I’m going to take a break from flogging about the balcony garden this week to discuss a technique I use to execute Gil’s recipes in my small scale environment. You don’t always need to ferment on a large scale, with tons of plant material. If you have a small outdoor space like me, that’s not feasible. But the great thing is, even with limited space you can still use these recipes to make your own fertilizers! It’s the idea of “micro-fermentation”.
I have two balconies in my little urban apartment. One holds my urban garden while the other is an eclectic mix of plants, animals, experiments and other weird stuff I’ll talk more about later. In this space, I have limited plants to choose from. I won’t end up with a kilogram of plant material to work with, more like a couple grams.
But even in my small farmyard, I’ve noticed some fast-growing weeds, and even cultivated them a little to make my “micro-extract”. These fast-growing vines will be perfect for my growth promoter extract:
You want to select the fastest growing part of the above-ground plant – the tips. So now I select the growing tips:
Once I’ve cut a bunch of tips, I’ll have a lot from each plant. Still nothing compared to what you would find on a “real” farm.
Now to put them in a little container. TIP: You can find little plastic containers pre-labelled at just about any pharmacy anywhere – specimen jars! They make perfect mini-fermenters!
Now that I have all the plant material in the container, I pulverize it a bit to break down some of the tougher material . This step isn’t necessary but I think it helps with extraction.
Add 1/3 part sugar, in this case molasses, the favorite sugar source of natural farmers here in the Philippines. I didn’t measure this out, just eyeballed it. I’m a farmer! If it’ll get the job done, it’ll work.
Now add the secret sauce. You don’t have to do this but it greatly speeds up/enhances fermentation if you do. Add a couple drops of lactobacilli serum. Don’t need much at all especially in a container this size.
Finally, fill with water. Fill to near the top, screw the cap on but don’t seal it as some gas will form during fermentation. Then date and name it accordingly on the handy little label that came on the container.
This will be good for a few feedings later on when I need to fertilize and want to add some growth promoting hormones, enzymes, etc.
You can tighten the lid when you see bubbling stop after several weeks. You will also notice the smell as it finishes fermenting. It should smell a bit like vinegar. That is the acid that is a byproduct of fermentation. Here’s what it looks like after 3 weeks:
This was stored in a dark place and just left alone with the lid cracked for 3 weeks. I checked it periodically, you will see the bubbles on the sides each time you check, signs that it is indeed fermenting. I would usually tighten the cap and give it a shake but this isn’t necessary really. After 3 weeks (actually a lot sooner this time, but leaving it longer doesn’t matter), you’ll stop seeing bubbles on the sides, and the smell will be like alcohol/vinegar/sour – the fermented smell.
There you have it, your own little mini-extract! The whole process takes 5 minutes and I end up with a great product. I’ll mix this with my homemade fish fertilizer, and use that on the garden when I want to feed in the future. The fish fertilizer provides the Nitrogen while this extract provides the growth promotants. Great combination.
Those familiar with the Grow recipe will notice that I added water, where the recipe doesn’t call for adding water. That’s how I adapted the recipe for this small scale use. It will be a little more diluted than if I hadn’t added water, but there wasn’t enough plant material to do it that way. As long as you stick to the principles of the recipes, you can adapt them depending on your situation, like substituting pumpkin for papaya in the bloom recipe, or snails for fish in the fish fertilizer recipe.
What have you been fermenting? How has it worked out for you? Share with the group in the comments section!