Post Date: Monday, 07 February 2011
As a visitor to Thailand I was struck by the beauty and exuberance of the plant life – which thrived even amidst the footpaths and high rises of Bangkok. And so when I married my Thai husband Surin Laopha we set about creating our dream - a beautiful tropical paradise, which would provide a sanctuary and place of rest for guests from around the world. Although I had gardened all my life in New Zealand, it turned out I had no idea about gardening in the tropics. Heavy rains washed away most of the topsoil in the rainy season, while in the summer the parched stony clay hardened to the consistency of the bricks in our guest villas. Although I succeeded in growing a few basil and chili plants in my first year, thanks to the residual fertility in the soil, by the second year, my vegetable garden was a failure.
I was delighted therefore when I stumbled upon a pile of palm heads at a nearby mushroom farm and ordered a truckload.
Though I was excited about the prospect, my sister-in-law Sula, who manages the resort, wasn’t impressed.
“Look at these snails!” She held out one, which almost filled her palm.
|Tropical snail||Surin and Bronwen, owners of Faasai Resort, at the lake|
And look here!” She lifted up a palm head to reveal a muddy scab of dust and scampering lice. “Termites! Don’t buy those palms any more,” she huffed and Surin agreed with her. As for cow manure, the other option I proposed – “Too smelly! The guests won’t like it.”
Apparently I had no idea about gardening in the tropics. How could I – a city dweller from New Zealand know better than my husband’s family? After all they had a life time of experience – they were rice farmers from Isaan. They told me I needed to use pesticides and fertilizers and herbicides – and I was reluctantly persuaded.
I was secretly pleased when they didn’t work that well. Within days of application of pesticide, the insects were back in their tropical abundance. Then the neighbor used herbicides in his cashew nut plantation “to make it tidy” and the frogs fell silent. I gave up on the chemicals and continued to potter in my garden and water the trees without any idea of how to create the paradise of my dreams.
But then I discovered EM Technology™ when a friend from New Zealand came to Thailand to attend a workshop at Saraburi run by APNAN or the Asia Pacific Natural Agricultural Network and she introduced me to their website. On it, APNAN had kindly placed a manual about how to make and use activated EM•1® along with many case studies from farmers and gardeners all around Asia. Armed with this knowledge I started buying EM•1® from APNAN – a dark fermented liquid that reminded me of kikoman soy sauce. After mixing it with molasses and water and keeping it for a week I could apply it to my garden and the results were spectacular. At last I had a system that seemed to work – perhaps my paradise was achievable after all.
EM™ was developed and patented by Professor Teruo Higa of Meio University in Okinawa. An agricultural scientist, he was only too familiar with the dangers and limitations of agricultural chemicals and began experimenting with microorganisms, as he had discovered their beneficial effects on mandarins he had been cultivating. However he said it was like looking for a needle in a haystack – after all there are around 100 million microbes in a single gram. One day he tossed out his day’s experiments on the lawn. A week later the grass was growing luxuriantly and the idea of EM™ was born.
"Suddenly the light dawned, realization struck and I understood what had happened. It was the combination! What had been unique about the microorganisms I had disposed of outside the laboratory was that they were a mixture of several different types of microorganism! That was the point. The active ingredient was in the mix itself!” Professor Higa wrote in his autobiography An Earth Saving Revolution.
Today there are three main types of microorganisms that make up the EM•1® which is patented and sold around the world under strictly controlled conditions. These microorganisms fall into three main categories. Photosynthetic bacteria fix the sun’s energy into useful acids, sugars and metabolites, lactobbacilus helps suppress some disease inducing microorganisms and pest populations and yeasts promote cell and root division.
My own EM™ experiment began with a truckload of rice straw, piles of leaves, bags of cow manure, EM•1® and molasses that I bought from APNAN, and Pon, my husband’s 20-something nephew, who had learnt about making Activated EM•1® in school.
We made bokashi, a special EM™ compost that doesn’t generate as much heat as regular compost and which is ready for the garden within days. This was for my new vegetable garden which Surin had marked out with bricks in front of our house. I had already given up on my old vegetable garden which was stony and barren, now shaded by rain trees and tamarinds that had sprung up from seeds.
The planned new garden was on a patch of hard pan clay and since I didn’t have any soil for it, we filled up the beds with a thick layer of bokashi and I sowed my seeds in rice chaff I had spread on top. My curious housemaids wandered over to look at my work from time to time, listening politely while I explained what I was doing. I heard later they were laughing behind my back. Sula, always more direct, told me I was wasting my time.
But my beans, which I had soaked in EM•1® before planting in the bokashi, shot up like triffids, waving their tendrils in the sky. Before long the maids were asking me for bean seeds to plant in their own gardens. Since they had just come from the local shop – the spectacular growth had to be due to EM•1® - a first step in the slow process of winning over my skeptics.
|Making EM™ Bokashi with helper Sam||Me and EM™ grown beans|
To tackle pests such as termites, snails and ants I made a natural repellant, a brew of bitter or insect-repelling herbs such as neem, citronella, galangal, chiretta and marigolds mixed with EM FPE (Fermented Plant Extract). This has a dual benefit, as the more fertile the garden becomes, the more it will attract natural predators such as birds, fish, frogs and lizards. The wildlife also helps to keep down the mosquitoes, which pleases us and our guests. The first rainy season after I started using EM•1® the frogs returned louder than ever.
|Helper with EM™ grown papayas||Surin spraying a combination of Activated EM•1® and EM5|
Soon my weekends were spent with the watering can, spreading EM FPE around the gardens. It also infiltrated the cage of my pet lorikeet as I added a splash to his bathing water and used it as a natural antibacterial to scrub out his cage.
|Lorikeet||Lorikeet with flowers
Tiring as it was, I enjoyed my weekends of EM™ chores. I felt I was building up the soil, giving life and health to plants and animals. Due to the scale of the task – more than three acres of land - I concentrated on certain spots where I also added cow manure, leaves and straw. Within a few weeks there were piles of worm casings decorating the straw. That year the flowers on my torch ginger were spectacular – which I attributed this to the growing richness and fertility of the earth.
|Worm casings||Staff about to plant vetiver grass around the lake|
About a year after I first began using EM™ we acquired another plot of land with springs and wetlands near the resort to create a nature sanctuary, organic gardens and orchards. That meant we had about 20 acres now under our stewardship – no small area to maintain. I therefore decided to attend an APNAN workshop myself in Saraburi. There I met fellow EM™ enthusiasts from throughout the Asia Pacific, including soil scientists, academics, government officials and agriculturalists. There was a broad representation of people from across Asia wanting to learn about this system which would help them to deal with three important challenges – producing large quantities of high quality food, protecting human health and protecting the environment. Bhutan is becoming totally organic as is Sikkim in India and EM™ is seen as a way of achieving this.
Thailand was one of the earliest countries to become interested in EM™ and in 1989 the Asia Pacific Natural Agricultural Network (APNAN) was established in Thailand. This has been most fortunate for the Kingdom, which has a thriving sufficiency movement, inspired by His Majesty the King, as local Thai farmers have a good source of EM•1® stock and every year thousands of people including school children are trained in how to use it thanks to the kindness and generosity of the Japan’s EM Research Organization (EMRO) which is dedicated to using this technology to benefit the world. In addition to using EM Technology™ on crops, in animal husbandry and aquaculture, the Thai government has also used it for waste management, water and soil pollution control and even to reduce the smells of corpses after the 2004 Tsunami.
APNAN’s model farm in Saraburi is used to grow rice and vegetables and fruit, pigs, chickens and fish and people come from around the world to learn about EM Technology™. Everything is organic and in addition to using EM•1® in their gardens, they feed it to the animals (in the form of bokashi), put it in the animals’ drinking water and spray their pens with it. The results are impressive – the animals are healthier and grow faster than those farmed in conventional ways. One figure which particularly impressed me was that it doubled the laying life of hens. As a woman of a mature age, I wondered what it might do for humans! They also use EM•1® for water purification and spray it in rooms as an air purifier. These animals in Saraburi, with their chemical-free fresh food and pure water, surely have a higher standard of physical care than many of today’s urban kids.
Surely cultivating healthy animals can’t be too different to cultivating a healthy garden – like plants we need good air circulation, sunshine, nutrients and water, a healthy immune system, and to avoid excessive stress, especially early in life. Some even say a human being is a “supra-organism” because there are trillions of microbes residing in our bodies – indeed we each have far more microbes than human cells. The benefits of using EM™ in animal’s food and drinking water is that it helps to tip the balance in favour of beneficial versus pathogenic bacteria.
At the workshop they taught us how to make EM Fermented Rice Rinsed Water (EMRW) by mixing the water from washing rice with EM•1®, sugar, a pinch of salt and flavourings such as lime (I add lemon grass, kaffir lime and jasmin). After a week or more of fermentation it smells fragrant and is nicely spritzig - a refreshing drink when added to chilled water. After fermentation the plain rice rinsed water with EM•1®, salt and sugar smells like a rich, malolactic fermentation chardonnay. Either kind can be used for cleaning the house, washing dishes, removing lime scale, purifying water, repelling insects and as an air freshener. Truly a remarkable product! I now experience a feeling of wonder when I visit the supermarket as I look at the rows and rows of products that we waste our money on. The catch to all this of course is the difficulty of producing such products in ideal and sterile conditions. Although I make it for my own use, I wouldn’t dare to ask our house maids to use it to clean our guest rooms, though we do use some form of EM™ in our septic systems.
I was keen to try EM™ in our koi carp pond after the workshop as we were given demonstrations in how to use it in aquaculture and water purification. We have over a hundred carp and our hot tropical climate and fierce sun gives us major problems with rapid algae growth which means we regularly have to empty and clean out the pond (which we use to fertilize our gardens). After I returned from the workshop I enthusiastically tossed EM™ mudballs into the pond and the next morning I set off for the airport to fly to New Zealand. We had not long left the resort when I received an angry phone call from Sula. The water had turned green with muck, the carp were gasping for air. One big one died. I was banned from using EM™ in the pond….at least while she was there.
I didn’t want to give up though and so after I got back from New Zealand and Sula and her husband Sittichok went on leave we cleaned out the pond and I started adding EM•1® to the water twice a day. For the next couple of weeks, the water remained beautifully clear. Each morning I admired the brightly coloured and lively fish. Admittedly the algae came back- it isn’t easy to manage in the tropical heat - especially as we have a lot of fish and not enough shade. The daily task of managing the pond has been handed over to Sittichok, Sula’s husband. He braved the wrath of Sula and adds EM•1® regularly – fortunately no more fish died. They even produced a few more beautiful babies. They are much admired by our guests for the beauty and frisky natures.
Meanwhile we now have two cows – Surin wanted them to eat our grass in the orchards. I give them EM™ bokashi (hay or rice straw fermented with EM•1®, molasses, rice meal) as a food supplement. They love it – they come running to greet me and one of them “Phetploi” (or Diamond) sometimes even leaps up on her hind legs and dances for excitement and joy. They are healthy and growing fast – Phetploi, our dancing cow, is getting quite chubby. And they are both expecting EM calves.
|Feeding cows with EM•1® enriched hay
||Longgong fruit out of season|
For me, EM™ has become an addiction. It is not just that it produces quick and dramatic results, as it did with the beans. But even more deeply satisfying is seeing the steady transformation of the soil and the abundance of life that flows from the invigorated earth. We feel proud that we have created the beautiful garden paradise of our dreams, producing flowers, trees, herbs and fruit. It is as if we too have produced an EM baby.
|Pool and gardens||White water lake||Resort house with sunflowers|
Benefits of EM™:
EM™ promotes germination, growth, flowering, fruiting and ripening of crops
EM™ enhances the photosynthetic capacity of plants
EM™ enhances the efficacy of organic matter or fertilizer
EM™ develops resistance of plants to pests and diseases
EM™ improves the efficacy of organic matter as fertilizer
EM™ improves the physical, chemical and biological environment of the soil
EM™ suppresses soil borne pathogens and pests
EM™ controls pests and diseases without needing to resort to chemical sprays.
EM Research Organization Inc.
Nature Farm (EMNZ)