marc for a compost tea, and so that’s where it went, along with the marc of the FPJ.

I have a small, rotating collection of buckets with filtered tap water that I leave open in the sun for 24 hours before putting on the lids to keep dust and animals out. I do this to let whatever the water filter didn’t get, evaporate out – a matter specifically to get rid of the biocide chlorine. I used one of the 5 gallon ones for the tea: wrapped the marc in an old cotton shirt, hung it to steep in the water. I’ll play this one by ear as it will depend on the temperature during brewing.

While I was at it, I also started a new kombucha (following this recipe) and a gallon of ginger soda (using this recipe).

Bubble bubble!

{UPDATE 6/13. This is what it looks like now, without oxygenation. Smells good too. Smells sweet.

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