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.
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.