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In our regenerative practices sojourn we have stumbled upon the fascinating practice of harvesting, cultivating and inoculating soil and crops with Indigenous Microorganisms (IMOs). This method for soil regeneration originally comes from the Korean Natural Farming system developed by Master Han Kyu Cho from Janong Natural Farming Institute in South Korea and has been practiced across Asia for over 40 years. Poor farming practices can lead to food shortages due to degradation of soil. At Love in a Bowl we want to actively ensure the health of our soil.

Just like any eco-system, diversity is key. As Hydroponics expert Nico Hill writes in Garden Culture Magazine:

“Plants have evolved over millions of years alongside bacteria and fungi, so by isolating them and plonking them into a sterile growing media, you couldn’t be creating a more unnatural environment for them. Some plants (e.g., orchids) won’t even germinate without a microbial association. A diverse bacterial and fungal association can be key to opening a plant’s full genetic expression, enhancing those three magical F’s: flavor, form, and function… (IMOs) are free-range microbes”…”Bacteria and fungi that naturally occur all over the world, in their natural habitats”…“the whole theory is to go for maximum diversity of bacteria, (and) fungi alongside higher level ‘recyclers’ of organic nutrients…”

We welcomed Aran Hewland, a young organic farmer, to Love in a Bowl to teach our team of passionate volunteers his method for harvesting and cultivating his soup of IMOs. The best places to harvest IMOs are in areas where human traffic is low to non-existent, where microbes have been essentially living and thriving in their very own communities, exchanging information over decades or even thousands of years. We harvested some of these incredible little guys from the mountains above Hangberg for this particular experiment. We prepared 2 beds for planting and, after our garden’s very-own winter soup was ready, and with the new seedlings planted, we treated one bed with our IMO potion. We are watching in anticipation to see how soil and growing results may differ. 

In the mean time, the thirst to know more has been aroused and we will be seeing where we might harvest some IMO’s around the farm itself where foot traffic is recognisably low. As Hill writes: “Areas immediately surrounding the crop that you are growing can also be beneficial to harvest microbes from, as they are more likely to have a direct association with the crop you’re cultivating”.

A poignant piece of wisdom comes from one of our own local organic farmers across Chappies in Noordhoek: “We don’t farm vegetables. We farm the soil – keep the soil healthy and the vegetables grow themselves”. Keeping soil rich, healthy, toxin-free and thriving is essential to maintaining an eco-system that can continue to supply nutrient-dense produce for generations to come. And we plan to be growing food for our community for a long, long time!

If you’re interested in learning more about our IMO experiment, send us an email to volunteer and learn alongside us OR if you’d like to read the full article from Garden Culture Magazine click here: https://gardenculturemagazine.com/korean-natural-farming-and-indigenous-microorganisms/