Today we started the carbon/biochar and Korean Natural Farming inputs trial at our plot in the Community Gardens. Andrea and Kaat divided two 4×13′ beds in half. All halves received biochar (“pre-loaded” with compost – never apply pure biochar by itself!) and straw. Two of those halves (one in each bed) received the first Korean Natural Farming inputs.
According to Wikipedia, Korean natural farming (KNF) takes advantage of indigenous microorganisms (IMO) (bacteria, fungi, nematodes and protozoa) to produce fertile soils that yield high output without the use of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides or industrial fertilizers. A result is improvement in soil health, improving loaminess, tilth and structure, and attracting large numbers of earthworms. This practice has spread to over 30 countries, and is used by individuals and commercial farms.
In Wayland, the main student and advocate of KNF is Kaat, who has studied the techniques, makes the inputs herself (this is fundamental to KNF: all inputs can be made for very little money, with little technology, at home and from “indigenous” materials), and is in the second year of applying them. Last year she saw great improvement, especially in her berry bushes and fruit trees, but of course that is anecdotal. She is for that reason very curious about this side by side trial.
The first inputs, which aim to load the soil with the right organisms, were Kaat’s home-made Fish Amino Acids (FAA) and Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) and EM-1 (not home-made and not traditionally a KNF input, but in line with KNF). The first seedlings (hardened-off broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Tom Thumb lettuce, arugula and pac choi. The also sowed beets. They will receive more FAA, as well as Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ) and Oriental Herb Nutrient (OHN), Indigenous Micro-Organisms (IMO4) and JADAM wetting agent, as growth stage and pest pressure dictate.
The idea of the trial arose when NOFA Mass invited farmers and gardeners to participate in biochar/no biochar trials. According to NOFA Mass, for centuries, biochar has been used throughout the world as a natural and easily-obtained soil amendment that builds microbial communities and long-term fertility in soils. Created through a process known as pyrolysis, biochar adds stable carbon to the soil, functioning to sequester atmospheric carbon, retain moisture, sweeten soil, and build rich habitat for microbes, nematodes, and fungi that aid in plant nutrient availability. (More here).
All those sounded good to the Transition Wayland Community Gardens group. They accepted the invitation and worked with NOFA to fine-tune the experiments. One group will test biochar / no biochar in the two established raspberry beds. Kaat and Andrea wanted to try annual veggies, but they decided to take it one step further. They asked, will the biochar – also called “condominiums for your micro-organisms” – work well, or even at all, if there are no micro-organisms? You can build it, but what if they don‘t come? So let’s see what happens if you add the char and the micro-organisms. A good way to do that is through KNF.
Keep an eye on this space to see!