In Korean Natural Farming, a number of products are made by utilizing naturally occurring bacteria present in the soil and the air around us. These beneficial microbes are encouraged to proliferate, under our control, and then bottled for use on the farm. One of the most important, and a real workhorse, is lacto acid bacteria.
“Lactic acid bacteria” (LAB) refers to a large group of bacteria, rather than a single species or strain, that produce lactic acid as a by-product of digesting their food source (usually carbohydrates). The lactic acid accumulates to ferment or “pickle” the food, and LAB are capable of surviving in acidic (low-pH) environments. LAB are widespread in nature and are beneficial probiotics in our digestive systems. They are among the most important groups of microorganisms used in food fermentation, contributing to the taste and texture of fermented products and inhibiting food spoilage caused by other microorganisms. LAB are responsible for the production of yogurt, cheese, cultured butter, sour cream, sausage, kimchee, olives, and sauerkraut.
We use LAB on the farm to treat our goat and chicken areas so they are odor-free and to promote healthy digestion and improved nutrition of the feed we give our animals. The two-fold benefit of adding LAB to livestock feed is, first, to make it easier to digest by fermenting their grain for a couple of days, increasing the nutritional value of the feed; and second, they need less feed as a result, saving money.
Another way we use LAB is to eliminate odors from the chicken coop and goat bedding areas. By laying down a deep-litter floor of dry materials such as straw, wood chips, palm fronds, grass clippings, and compost inoculated with IMO and then sprayed with LAB, all animal dropping smells are rapidly neutralized. You can coop chickens and pen pigs without producing any odor or attracting flies in this way.
Additionally, we use LAB on the farm is to promote the good health of our plants and trees. Used as a foliar spray once or twice a month on plants and trees will prevent “bad” bacteria and other microorganisms from getting a foothold on your crops. Spray a 1:1,000 dilution of LAB on leaves, especially the undersides, and trunks and branches in the late afternoon hours. This can be done year around, but should be reduced once fruit has set as too much LAB may lessen the sweetness (brix) of fruit. So, it is best used while leaves and flowers are developing to ensure vigor and growth. This foliar spraying can be done with LAB alone, or LAB combined with a few other Natural Farming solutions we will talk about in other posts.
A research paper was published by the University of Hawai’i, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) that describes the benefits of LAB, how to use it, and a recipe for making your own.
The basic process for making LAB is very simple and inexpensive. What you are doing is isolating the natural lacto acid bacteria in the air (it’s everywhere!) and providing an excellent environment for its growth, then we bottle it for use later. Here’s a quick step-by-step procedure:
- Wash white rice and save the wash-water. The water will be cloudy with nice carbohydrates LAB loves. Use only the cloudiest first and second wash-water to fill a 2-quart jar about one-third full.
- Place a paper towel over the mouth of the jar and secure with a rubber band or the open metal ring if it is a typical canning jar you are using.
- Place the jar outside for one day where it does not get rain or sun, then bring it inside and place where is will not be disturbed for a day or two more. The LAB are in the air pass right through the paper towel and will start eating the carbohydrates in the wash-water. You will see a thin scum forming on the top of the water and some sediment on the bottom. It should smell a little sour, like fermentation, but not foul or overly strong.
- After about three days, you will have a lot of bacteria growing in the wash-water, mostly LAB, but others as well. We want to encourage only the LAB and we do that by giving it a new growth media that only LAB will like. The “lacto” part of LAB is familiar to you from diary products, right? So we give LAB milk to eat and none of the other bacteria can complete with LAB’s voracious appetite for the lactose in milk. Use raw whole milk from a cow or goat if you have it, but even re-constituted powdered milk works. I’d just avoid the “ultra-pasteurized” stuff.
- Strain the wash-water by replacing the paper towel with a double layer of cheesecloth and pour the wash-water off into a measuring cup. Now, you will pour room temperature milk into a couple of clean 2-quart jars with some of the wash-water at a ratio of 10 parts milk to 1 part wash-water.
- Re-cap the jars with paper towels as previously done and set the jars aside in a dark undisturbed place for a few days. It usually takes about three days for the LAB to dominate and separate the milk into curds and whey. The curds rise to the top and the whey is the pale yellow liquid below it in the jar. The whey is loaded with active lacto acid bacteria.
- Harvest by spooning out the congealed curds (save) and pouring the liquid off through a couple of layers of cheesecloth into clean jars. Cap the bottles with paper towels and refrigerate for up to six months.
You can also preserve the LAB you have just harvested without refrigeration by mixing it with an equal amount of molasses. Keep all bottles loosely capped to allow it to breathe.
Use the curds for animal feed or eat it yourself; it is probiotic rich and good for your gut. I eat a little and share the rest with my chickens, who totally love the stuff!
The standard dilution of LAB for plants and animal use is 1:1,000. That’s about 3/4 teaspoon to 1 gallon of water.