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Organic Liquid Fertilizer

Mariah E. Dorner, Third Millennium Alliance, 2013


The use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in large-scale farming endeavors

has become a global environmental problem. Chemical fertilizers leach easily from the

soil, evading their purpose as nutrients for the plants and finding their way to polluting

lakes, rivers, and groundwater supplies. The dependence on these for the fertility of

the soil has the opposite effect. Soils become nutritionally depleted year after year as

chemical nutrients are applied and leached back out subsequently. Organic fertilizers

aim to replenish the soil as nature would do, through the building of a nutritional

support system. That is, nutrients are held in the soil by decomposed organic matter

called humus. The use of chemical pesticides has had comparably devastating

environmental effects. Nonspecific pesticides are often harmful or deadly to a number

of unintended members of the ecosystem. The consequences of irresponsible use of

such chemicals are often only discovered once the destruction has been too great.

Organic pesticides use compounds found in nature as a plant`s own defense against

pests. It is ideal for a large scale organic food producer to both be able to provide for

the nutritional needs of the plants and to be able to protect the plants against pests in

a method that is effective and environmentally responsible.

Reaching 50% food self sufficiency here at Jama- Coaque is an important goal

for the reserve as an incorporated permaculture production zone. Among other

needed initiatives, in order to reach this goal and hopefully to exceed it someday, the

use of organic liquid fertilizer could greatly improve the health of plants and their yield

within the production areas. The introduction of this method of fertilization has big

implications then for the future of a sustainable community at Jama-Coaque as an

example of such alternative agricultural methods as permaculture and agroforestry.

We strive to be an example for the community of Camarones and for all of greater

Ecuador in our methods of food production.

A method of creating organic liquid fertilizer known as Biol has been

developing, mainly in South American countries, which utilizes the natural process of

fermenting organic materials to create a slurry of nutrients and living microorganisms

to benefit the growth of plants. The term biol generally refers to a fermented liquid

foliar fertilizer consisting mainly of manure and water as base ingredients. There is a

great variability of recipes for making biol fertilizers. This is because each recipe utilizes

materials which are readily available for a low cost. Thus biol fertilizer is a practical and

economical solution for an agricultural problem in any developing country, or

anywhere else for that matter.

Biol liquid fertilizer is made by the anaerobic decomposition (fermentation), of

organic materials, producing a nutrient rich source of humus and living culture to

stimulate such physiological activities in plants as root formation, stimulation of flower

and fruit growth, and overall plant development. Applied in small amounts, Biol

promotes the lives of microorganisms which improve soil structure when applied in the

ground and reduce fungal and bacterial infections when applied to leaves. Users of biol

fertilizers report a noticeable greening in the leaves of treated plants and an increase
in harvest quantity and quality. The overall health of the plant is improved. Biol liquid

fertilizer can also be applied as a treatment for plants damaged by frost or hail, which I

sincerely hope is never a prevailing issue here at Jama-Coaque.


Creating an Airtight Fermentor:

Many methods of creating fermented biol fertilizers require the process to be

anaerobic. This means that it must take place without oxygen. Other biol recipes have

used aerobic processes, however both methods are acclaimed by their users for the

effectiveness of the final product. Here at Jama-Coaque, we have created an anaerobic

system. As we were unable to find a pre-fabricated airtight container in the nearby

vicinities, we were forced to be a little bit creative and think back to medieval

methods. There is a great advantage to our design, and that is its adaptability. The

construction consists of an open container, covered with a sheet of rubber, and

pressed closed between planks of wood. The tightness of the seal is ensured through

the use of threaded poles flanking the barrel and passing through the wooden planks.

These poles are secured and tightened by nuts on the outside of the sandwiched wood

(refer to diagram, Figure 1.). Our model has been constructed to fit a smaller 5 gallon

(18.925 L) barrel with a smaller opening (approximately 5.5 cm in diameter).

As important as it is that the fermentation is anaerobic for our method, it is

equally important that gas is allowed to escape the fermentor. Any fermentation

process by microorganisms involves the creation of gasses, such as carbon dioxide. If

these gasses are not allowed to escape, your fermentor will become bloated, and may
explode. Maintanance of anaerobic integrity while allowing gas release is achieved

through a water air-lock. This involves a hose entering the fermentor through holes in

both the rubber sheet and wooden covering. It is important that the connection of the

hose through the rubber is airtight around the hose. We have done this by inserting a

threaded joint through the rubber and tightening connector pieces on either side. The

protruding end of the hose must be submerged in water, which can be done very

simply by inserting it into any bottle filled with water which is then secured to the rest

of the fermentor system. Thus, because the only opening to the fermentor (the hose

end) is secured under water, gas may be released as bubbles through this opening, but

external air my not enter.


Because of the diverse nature of creating Biol fertilizers based on available

materials, recipes can often be vague and contrasting. Generally, a Biol liquid fertilizer

is made from the fermentation of equal parts of manure and water. Other ingredients

are typically added to increase the nutrient content of the fertilizer and to promote

beneficial microbial growth. For example, molasses and other forms of sugar provide

carbohydrates upon which microbes can feed and ferment; Milk, whey, or soymilk is

often added as a source of proteins and amino acids; Yeast, yogurt, or corn chichi

(cusco) can be added as sources of beneficial microbial cultures for a quick-start

fermentation. Other ingredients can be added after the fermentation as a source of

biocidal secondary metabolites. These organic compounds produced by some plants

are irritants to other organisms and serve to protect plants from fungal, microbial,

insect, and other pest attacks. For example, hot peppers contain the organic
compound capsaicin, which is an irritant to mammals, a deterrent to the growth of

some fungal infections, and has been found to be fatal to some insects, including

weevils. Adding hot peppers to the fermented Biol can allow your fertilizer to double

as a pesticide.

The following table provides the basic recipe which was followed by us at Jama-

Coaque, adapted to scale for a 5 gallon (approximately 18.925 liters) fermentor.

Quantities of ingredients provide guidelines for measurements, however, it should be

noted that the process is not exact, and the recipe need not be followed too precisely

if some ingredients become difficult to come by. For the use of staff and interns at

Jama-Coaque and persons in the Camarones community or other nearby location,

there is included the typical pricing of items. The annotated ingredients section

includes the locations near the reserve which ingredients may be obtained, as well as

other relevant information and thoughts regarding each ingredient.


Quantity for Quantity for 5

200 L Gallon

Ingredient Fermentation Fermentation Price Per Unit

Cow Manure 50 L 5 L $ 0

Whey 2 L 0.2 L $ 0

Molasses 2 L 0.2 L $1/L

Yeast 0.5 Kg 47 g $2/0.75 Kg

Wood Ash 2 Kg 0.2 Kg $ 0

Basalt Rock Powder 2 Kg 0.2 Kg -

Phosphoric Rock

Dust 1 Kg 0.1 Kg -

Annotated Ingredients


Cow manure can be picked up from any cow pasture in or near Camarones with

permission from the owner. We have picked our manure from the Vaca familys

pasture. It is important that the cow manure is fresh, preferably dropped from the cow

during the same day that you begin the fermentation. When the droppings dry out,

much of their beneficial microbial life is lost. Dried manure will also be much less

agreeable to stir into a liquid mixture.


Milk and whey are interchangeable ingredients. Some sources have indicated that

whey is better for making biol, however others have indicated just the opposite. Whey

can be obtained for free from the Lalo Loor farm a few miles down the main road,

north of Camarones. As it would then be more expensive to purchase fresh milk, we

have so far decided to use whey. It is possible that in the future, employees/interns at

Jama-Coaque may experiment with milk as an ingredient.

There are some discrepancies regarding the use of fresh versus pasteurized milks.

Pasteurization is a process that uses heat to kill microbes in food, or to otherwise

hinder their growth, in order to slow the spoilage of foods. This heat also tends to

denature many enzymatic proteins present in milk. The denaturation of proteins

results in shorter peptides and free amino acids. Milk or whey serves our biol as a

source of amino acids for the growth of our microbes. Whether the amino acids are

free, bound into short peptides, or longer full proteins should not particularly matter

for this purpose. Whey itself, as the byproduct of making cheese from milk, is

pasteurized. Milk is pasteurized before it is used in cheese production to eliminate

harmful and non-beneficial bacteria and other microorganisms which would otherwise

thrive in the cheese as a vector for growth, spoiling the final product. Thus, the use of

fresh milk, pasteurized milk, or whey may be something to experiment with in the

future, although we have been told by others that whey or fresh milk are best. One

last thing to consider is the lack of refrigeration at the reserve. Milk or whey should be

gotten near the same day as the start of the fermentation, so as to avoid spoiling.


Molasses can be purchased from an agricultural supply store in Pedernales. It is

sold here as a feed supplement for livestock, and is not typically sold in grocery stores

for human consumption. Agripac sells molasses in bulk quantities, by the 20 L barrel.


Yeast can be found in most grocery stores in Pedernales in large packets of the dry

active form. The smaller packets should be avoided because they involve a lot more
plastic waste. Fresh yeast should also be avoided, because it is usually stored in a


Wood Ash:

There is likely plenty of wood ash already at the reserve, near the pizza oven or

under the house. Ask the current reserve manager if it cannot be located.


Basalt rock powder and phosphoric rock dust are ingredients which were not used

for the first fermentation of biol at Jama-Coaque, but seemed to be relatively common

ingredients in the recipes from other sources. These minerals simply provide additional

sources of nutrients to the fermentation, and should be used if they can be found in

the vicinity. Basalt is rich in magnesium and calcium, and used in building blocks and

ground work. Its powder may be found at the site of any recent construction.

Phosphate rock, as its name indicates, provides phosphates for the Biol. It is used for a

variety of purposes, including its use as an animal feed supplement. You may look for it

at an animal feed supplier as well. Phosphate rock is also used in fungicides, and thus

may hold some potential as fungicide in the Biol either during the fermentation, or

added after the fermentation is complete.

Starting the Fermentation:

It is simple enough to begin the Biol fermentation once all ingredients have

been obtained. Simply mix everything together and seal it in the airtight container,

whether that is of our design or of a purchased airtight barrel. Because we used a

smaller 5 gallon water jug with a narrow mouth, we first mixed the ingredients in a

different container and then funneled the solution into the barrel. The fermentation

barrel should then be topped off with water, leaving approximately 20 cm of air space

between the liquid and the top of the barrel. Then, seal your container, and set up the

water air-lock. Using our model:

The wooden base should be set up so that the metal poles are in place

through the two holes on either side of one of the cross pieces. The nuts

should be in place on the underside of the wood, tightened just so that the

poles will hold well to the base. The barrel should be placed on the wooden

base of the apparatus and centered as well as possible.

Push the grey threaded piece through the hole in the rubber sheet, and

tighten both white joints in either side. This may already be assembled, but

make sure that the connection is tight and will not allow air to pass

between the joints and the rubber.

Place the rubber/hose connection in the opening of the barrel so that one

white joint is inside the barrel and the other is sticking out of the top.

Lower the top wooden piece over this with its hole coming over the

protruding white hose connection. The Wood should be lowered with the

metal poles coming through the two holes on either side of the center hole

for the hose. The nuts can then be tightened on the poles above the top

piece of wood. Make certain that the rubber is lying flat and smooth over

the opening of the barrel before tightening completely.

When sealing the barrel by tightening the nuts, it is important to continually

check that the barrel is centered. Unequal pressure on the top may cause

the barrel to concave.

The hose piece can then be threaded into the white tube connector piece

protruding from the hole in the top wood. This hose may also already be

connected. Plumbers tape should be used on the threading of this joint, to

ensure a good seal.

It is also very important to know that the seal is tight enough to restrict any

air flow. You can, and should, practice sealing the barrel before starting a

batch of biol. The seal of an empty barrel can be tested by bringing the

whole apparatus to the river or waterfall and submerging the seal under

water. You can blow air into the barrel through the tube. If air bubbles are

seen escaping from any part of the seal, then it is not air tight.

The open end of the hose must then be inserted into the water bottle, filled

approximately half way with water. The hose should be submerged in the

water, and the contraption secured to the larger structure of the

fermentor. Given that the fermentor is sealed correctly and all ingredients

are fresh, gas bubbles should be seen escaping through this hose end within

a few hours. Adding some vinegar to the water in the bottle can alleviate

any foul smells from the released gas and should stop things like algae or

bacteria from growing in the bottle.

The water air-lock should be seen bubbling away very steadily at first. As

the fermentation slows down, within a week, the bubbling may be less

often. This is nothing to worry about. The fermentation starts out quickly

and slows over time. The time needed to brew a batch of biol varies much
according to the season, temperature, and atmospheric pressure. It cantake

as little as 2 weeks or as long as 4 months. Because the temperature is

warm, and very stable in the forest at Jama-Coaque, the fermentation

should be relatively quick (2 to 4 weeks). A finished batch of biol should be

a nice amber color and should smell fermented. That is, it should not be a

violet color or smell putrid and foul.

Application of Biol:

Once the biol is finished, the product must be strained and diluted. At Jama-

Coaque, there is a larger green barrel and smaller bottle, both with measurement

markings for this purpose. A piece of netting can be tied around the top of this green

barrel to serve as a filter. Standard dilutions for biol:water seem to range between,

1:10 and 1:20. That being said, there is a lot of room for experimentation regarding

biol concentrations. Keep in mind that the optimal concentration may vary between

seasons and plants. Consider higher applications for weakened or diseased plants.

Diluted biol can be applied directly to foliage using a sprayer, or it can be applied

directly to the soil beneath the plants. Of course, please feel free to investigate the

effects of different application methods during different seasons, and on different

plants. It is recommended to apply biol during the morning or evening hours.

There is a guideline table below for the application schedule of different types of

plants, as gathered from a variety of sources.

Plant Application

Tomatoes weekly

every 10

Leafy Vegetables days

every 12

Fruit Trees days

Cereal Crops and every 15

Legumes days

Dual Biol as a Pest Repellent:

Many plants contain biocidal properties through their creation of secondary

metabolites which protect them from harm by a variety of unwanted pests.

Recognizing these properties in plants and harnessing their potential as organic

pesticides is of great advantage in any organic agricultural system. We can add extracts

from available biocidal plants to our biol fertilizer, allowing it to double as pest

repellent in our production zone. The following are plants to be considered for use in

the Biol liquid fertilizer as a means of pest repellent: pepper, ginger, garlic, neem,

nutmeg. Generally these components can be ground up into a paste and added to the

diluted Biol liquid. There has been speculation that Biol at high concentrations, so

before it is diluted, works well for repelling pests. The application of concentrated Biol

for the use of pest repelling is another thing which can be experimented with, along

with the methodology of adding these other ingredients for the same purpose.