Monthly Archives: October 2013

Increasing Your Soil Microorganisms: Step 1

Soil microorganisms are the labor force behind great soil. If it weren’t for the millions of microorganisms working hard at eating, pooing (ok, “excreting” for you technical folks!) and reproducing, plants couldn’t have the nutrients they need in available or accessible ways. There are several factors that change the nutrient availability in your soil like pH levels, water-logging vs drought, and others. But first things first, you need bacteria, worms, nematodes and other little buggers. There are millions of them already in your soil, but having billions is even better. They rearrange nutrients on a molecular level as well as in a physical manner: they  ingest soil matter and as they plop it back out it is newly arranged ready for plant uptake and they create space which can hold air and water just by moving around.

There is a method of multiplying microorganisms practiced in Korean Natural Farming and it focuses on the indigenous critters, the local guys you already have. This is opposed to bringing in a batch from somewhere else like purchasing them from a store. Bacteria feed on carbohydrates so we increase their food supply with a buffet of rice and watch them grow! It’s not as simple as that, but it is pretty straight forward. You may find this method named Indigenous Microorganism or IMO. After feeding your microorganisms and watching them multiply–keeping in mind we want aerobic bacteria and NOT anaerobic bacteria–you will then reintroduce them into your soil a couple steps later.

IMO #1 Blog collage

We tailored this process for situations where you have rain, especially sporadic like here in Kona, Hawaii, because if your material gets wet while sitting outside  anaerobic bacteria will grow and we don’t want that!

What you’ll need:

  • A breathable box: we used cardboard, or you can use bamboo, or a woven basket. We haven’t tried inorganic materials yet like a plastic box with holes for ventilation. Let us know if you’ve tried other variations.
  • Rice, hard cooked (equal parts water + rice): we used about 3 cups
  • Some soil from your garden, NOT store bought potting soil
  • A high carbohydrate source from the garden, like leaves, in the garden space you want to improve. We selected the area beneath our bamboo trees, their leaves are really high in carbs.
  • A cool shady place near your carbohydrate source


Gather and clear away the leaves from a section under your tree. Keep the leaves, you’ll use them in a bit. With a shovel collect enough dirt to make a layer 3-4inches at the bottom of your box.

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Dump the rice in on top of the soil and crumble as needed so it’s loosely broken and makes an even layer. It should be sticky to touch but not wet or squishy.


Now grab your leaves and make a couple layers with leaves overlapping to cover the rice as if it were a solid lid (photo on right). By trial and error we found that just sprinkling + scattering the leaves across the top allowed the rice to dry out (photo on left) which could reduce or stop the bacteria from feeding on it.

IMG_2322 Dry spots in rice IMG_2323 Recovered for dry

Carefully transfer your box into a shed or the garage or under and awning (if you have rain or heavy dew issues). We have mongoose that are pesky little guys so we put a crate on top and a few rocks to make sure it didn’t get disturbed.


Now comes the tricky part: timing the growth period of your bacteria farm. In high humidity and constantly warm weather, our bacteria take anywhere between 2-4 days to grow. Results will vary depending on particular conditions like the delicate balance of enough ventilation so that things do not get wet and thus anaerobic, and having it sealed up enough to encourage them to grow grow grow. It should look like white fluffy cotton candy on top of the rice under the leaves.

IMG_2356 IMG_2351



If you do not need to protect this bacteria increasing process from rain, you can do this outside and skip a couple steps as laid out here. You can leave your breathable box outside underneath your high-carb leaf/tree source. You can also use an old t-shirt or towel as a barrier between the leaves and the rice to make the transition to the next step a bit cleaner (see new blog entry to follow); totally your preference as of right now, I don’t have any research that points to a result-based advantage. I have even seen a bamboo box used as a lid as well as the bottom section to completely encase the rice, though because it is ventilated the bacteria are white and not black and blue (a sure sign of anaerobic bacteria).


I would love to hear about your experiences and field any questions you might have to those in our department that have been tinkering with this process. Share your photos and/or tell us about your experiences and results!


Welcome to ATV Kona

Group ShotHi, I’m Brittany Wood (see center of photo, stripe shirt) and am currently managing our Science and Technology Department’s Appropriate Technology Village in Kona, Hawaii. It is a demonstration and training site in the heart of campus: its a garden, a village setting with the basic features of home life (clean water, toilets, shelter, food & herbal/medicinal production), as well as a teaching space outdoors and for an indoor classroom we have a  Polynesian fale (sounds like: fall-A; ours might be a little less glamorous).

The Appropriate Technology Village (ATV) is roughly 1 3/4 acres in size and has a lot going on inside it. The vision and purpose is that we use appropriate resources and ideas to solve basic and vital issues like water sanitation and food production. We use the words “appropriate technology” a lot around here – 

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Fish count!

16 October 2013

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a real beauty for our breeding program                             team effort to be accurate with as little stress to the fish as possible


As we continue to make physical improvements at the Aquaponics Farm, we are also working to be more efficient and cost effective in feeding so we are updating our fish inventory. We are counting every tilapia as well as measuring, sorting, weighing and sexing (the ones that are old enough). We have great help getting this done.  Thanks to Norm Moe, Ward Filgo and our awesome Leadership Track guys – Jacob and Joe!


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Jacob and Joe                                                                                                                 “Can we get some food after this?”


Can you guess how many fish we have in our pool? Let us know what your guess is.

(Tilapia only, we are not  counting the mosquito guppy fish!)