Korean Natural Farming can increase the health of soil in West Cork

Darren Donohue with a water melon growing in a tunnel on his farm near Drinagh

West Cork has a wide and varied range of agricultural practices and now Korean Natural Farming can be added to the list. Initially developed in South Korea in the 1960s by a man named Cho Han Kyu, Korean Natural Farming or KNF aims is to maximise farm productivity while minimising chemical inputs and reducing as much physical effort as possible. In effect what the method does is increase the health of your soil by using what is naturally available in your soil mostly through fermentation and promotion of wild microorganisms. As a result, fertiliser becomes unnecessary and the method can work for any type of farm or garden.

Thanks to a surge in interest in regenerative farming practices over the last decade, KNF is in use in a number of farms in the country ranging from dairy farms to vegetable growers. Over the summer, Drinagh based couple Ananda and Darren Donohue held a course on the practice on their holding at Derryclogh, Dringah and hope to host more in the near future. They have been using KNF practices on their land for almost four years at this stage – three years on land they leased – and now have almost completed a year of KNF on their five-acre holding. 

There they run a small herd of cattle, some sheep, and a flock of 35 hens and also an extensive vegetable garden. One of the standout features of this is a polytunnel containing an array of herbs, fruit and vegetables, including the likes of water melons, chilli and sweet peppers, four varieties of tomatoes, aubergine, French beans, a grape vine and, if that wasn’t variety enough, there’s a peach and nectarine tree to go in.

So, what is involved in the process of Korean Natural Farming?

Darren explains: “We harvest microbes from the forest or old undisturbed areas of growth. We bring them to our farm here and we culture them out. Then we adapt them to the soil into which they are going and then we brew that into an aerated bubble kind of tea that we spray out onto the land. The idea is after a number of applications, the expert in KNF globally, American, Chris Trump says that after three years of applying the microbes, they become self-sustaining.”

Ananda has been organically gardening all her life so they tried not to be tied to chemical inputs on their land. That, combined with an ambition to boost biodiversity, have been the drivers in farming a more natural way that would be similar to what Darren said his grandparents would have done when they were farming. 

“It’s been helpful for us,” says Ananda. “I’m really hoping it will help other people as well. Having seen organic and how difficult it is, especially at large scale. This is more attainable because you can make something quite concentrate, which kind of mirrors what conventional farmers do in spreading fertilisers, where a small bit goes a long way, which is similar to this. That’s what appealed to me. I’ve gardened a long time and I like to find things that make it easier; I think this can do that because you’re employing a work force in the form of microbes that work away underground.”

The inputs used are ones that farmers can make themselves. This includes five stages of what are called IMOs, or indigenous microorganisms. These are plant based, diluted microorganisms, which can be brewed into a tea and sprayed onto the land. Other KNF inputs such as Fermented Fruit Juice (FFJ) and Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ) are added as required during the growth cycle of the grass.

An IMO is completed in five different stages. In cooking terms, you could liken it to making a sourdough starter; you provide the captured microorganisms with moisture, food and warmth to enable it to multiply. Ultimately OakstoneKNF hope to be in a position to supply farmers with IMO for use on their own land and will continue to run courses to spread the information on this farming method with soil health at its core. 

For more details on upcoming courses and to find out more on what the processes involved in Korean Natural Farming are available on their website, www. oakstoneknf.com

To a first-time observer, something that stands out about Korean Natural Farming (KNF) is that there are quite a few acronyms involved. Here is a small explainer of some of the principal ones. 

IMO (Indigenous micro-organisms): Made in five steps over a lengthy period of time, the end result is a living soil which can then be incorporated into fields and gardens, either by spraying or feeding directly under the grass level.

LAB (Lactic acid bacteria): This can be made from fermenting raw milk and the liquid made from soaking rice. It aids in digestion. A beneficial probiotic, LAB is entirely safe for human consumption but in Korean natural farming, it helps with fermentation.

FPJ (Fermented plant juice): If you have a field full of (non-toxic) weeds, you can pick them when they are beginning to bud and ferment them into your plant juice. This is done by massaging them with brown sugar until their properties are released. This juice will help balance your soil biology.

OHN (Oriental herbal nutrient): This is a combination of five ingredients: angelica root, garlic, ginger, liquorice and cinnamon. They are extracted with alcohol and then fermented with brown sugar. Then, they are combined and added to IMOs or directly to plants as needed. This mixture encourages beneficial bacteria. At OakstoneKNF, OHN is fermented with brown sugar first and then extracted with alcohol.

FAA (Fish amino acids): Similar to if you’ve ever added a few drops of fish sauce to a stir fry. The resulting concoction does not have a fishy or rotten smell and is an excellent food source for plants and soil.

Vinegar (brown rice or apple cider): In traditional Korean natural farming, brown rice is the vinegar of choice. The vinegar has a natural cleansing effect and kills bad bacteria.

Tommy Moyles

Tommy Moyles runs a suckler to beef herd at Ardfield, Clonakilty, Co Cork.

Next Post

Interesting political times ahead with new Farmers’ Alliance

Tue Sep 12 , 2023
I think it’s fair to say this summer has been a far cry from the sunshine and record commodity prices of summer 2022. Rain has made for an incredibly difficult harvest for tillage farmers. The washout summer, a contraction in milk price in excess of 30 per cent and continuing uncertainty […]