Korean Natural Farming Basics

Fertilize your garden in a closed-loop system using these ancient practices that incorporate natural ingredients from your environment.

Photo by Getty Images/N-sky

As a small-scale farmer, I’m constantly looking for ways to fertilize my garden with on-farm inputs. This includes making my own compost from kitchen scraps, leaves, and chicken and rabbit manure. Despite my efforts, I still had to rely on some inputs from my local garden supply store, such as blood and kelp meal.

It didn’t take me long to realize that this method was unsustainable for me. Ever since I entered the world of farming, I’ve gravitated toward the idea that a closed-loop system — or at least as much of a closed-loop system as possible — is the best option. That means not running to the store whenever I need to feed my plants healthy, organic nutrients. 

Over the course of a few months, I researched ways to feed my plants on my own, including compost teas, vermiculture, and kelp foliar sprays, but it wasn’t until I talked with a local farmer about my concerns that it all clicked.

“You could try water-soluble calcium, or a fish amino acid spray,” my neighbor David Baird told me. “Your plants will soak it right up.” David and his wife, Katie, run Bien-Aimé Farm, a no-till, biointensive market garden.

At first, I had no clue what he was talking about, but he explained that these techniques are part of a practice known as Korean Natural Farming (KNF). Popularized by Master Han-Kyu Cho in his book Natural Farming, KNF is a set of agricultural methods originating in Asia that date back hundreds of years. KNF practices are used to cultivate healthy plants without harmful pesticides or chemical inputs by creating a closed system that’s balanced with natural inputs from local environments. This is accomplished through the creation of fermented fertilizers and techniques that introduce indigenous microorganisms (IMOs) from the wild into a garden’s soil structure, which promotes hardy, robust plants. With KNF, virtually everything a healthy garden needs can be sourced from your surroundings. Right away, I knew this was my ticket to creating a closed-loop system on my own farm.



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