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How KNF Transformed Moonrise Tea Garden

How Korean Natural Farming Changed Moonrise Tea Garden

Moonrise started as an organic operation, switching to Korean Natural Farming after meeting Master Han-Kyu Cho, creator KNF and developer of IMO Indigenous Microorganism technology. Here are 9 changes after switching Moonrise Tea Garden to KNF :

1. Farm inputs bill went from $200/mo for tea, to $20/mo for the entire farm

2. Tea sold for $1 per gram and KNF eggs sold for $7 per dozen when organic eggs sold for $4

3. Stopped buying all animal feed and fertilizers

4. Stopped making compost yet turned dead clay into productive soil

5. Stopped mucking out the barn but did not have smell or flies

6. Problems with pests, disease, and parasites almost completely eliminated

7. Animal care (75-100 animals) took only 14 hours per month offering the

freedom to leave the farm for several days without getting help

8. Inoculated Deep Litter System IDLS provided quality, balanced “compost” for garden use at all times

9. IDLS was used to brood chicks with no source of heat. (It can keep barns warm in winter and cool in summer)

1. Farm inputs bill went from $200 per month for tea, to $20 per month for the entire farm

I stopped buying all fertilizers and minerals. I did not buy pesticides or herbicides. I did keep some organic inputs around, like wettable sulfur, neem cake, and diatomaceous earth (food grade) but each year the need for these was less and less.

What did I actually spend $20 per month on? I did not need to make everything every month so the cost is averaged over a year for all inputs.

Rice to make IMO and LAB. Initially I started out using sweet brown rice to make fermented Brown Rice Vinegar, BRV, but switched to bananas, which we grew and was free. Rice develops a toxic mold in Hawaii and is therefore not grown commercially. We were looking into local alternatives. Brown Rice vinegar has special ionic properties that make it unique, and bananas are the only material Master Cho has approved as a substitution for making vinegar for his system. Apple Cider Vinegar is specifically not recommended by Master Cho. Regular distilled vinegar is used as an herbicide by the way.

Sugar, raw Maui sugar to make fermented plant inputs (FPJ/FFJ), Fish Amino Acid (FAA), Banana Vinegar (substitute for BRV), and IMO2 (where it stabilizes the soil microbial culture and brings the culture into dormancy). It was local, high quality, and inexpensive.

Wheat Mill run to make IMO3, amplifying the soil microbes (which was then cultured onto native soil for planting, or IMO4. This was a single installation for each planting site. While rice bran is recommended and easier to use, it was not available to me, while wheat mill run was.

Herbs for Oriental Herbal Nutrient (OHN), a tonic used in all formulations and for human and animal health. I started growing angelica, licorice, and had young cinnamon, but these take a while to produce. I was buying them while waiting for my own to grow. I was already growing ginger so I didn’t need to buy that. In the tropics garlic will grow but resists forming bulbs, so I bought garlic, which is cheap.

Alcohol (80 proof) for the extraction phase of OHN. If I had a still in those days I would not have needed to buy alcohol.

Milk came from a neighboring farm. My milkman was a Hare Krishna with sacred grass-fed cows. He delivered it raw and fresh and I was happy to pay for his milk. I was already getting milk delivered. I just diverted the use of some of the milk into making LAB. One benefit was the by-product of fresh curd cheese. So I probably came out ahead on this input.

2. Tea sold for $1 per gram and KNF eggs sold for $7 per dozen when organic eggs sold for $4. I got almost twice as much retail for my KNF eggs!

Practicing KNF increased yields, size of produce, taste, quality, and nutrition.

My tea was so popular that I once had two grown men fighting over the last 3 grams of my tea at the World Tea Expo.

The eggs had shells so thick they were hard to crack. The eggs themselves were sturdy enough to pick up the cracked egg with fingers without breaking the yolk. My eggs sold for almost twice what organic certified eggs sold for at the time, with no advertising, only word of mouth. The quality was that good.

Bottom line the food produced by KNF is more valuable, both as food and as a product, benefiting health and economics.

3. Stopped buying all animal feed and fertilizers

I stopped buying fertilizers yet I produced better crops, bigger sizes, with higher quality, and higher yields. I kept a few organic products like diatomaceous earth, but started to find I hardly ever used them. The animals got no regular drugs or antibiotics except for worming the sheep, an input I was working eliminate, but parasites are a big problem in the tropics.

When I walked down a row in the tea field I could see all forms of small creatures. We had, in a quarter acre field, probably tens of thousands of ladybug beetles, praying mantis, and so many other small creatures that the leaves literally moved as I walked past the hedge of tea bushes. There were so many forms of life it was beautiful, the butterflies, dragonflies, lace wings, exotic metallic colored fliers and crawlers, a dance of colors among the tea leaves.

When aphids tried to attack en masse they would be completely eliminated in a couple days automatically without intervention. Even when the local bee population in our area came under attack, 1st by the varroa mite followed shortly by the hive beetle, and populations of bees in the area plummeted, even then our tea field was filled with countless bees. Everything was in balance.

I had room for 300 chickens, and I could have sold eggs from 2000 of them, but I kept the number at 50 until I could grow enough feed for them. Once I found I did not need to buy feed I wasn’t going back, especially since the animals were healthier. I found that just by using what I already had on the farm that I could easily feed 50 chickens. I was working on fence rows and hedgerows as places to “store” feed.

Increasing the number of chickens would not have required much more labor, but not yet having enough free feed made the expansion economically much harder and it would have tied me to supply chains. In other words, if the barges stopped coming to Hawaii I would have had to kill my chickens because I could not feed them. That doesn’t sound very sustainable. For these reasons I vowed to never buy animal feed again.

Producing my own feed allowed my farm to be resilient. I would not lose an income stream from eggs because I could not buy feed. I was producing my own feed, which gave me food security and business security.

I could source farm waste from nearby farms, and often did. Such feed was free and other farms were served by solving their potential problem of waste products. Having relationships with a variety of nearby farms helped insure my community served each other by sharing resources, such as farm waste.

4. Stopped making compost yet turned dead clay into productive soil

All the compost materials went into the animals feed and the deep litter system in the barn provided fully composted mulch, available for use at all times. Items the animals would not eat were consumed by the microbes on the living barn floor. Everything was quickly composted. I no longer had anything to add to the compost pile. So I stopped composting. It turns out I no longer needed the compost either.

The soil was highly inoculated with soil biology with the installation of Indigenous Micro Organisms (IMO), a culture of a complete soil ecosystem, collected from a nearby area with rich biology. This makes the soil biology in planted areas balanced and resilient.

After 3 years of organic gardening I was seeing a few worms moving in and the top few inches turning darker and gaining some structure. This is what I was used to seeing. I’d been doing organic methods for decades. But once I installed the IMO the rate of improvement increased dramatically.

The layer of dark crumbly topsoil was visibly deeper each year. In fact I found I needed to dig out some of the soil around the base of the tea plants because they were getting buried by building topsoil building so quickly. Remember I started with dead red clay. There was no topsoil when I started.

And then, once the animals and the living floor of the barn were fully established, and the mulch from that living floor started going out into the gardens and fields, then the growth of the plants went into overdrive. I have never seen such production in my life.

Where I was never able to grow tomatoes or cucumbers or melons because fruit flies (med flies), now I could. Where I was never able to get a cabbage to form a solid head (not easy in warm climates), now I was. I was getting all top grade produce, bigger sizes, and getting crops to grow that I never could before.

The real magic happens when the system is established and the animals and material cycling are fully integrated. While I started seeing miraculous things happen immediately, I started seeing the system work synergistically after three years, amazing abundance in year five, and by year seven I was doing considerably less work, was spending hardly any money on inputs, and getting top quality food in abundance.

5. Stopped mucking out the barn but did not have smell or flies

Having an Inoculated Deep Litter System (IDLS) in the barn meant no visible manure. The microbes kept the system aerobic and therefore did not smell. There was nothing to attract flies. This bedding system can be kept for many years without cleaning. By the time I left the farm my KNF barn had not been cleaned out in 7 years . . . because it didn’t need to be cleaned. It was dry, clean, and smelled slightly of bread dough.

The animals in the barn were clean, healthy and happy. The benefits of the IDLS are no smell, no flies, healthy animals, a constantly available source of fully composted and inoculated mulch, and no need to clean it out. I never ever missed the chore of mucking out the barn.

6. Problems with pests, disease, and parasites almost completely eliminated

The longer I used Korean Natural Farming (KNF), the more balanced and alive the system became. My Integrated Pest Management (IPM) became more hands off every year.

The plant systems did better and were stronger and more resilient directly due to the installation of the IMO and building the Soil Foundation.

The animals were healthy with natural diets, and healthy additives to their feed and water. But the main reason I believe the animals had improved health was the installation of IDLS, a living floor. Manure was not visible. The animals were never dirty. The litter made perfect dust baths. The chickens had a favorite corner of the living IDLS floor where they perpetually kept their dust bath.

7. Animal care (75- 100 animals) took only 14 hr/mo, offering the

freedom to leave the farm for several days without getting help

One of the biggest complaints I hear from fellow farmers is how they can never leave the farm. I know when I used chicken tractors I had to be there and move them at least once a day. Even when I just kept them in the barn they needed constant daily care. But once I had the animals on the IDLS in the barn I had a better system and healthier animals, all with less time and effort.

Using KNF I had the freedom to leave the farm. I could be gone several days without getting outside help. If I was gone longer than a few days I only needed someone to come and check their water (something that really only needed to be done once a week) and offer more feed.

In order to be able to leave I would give the chickens a pile of feed that would last them a week, something like sweet potato culls that would take time to pick and peck, and hopefully had some bug action, as well as a healthy ration of greens that would last 2-3 days.

I kept two pigs in a stall and normally fed them a single banana stalk at a time. To leave I would give them two full banana stalks, which would last them almost a week. The ducks and sheep were fully capable of taking care of their own feeding needs on the pasture. I made sure the watering systems were full and the barn was secure. And then I could go to an agricultural conference or workshop, the World Tea Expo, or spend a few days offshore sailing.

8. Inoculated Deep Litter System IDLS provided quality, balanced “compost” for garden use at all times

Along with the importance of Soil Foundation in the tea fields and the gardens, was the importance of the living floor in the barn. The Inoculated Deep Litter System, IDLS, is made by first installing a layer of logs for pigs. This is so that the pigs have something hard in the bedding, enabling them to root and rub their tusks as they would in the forest. This layer is not needed for other animals.

After installing a layer of logs for pigs (skip for all other animals) comes a very deep layer of organic material. While sawdust works fine, I had an abundance of grass clippings for free on site while sawdust would have cost money and would have had to be delivered. I chose free.

Moonrise Tea Garden was a 20 acre farm, with pastures between trees, tea fields, and gardens, which were periodically mowed. I added a sweeper behind my tractor which collected the grass clippings in the same pass as mowing. Grass clippings were added to each stall of the barn to an initial depth of about a meter.

This organic matter, in my case cut grass, was then inoculated, only on the first installation, with an IMO formulation that included LAB (Lactic Acid Bacterial serum). The IMO turns the organic matter on the barn floor into a living floor, as though it were a bed of rich soil. The manure was quickly decomposed by the microbes. In fact I never saw manure. Anything the animals could not or would not eat were likewise quickly decomposed by the microbes.

I once added a 20 liter (5 gallon) bucket full of citrus peels to the chicken feed, knowing the chickens would not eat them. Within a few hours the peels turned fuzzy white as the microbes took over, and within a week there were no sign of any citrus peels.

LAB in the IDLS system works as an aerobic buffer. If the system starts to turn anaerobic, which is noted when the system starts to smell, then the LAB brings the system back into an aerobic state. It’s the anaerobic biology we smell. It is offensive to us because that kind of biology can make us sick, perhaps even kill us and is therefore one of our strongest instincts. If the system ever starts to smell the biology can be brought back into a healthy balance by spraying the bedding with LAB.

I only needed to do this once. It got smelly because I was having equipment trouble and went too long without adding more bedding. The microbes in the bedding need to be fed organic matter, whether that is grass clippings, sawdust, hay, straw, or leaves. I needed to add a fresh layer about once a month. The chickens loved the fresh grass and they would have fresh greens from the fresh cut grass for the first 2-3 days.

By the time I left Moonrise Tea Garden the barn had been kept with an IDLS floor for seven years. In that seven years I had taken out floor bedding to mulch the farm, never more than one third of a stall at a time, but I never once cleaned it.

And with the exception of the time the bedding got thin and started to smell (at which time I sprayed with LAB and added more grass clippings which automatically fixed it) the barn never smelled bad and never had flies. Over those years the compost material was added as animal feed, and the bedding was used in the fields and gardens as fully composted and inoculated mulch, which was available and ready to use at all times.

Master Cho has a very elaborate system for keeping chickens. I took the basics as my paints and brushes, and this is the picture I painted.

Cho designed the perfect feeders but I did not have grains. My feed, which frequently included items like big roots, was easiest to dump on a designated spot in the stall near the door. I didn’t start doing this but it eventually happened and worked well, so the feeding corner directly on the floor continued.

The chickens were able to peck and scratch at the food all day long, just as they would had they been free-ranging, which allowed them to act like chickens inside the barn.

I was used to having a dust bath in a rectangular bin in one corner. But the chickens decided the inoculated bedding was much better, so they started a dust bath in once corner. I no longer needed to provide and maintain a dust bath for them. And the chickens no longer got mites.

9. IDLS was used to brood chicks with no source of heat

(It can keep barns warm in winter and cool in summer)

I was not hatching my own chicks, so I would buy a few new hatchlings every year. When I was an organic farmer I would keep the baby chicks on bedding which I had to change every day, maybe every other day, more often the bigger they got. I gave them water and commercial crumble feed and would hang a light on one side to keep them warm.

They required constant vigilance, were kind of smelly, and I was always worried about the light falling and starting a fire.

Baby chicks were much easier with KNF. They had no smell and there was no heating lamp to worry about, no electricity needed and no potential for fire. And I never lost a baby chick.

Master Cho has perfected the art of keeping chickens healthy, happy, and highly productive, from the design and orientation of the building, to the specific diet, down to the shape and size of feeders and the cut of the feed.

The barn design features big screened windows, with shutters that open and shut as needed, and a central roof overhang for ventilation and regulation of heat. The building is oriented to provide 30% beam of sunlight that passes over the entire living floor over the course of the day, ideally every day of the year. The sunlight is important for the health of the microbes in the barn floor, and helps keep the ecological balance of the system at the peak for human and animal health. The animals need the sunlight as well.

Since I was in the tropics, I did not need to worry about heating in the winter. In temperate zones this barn design can keep all manner of livestock warm during winter. Just like a compost pile will reach high temperatures, the IDLS floor will be warm from microbial activity, and the heat effect from the living floor is kept steady and constant.

The same living floor also keeps animals cool in the summer due to the convective ventilation caused by the microbial activity and the barn design.

To brood chicks Master Cho sets up a small nursery box in the chicken house with a fresh batch of IMO-4. The heat from the living microbes keeps the baby chicks warm without any additional heat source.

Barriers are installed to make a small run. This keep the small babies close to their nursery box, and the baby chicks are able to move about and regulate their temperature within this small run. Water and food are set on the opposite side of the small run to encourage activity. The run is extended and the water and food get a little farther away as the chicks grow.

I was not set up to do this type of chicken run, but it was the time of year chicks were available, so I improvised. I put a fresh batch of IMO-4 in an ice chest, using that as the small run, added a small watering dish, a feeding dish, and kept 10 chicks in there at a time.

I kept this ice box setup in the house in the beginning to keep a close eye on the baby chicks because I didn’t know if it would work. The house stayed 2 degrees warmer than the outside temperature (we had no heating in the house), but it was still cold enough to lose chicks. I kept a heat lamp close at hand, but it was never needed.

I found all I needed to do, using IMO in the ice chest, was to keep them safe from predators, and provide daily food and water. I got new chicks every spring, and as soon as I started brooding them on IMO –without a heat lamp—I never lost another baby chick or worried about a heat lamp fire. It was the easiest way I had ever brooded chicks.

The chicks thrived on the IMO bedding and I found I did not need to clean it out. In the past I would have cleaned out the chick box almost every single day.

It worked so well, in fact, that one year I got the old ice chest out that I regularly used to brood baby chicks and found it still had the IMO from the previous year. It had brooded 2-3 clutches of chicks, not been cleaned, and had sat for a full year.

The bedding still looked clean and smelled good, a faint odor of baked bread, so I added the watering dish, the feeding dish, and the baby chicks. There was no difference between that year, with used IMO bedding, and the years before with fresh IMO bedding. The bedding had obviously gone dormant, and then been instantly reactivated with the addition of poopy chicks, and their feed and water.

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