Gardening with Beneficial Microorganisms, both Indigenous and Effective by: Peter Jackson
Agriculture and Fermentation represent two of humanities greatest endeavours. As we progressed into pastoralist societies, the production of more milk than could be consumed daily became a reality, and the bacteria intrinsic to mothers across all mammalia, became one of mankinds key allies in longer storage of dairy, lactic acid bacteria. Since the domestication and of wheat, hemp, corn, and many other staple food and fiber crops, one of the tasks has been preservation, whether as a dry grain, or fermented into an alcoholic beverage using saccharomyces yeast. While the topic of how long mankind has been a seafaring species promotes much discussion, one ancient technique of preventing spoilage in fish has been salting to create fish pastes, which then have a high amount of phototrophic archaeabacteria. One thing that is a commonality between all three methods of preservation through fermentation is that secondary metabolites are produced that have a higher nutritional density than the raw starting product. Yogurt has more digestibility than milk(at least when we drink cow’s milk, not our own mother’s breast milk which has bacteria specifically tailored for our stomachs); alcohol breaks down in our stomach to a glucose and acetaldehyde molecule; the fish sauce took parts like bones, guts, and other scraps to make a sauce rich in glutamic acid that stimulates the glutamate receptors in our brain. Similarly, complex interactions happen between these very same microbes and the plants we depend on for survival, as long before industrial civilization developed and degraded the whole surface of the world’s soils, evolution drove symbiosis between the kingdoms of DNA to create the hospitable environment that allowed us to carve out a niche as tool using hominids.
Because of thousands of years of logging, mining, farming, fishing, and many other forms of unregenerative resource extraction, the current analysis of soil health worldwide leads to dire conclusions. We have turned life-giving soil that took millennia to build, into lifeless dirt. At best, there is a third of the world’s surface undisturbed by the hands of man, which is reflected in the mouths of our rivers, our own digestive systems and the agricultural lands turning into a second Dust Bowl. A common statistic is that there are more microorganisms in one teaspoon of healthy soil than humans on the planet by a factor of ten, although if you went to your average American corn field and you would not find such numbers. Also it is estimated by cell count, not total biomass, that we are only %10 human. Sadly, because our food is grown in soil denuded of minerals, soaked with chemicals, and then generally overprocessed with a focus on shelf life instead of dietary needs, this also impacts our own gut microbes. As man tries to develop a new roundup ready species for our monocultures, so too is nature engineering a weed to compete. As we pump our livestock full of antibiotics, so too does nature evolve a resistant virus that wreaks havoc to our systems. But just as no-till and covercropping can alleviate our dependence on herbicides, so too can probiotics help improve health from plants to animals, including people. The idea is that we have to understand the whole system, and not isolate things into discriminate parts. The bigger picture is that nature is a community, and we, as much as we deny it in in our mythologies of religion and science, are a part of that community. That is where nature farming works on the principle of biomimicry.
Two of my own personal heroes have been working to change the face of agriculture starting in their home countries. Master Cho Han-Kyu of South Korea, created a comprehensive system involving Indigenous Microorganisms(IMO) and fermentation, and his organization Cho’s Global Natural Farming has spread to over 30 countries. Meanwhile, Dr. Teruo Higa of Japan, originator of the Effective Microorganisms culture(a blend of Lactic acid bacteria, yeast and Photosynthetic archaeabacteria or EM-1) helped create the Effective Microbes Research Organization, which has licensed distributors in over 130 countries. Master Cho and Teruo Higa are pioneers in the fields of syntropic consortiums of microbes, as previously the focus had been on single species and their isolated effects. Yet nature does not exist as a sterile laboratory, and instead is a caucophonous symphony. Both of these men have helped create systems that fall under the umbrella term of natural farming, although a lot of it does harken back to traditional practices.
In the history of Asian fermentation, white molds assist in the creation of miso, tempeh, and predigestion of rice for sake/makgeolli. By capturing microbes from undisturbed ecosystems, we are promoting diversity of bacteria and fungi, which provide services from nitrogen fixation to phosphate solubilization. . It has its genesis in ancient compost techniques that were sped up utilizing microbes from the forest captured with a buried rice ball. The initial forest microbes captured on rice(IMO1) are supposed to visually be at least 75% white molds, to avoid culturing of pathogens. They are then placed into dormancy using raw sugar, which provides a shelf stable mother culture(IMO2). Both IMO propagating from Cho, and extension of the EM culture from Higa, utilize readily available crop residues, whether rice bran or wheat mill run or some other locally available starch rich substance, to create what is called either Bokashi or IMO3. This can then be applied to fields within two weeks as either mulch, or dug into trenches as a fertilizer. Regional variations abound, including IMO4 where the inoculated rice bran is mixed with field soil to extend the culture, and balance the forest culture with the field microbes. Ultimately it is the trees/plants tailoring of sugars fed down to the roots(of which %40 of total photosynthesis is for), which cues the responses from the soil food web. In essence we are providing the tree roots, a symbiotic all you can eat microbe buffet in exchange for root exudates. Diversity is the goal when applying forest microbes, which have adapted to exist in our local environments for thousands to millions of years.
Lactic acid bacteria(LAB) are another important group in nature farming of Japan and Korea. Under Cho’s system, rice rinse water is used to gather airborne bacteria, that then milk is added to, a curd forms, and the resulting middle whey layer is harvested for use as a foliar spray or soil drench. Lactic acid decomposes or chelates minerals stuck to soil particles, which are not easily dissolved; thus making the minerals available in a form plants can absorb. It also has odor eating properties that are useful in rearing of animals, and can be added to their water or sprayed on their bedding. A process similar to silage is also done with banana stalks as pig feed. In EM usage, similar things are done from fish warehouses to animal farms, where a EM spray is employed to control smell. LAB are facultative anaerobes, which means that they thrive in above oxygen rich and oxygen deprived environments. They enable resistance from the rhizosphere to phytosphere against fusarium, powdery mildew and botrytis.
Sacchoromyces Cerevisiae or ale/bread yeast, has a long history with humans, as there is debate whether the first domestication of wheat was for beer or bread, of which saccharomyces is involved in making both forms more digestible to humans than the initial grain. Even in the animal kingdom, we see butterflies, hummingbirds and even elephants and giraffes enjoying the intoxicant effects of alcohol produced by our fungal friends. S cerevisiae can live in both aerobic as well as anaerobic conditions by changing its cellular metabolism from fermentation to aerobic respiration. The addition of live or dead yeast to fertilized soil substantially increases the nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) content of roots and shoots of plants. Yeast addition to soils also increases the root-to-shoot ratio. It is one of the most common species in blends of soil inoculants, being a part of both Mycogrow by Fungi Perfecti and EM-1.
The phototrophic archaeabacteria are split into two categories, Purple Sulfur Bacteria(PSB) and Purple Non-Sulfur Bacteria(PNSB). In EM-1 it is a species called Rhodopseudomonas Palustris, a PNSB. R. palustris can grow with or without oxygen, or it can use light, inorganic or organic compounds for energy like how it is also capable of fixing nitrogen for growth and can metabolize lignin and acids found in degrading plant and animal waste by metabolizing carbon dioxide. In addition, it can degrade aromatic compounds found in industrial waste. Phototrophic archaeabacteria have been used in industrial waste management since the 1930’s in the USA as they have bioremediative and odor managing properties. A recipe for their culturing that originates from Thailand and Malaysia involves pond water, raw egg and fish sauce, left to sit in the sun for a month until the liquid turns a crimson red. In absence of a pond to collect from, de-chlorinated city water can be used, as the archaeabacteria are present in the gills of fish worldwide. The rice farmers from SE Asia claim a reduction in water usage and twice the weight at harvest.
All of these species from the three smallest kingdoms of DNA’s family tree, are also useful in the production of bionutrients. While throwing chopped up weeds into a bucket or barrel of water for compost “teas” are an ancient practice of producing liquid fertilizers, use of EM-1 or forest microbes creates a less stinky end product. Master Cho also created a system replacing the salt from brining Sauerkraut or Kimchi, with raw sugar to create the Green Juice from Heaven, or as translated into English, Fermented Plant Juices or Fermented Fruit Juices. By going and harvesting abundant and vigorous fresh growing tips in the spring from plants such as mugwort, stinging nettle, comfrey, dandelion, or almost anything medicinal or edible, the hormones at their peak for the day before photosynthesis starts at sunrise, can be captured into a liquid form for foliar application as the osmotic pressure of raw sugar splits open the cell walls to release the watery juices. Strained after a week, sugar can be used to preserve it further for later application. The idea also is that you can ferment fruits being thinned or falling off early to return fertility to the plant and help strengthen the stems of the still growing fruit, or save ferments from the year before to help with the different growth stages. In Japan and in the JADAM system of S. Korea, it is much simpler. Just throw what you want into a barrel of water, and the longer it ages the higher quality fertilizer you have produced. If you are growing crops such as strawberries, tomatoes or apples, it is likened to mother’s milk to make a liquid fertilizer from your crop residues to act as a biostimulant crafted to the plants specific nutritional profile.
So whether being used to bioaugment the soil, bioremediate our polluted waters, or create bionutrients that build the soil food web, the microbes are as much responsible for current food production as all of humanities greatest achievements. Truly the hidden half of nature is no longer so invisible to us in modern times, though there has often been respect for the generative principle in nature, the life force that flows through us all. The more recent research is even showing how interconnected the ecologies of our own microbiome are to diet and surroundings, as much as the terroir of a grape vine in one mountain valley is to the next. The fractal components of our bodies and our guts is analogous to the root symbiotes interacting with a plant.
Having researched and experimented with various components of these systems of natural farming in my own gardens and orchard for several years led me to create a website to spread this information so I bought the domain of www.cascadiannaturalfarming.org . A few weeks later I joined the WWFRF as a volunteer last spring. By July I had been granted approval for a proposal to test out a homemade preparation of IMO4 , of which I sourced the initial microbes from underneath a feral apple and a wild hawthorne. I also applied a liquid culture similar to EM-1 crafted from LAB serum, spent yeast from brewing mead, and a phototrophic archaeabacteria brew using a recipe from Malaysia. This year the study was expanded to include another row of espaliered apples being inoculated with a commercial mycorrhizal product to test the efficacy of ~30 known species against the diversity of tens of thousands of soil borne microbe species. So with a control that is the vertical cordon espalier being kept with it’s same maintenance prior to my volunteering, I am measuring anthracnose resistance and sugar content differences in the Belgian Espalier inoculated with Fungi Perfecti’s Mycogrow product and the Welcome Espalier inoculated with the homemade IMO liquid and solid cultures on in the North East corner of the Fruit Garden. It will be interesting to see the results in the future!
Natural Farming has many diverse methods of employing microbes to aid in our production of nutrient dense food. Many of those same microbes are ubiquitous in environments around the world. From helping in the creation of soil and plant matter in a cycle of regeneration, to preserving our food in the days before refrigeration, beneficial microorganisms shape a large part of our planet’s history. When applied science is combined with traditional farming techniques, the power of biology is revealed.
I really enjoy making farming and music analogies because those are two of my biggest passions. They are both living traditions that sadly have been poisoned by technology! Master Cho's KNF system has been likened to Classical music, as it is a very symphonic approach with an array of preparations, with precise times to apply according to the nutritive theory cycle. JADAM, his son's organization, meanwhile is compared to Rock and Roll, as it is more of stripped down quartet that is easier for learning, no reading of sheet music required or too much complex theory. But what about the comparisons to folk music, or my favorite, the spectrum that is jazz and blues. Like Louis Armstrong said when asked on return from his European Tour if what he played was "Swing" he replied, "first it was called Ragtime, then Syncopation, then Jazz, now Swing... It's all just music." Later in life after playing the Newport Jazz Festival in the 60's, he was asked if what he played was folk music, to which he replied, "''I don't know no other kind of music but folk music. I ain't never heard a horse sing a song!" And most famously, "Man, if you have to ask what it is, you’ll never know."
also "Never play anything the same way twice"
and "Jazz is played from the heart. You can even live by it. Always love it."
as well "To jazz, or not to jazz, there is no question!"
furthermore "What we play is life."
Or we could draw on Duke Ellington's words, as he made arrangements for his jazz band that left little room for improvisation that it almost was like classical(and later in life he did write what would be considered classical). Duke said both "There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind." and "The most important thing I look for in a musician is whether he knows how to listen." Mr. Ellington is also quoted as saying "It is becoming increasingly difficult to decide where jazz starts or where it stops, where Tin Pan Alley begins and jazz ends, or even where the borderline lies between between classical music and jazz. I feel there is no boundary line."
Farming reminds me of jazz music, or at least that was my epiphany last year. Improvisation and substitution should teach us that like jazz, farming is about finding that part of our soul that gives us peace and brings the whole assemblage of existence together. But a jazz band could be as complex as a large orchestra with over 20 bandmembers, or as simple as the Mound City Blue Blowers who consisted originally of a banjo, a kazoo, and a comb with a piece of paper for a reed effect. There was the Mills Brothers who had only one guitar and the rest was all acapella. Work with what you have!
Natural Farming could also be compared to the blues. Even if you employ just say mulching and IMO, it is comparable to a lone bluesman on guitar singing about his worried mind. You will see changes happen maybe a bit slower, but even stripped down to a basic Do Nothing farming like Fukuoka managed, yields eventually were higher than chemical agriculture. John Lee Hooker said "The blues is a feeling, you can't get it out of no book. You can't write the blues on a piece of paper, you just feel the blues." That statement reminds me also how in the One Straw Revolution, talking about the "discriminating mind" and how we need to look in to a whole systems analysis approach. Or just listen to Teddy Bunn play solo, and with jazz bands or Blink Blake playing solo, and listen to him playing with Johnny Dodds. Don't even get me started on the genre blurring capabilities of jug bands and string bands from Memphis and Dallas! Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong reported that his string band would play Italian music, German music, Polish music, Hillbilly music, Rags, Blues, Stomps, Jazz, Novelty pop tunes, whatever the audience wanted to hear. The goal of a musician at the time was versatility. Or then you have somebody like Reverend Gary Davis who adapted blues fingerpicking to play the most badass, soul stirring Gospel once he rejected the "devil's" music and became sanctified and holy. Joseph Spence, is a Bahamanian man who combined Calypso rhythms with a Southern church songbook, to create one of the most unique and entrancing solo guitar styles ever made. Lonnie Johnson recorded the first single string guitar solo in history, was typecast as a bluesman, but some of his most fascinating playing is with Eddie Lang as a duo and sometimes quartet, and with Louis' and Duke's bands. All music is a spectrum.
The Chaos magicians in the 70's and 80's certainly pissed off a lot older magical practitioners with their amalgamation of whatever they felt like. Every era of Jazz music or Classical pissed off an earlier generation of player and like Robert Anton Wilson said, "dogma is yes or no, catma is maybe". Innovators were always absorbing fresh new ideas, and then sometimes it gets lost, like when bebob took over and jazz was no longer a dance music. Then you have revival periods where we try to trace things back to a historical root, and recreate and imitate the masters of old and create all sorts of genre classifications like country blues, Delta blues, Piedmont Blues, Chicago blues, but at the time of it's creation there weren't such fine distinctions. Of course, there should be things done more respectfully than say Bob Zimmerman/Dylan stealing songs from Scrapper Blackwell's records while he's dying in poverty to copyrighting Dave Van Ronk's version of 'In the House of the Rising Sun which was taught to Zimmerman only to have him go and record the arrangement before Dave could, gaining copyright. And I'd hate to have a repeat of Jelly Roll Morton's end of days, bemoaning being ripped off by the gangsters in the publishing industry while he should have been a millionaire. However folk music is an organic living process. How many classical songs started as peasant music only to be codified, and in some cases eventually reliberated to the people in the case of Grieg's Norwegian Dance #2 then being rearranged into Django's Danse Norvegienne.
A sufficiently developed magic is indistinguishable from science. This is true alchemy, turning leaden dirt into gold. It just doesn't have to be one system, one approach. If diversity is what we are going for in our soil ecology, diversity in approaches is what is needed to adapt these principles worldwide.
Holistically, we are all seeking something more than just making a living, we want a living planet for future generations. Things adapt over time as that is a key part of any viable evolutionary strategy. Really one of the best uses for these ideas is in habitat restoration, by cultivating IMO's from old growth, and inoculating areas being replanted for recreating ecosystems man has destroyed. I'm just saying that more important than humans profiting, is that the life force in general is what the focus should be on in returning to landscapes. Fukuoka saw farming both as a means of producing food and as an aesthetic or spiritual approach to life, the ultimate goal of which was, "the cultivation and perfection of human beings". He suggested that farmers could benefit from closely observing local conditions and mimic nature. It makes sense to focus on the economic aspects, but at some point we are just going to realize capitalism has eaten the soul of this planet, and we have to get over our anthrocentric mentality. There needs to be no dead zones around the mouth of every river tied to agriculture. We can bioremediate and remineralize the earth at the same time as we exist on it. It doesn't have to be the history of man to be the bringer of deserts. So in the immortal words of Blind Boy Fuller, "Keep on Truckin'!"