Gardening with Makgeolli (KNF)


There’s more reasons to make makgeolli than just to drink it. Makgeolli and Korean Natural Farming go hand-in-hand. The collection of indigenous microorganisms to propagate for soil fertility, and the process of making nuruk for makgeolli fermentation, are virtually indistinguishable from eachother. It’s obvious that the two practices co-evolved, and similar crossover is seen throughout Korean Natural Farming and Korean cuisine. Fish sauce and fish amino acids share common roots. Lactobacillus cultures are used both for farming, and for preserved foods like kimchi. In similar fashion, the process of making makgeolli leaves you with byproducts that are useful in the creation of Korean Natural Farming inputs, and farming/gardening in general.

Read more: How to Make Makgeolli (Traditional Korean Rice Wine/Beer) at Home

Rehydrating Dry OHN Ingredients

In “the KNF manual”, Dr. Cho’s Global Natural Farming, we are taught the process for making Oriental Herbal Nutrient, a farming input for pest control that’s made from rehydrated and fermented aromatics like garlic, ginger, and cinnamon. Some of these ingredients begin dried, and the manual instructs you to rehydrate them using “rice wine/beer”. Most Westerners translate this as an either or, as in “rice wine, or beer”, and proceed to quite pointlessly and wastefully pour actual store-bought beer over cinnamon bark and go from there. This might wet the ingredients, but the benefits end there. The “rice wine/beer” being called for is, in fact, makgeolli. The reason for the “/” is because no one can actually agree on which it is. In some ways, it’s neither. What makgeolli does have, that bottled beer does not, is diverse microbial colonies that aid in the fermentation of OHN ingredients, and help extract the volatile oils that are being sought out.

Rice Vinegar, Water-Soluble Calcium and Phosphate

If you let makgeolli ferment for too long, it rather quickly turns to vinegar. Makgeolli vinegar doesn’t form the typical “mother” seen in other vinegars, but it does sour to a pH well below 3, and is completely effective at dissolving eggshells and bones needed to make the KNF preps Water-Soluble Calcium, and Water-Soluble Calcium-Phosphate.

Distiller’s Grains

When you strain the rice remnants from the makgeolli, what you’re left with is called distillers grains. It’s the spent, largely carbohydrate-free leavings from grain fermentation. Distillers grains make a good addition to animal feed, since they are super high in fiber, and retain some of their protein and fat content without all of the inflammatory carbohydrates. The grains are usually dried first to eliminate any residual alcohol. This is the least interesting thing I ever do with the makgeolli remains, but I often make homemade dog food and distillers grains are a great filler that doesn’t add too many calories.

Lacto (LAB) Feed and Foliar

One thing that I never skip when I have a fresh batch of makgeolli, is feeding some to my plants. I’m far too greedy to give them the drinkable final product, though (and it would have to be diluted, anyhow). I make makgeolli in triple sized batches, with a 5.5 gallon total end product, so I use a 5.5 gallon fermenter. After straining the rice remnants out of the makgeolli, I put the bag back into the fermenter, fill it back up with water, and bubble it with an airstone for 24 hours. The goal of bubbling it is to flip the microbe balance back to aerobic, promote the growth of lactobacillus, and convert any ethanol to organic acids. This liquid can be fed directly to plants, applied as a foliar spray, or both. Lactobacillus helps keep soil vital and promotes nutrient cycling. From a nutrient perspective, makgeolli-water (my own experiences being the only reference) appears to provide mineral nutrient like phosphorus, magnesium, selenium, and manganese and is rather fast-acting. It’s also a source of readily usable B-vitamins and co-enzymes that aid in plant health, growth, and yields. As a foliar, it makes a decent leaf polish and may convey similar nutrient benefits.

Compost, Black Soldier Flies, Fungal Substrate, Organic Matter

Even after making makgeolli-water you still have the spent grain remnants left in the bag. These can be dried into distillers grains, but they also make a fantastic addition of organic matter and microbes to compost and soil mixes. Black Soldier Flies (BSF), in particular, love makgeolli remnants. BSF larvae (sometimes called Nutri-grubs) are an excellent food source for raising chickens and other fowl, and some reptiles. Clumps of the makgeolli grains also become substrate for fungal colonies. Sometimes I end up adding these clumps to my IMO-2, but other times I just leave them in the mulch layer. They end up getting colonized by predatory mites and springtails.


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