By Zac B. Sarian
Ask Jefferson Laruan, a very successful organic farmer, and he will tell you that wood vinegar is very important in organic farming. He and his wife Elisa are the owners of the Lily Valley Organic Farm in La Trinidad, Benguet.
Wood vinegar or Mokusako is the liquid that is collected from the condensation that takes place in a long chimney-like attachment to a fire chamber where wood and other combustible materials are burned.
POTTED STRAWBERRIES ABOVE GROUND –Photo shows hundreds of potted strawberry plants about a meter above the ground. Under them are New Zealand spinach which are planted to maintain the humidity below the potted plants as well as to maximize productivity of precious garden space. Organic strawberry commands a high price of at least R300 per kilo. With good cultural management, the plants could produce luscious fruits that are very clean and without any pesticidal contamination. Posing in photo are Mrs. Elisa Laruan, Jeff Laruan, Weng Bienes and Arcadio Talaboc of Allied Botanical Corporation.
FIRING CHAMBER – Jefferson Laruan poses beside the firing chamber for the production of wood vinegar which is very essential in accelerating decomposition of raw materials for making organic fertilizer. When wood and other materials are burned, their steam that is caught in the long slanting chimney is turned into liquid when it cools down and is called wood vinegar.
CALCIUM PHOSPHATE – Calcium phosphate is an effective fertilizer, especially for flowering and fruiting plants. This can be produced as an organic fertilizer by combining wood vinegar and lime that is produced by burning oyster shell. That is what Jeff Laruan is producing for his strawberries and other crops. Photo shows Arcadio Talaboc posing with a container of calcium phosphate.
ODORLESS PIGPEN – Lily of the Valley Organic Farm is an integrated farm. It does not only grow vegetables and other crops, it also raises black pigs and rabbits. The pig pen does not have the usual foul odor found in ordinary piggeries because the wood vinegar that is supplied to the animals’ feeds and drinking water eliminates the usual foul smell.
KALE GETTING INCREASINGLY POPULAR – Jefferson Laruan is excited about the increasing popularity of kale among health-conscious customers. Lily of the Valley grows five varieties of kale that include Red Russian good for juicing, Red Ursa also for juicing, Blue Curl best for soups, Toscana for chips and soups and Vates for salad and smoothie. Photo shows a kale variety grown by the Laruans.
SHREDDERS BY JEFFERSON – Shredders are necessary in cutting to pieces the raw materials for making compost. When Jeff learned that a shredder made in Quezon City cost more than a hundred thousand pesos, he decided to fabricate not only for himself but also for other farmers in Benguet. His shredder cost only about P47,000. He is adept at fabricating machines because he studied farm mechanics in college.
COMPANION PLANTING – Jeff grows plants that are compatible. Just like the beautiful purple cabbage plants that are growing happily with New Zealand spinach. By following this technique, Jeff maximizes the productivity of his farm. Purple cabbage sells at P120 per kilo. On the other hand, New Zealand spinach sells for more than a hundred pesos per kilo. It is good for stir-frying or for making salads and soups. New Zealand spinach has a long productive life because the shoots are harvested without pulling the whole plant. Another variety is called Japanese spinach. This one is harvested only once because the whole plant has to be pulled out when harvesting.
The wood vinegar has a number of uses in farming, especially in organic farming. Jeff Laruan uses wood vinegar as a compost activator so that the materials being composted are turned into organic fertilizer in just a matter of 15 days. Without an activator, it could take months to decompose farm wastes and other materials.
Jeff also uses wood vinegar to produce liquid fertilizer that can be used as foliar fertilizer or as soil drench. The fertilizer does not only promote growth of plants, it also acts as a repellant to pests.
Wood vinegar is also considered as a probiotic that is added to the feeds and drinking water of livestock and poultry. This enhances proper digestion of feeds so that the nutrients are more easily absorbed by the animals. The probiotic is also responsible for eliminating odor in the pigpen.
This is how Jeff prepares the wood vinegar for spraying on the materials to be composted. He mixes four liters of Mokusako with water to fill a drum that contains 200 liters. This is enough to wet 3,000 kilos of composting materials. The mixture is applied only once to wet the materials for composting.
To prepare calphos or calcium phosphate which is good for flowering and fruiting plants, this is how Jeff prepares it. He gets a 20-liter pail or container and fills one-third with wood vinegar. Lime which is a product of burning oyster shell is added little by little to the wood vinegar until bubbling stops. This is rich in zinc which is a micronutrient useful for flowering and fruiting plants.
Juice that is extracted from banana trunk is also a good source of potassium that can make fruits sweeter. Jeff ferments the juice with Mokusako and uses this to fertilize his fruiting strawberries.
THE FARM – Lily of the Valley, by the way, produces organic high-value crops and in smaller scale, pigs, chickens and rabbits. It also has a bed and breakfast operation with Mrs. Laruan, a retired nurse, as in charge. The farm is only 2.2 hectares but the surface looks like it is five hectares because of the jagged terrain with some level portions.
Kale keeps Jeff excited because more and more people are getting interested in the vegetable because of its avowed health benefits. Besides being adaptable to the weather conditions in La Trinidad, kale commands a price of P200 per kilo ex-farm, much higher compared to just P100 for lettuce, P80 for green cabbage, P60 for watercress and others. Jeff grows five kale varieties which have their own special uses.
Another crop that excites him is strawberry in containers installed on metal platform above the ground. He has just started growing strawberry in earnest and by the looks of it, the plants are growing well and are starting to bear fruit.
Other favorite crops are sugar beets, carrots, broccoli, green and purple cabbage, New Zealand and Japanese spinach, watercress and some others.