Fermented soybean paste

Doenjang 된장

Hello everybody! I know some of you have been waiting for my doenjang and ganjang recipes for a long time! Today I feel a real sense of achievement to release this recipe here. It’s one of the recipes in my cookbook, and whether you have my book or not, this video and recipe should still be useful to you.

Korean fermented soybean paste, called doenjang (된장), is more than just a seasoning or an essential ingredient in many iconic Korean dishes. It’s part of who we are as Koreans and how we see ourselves. A meal of rice, kimchi, doenjang-soup (or doenjang-stew), and  a few side dishes is for many Koreans, the definition of a meal: breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It’s impossible for us to imagine life without doenjang.

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Salty, earthy, hearty, incredibly savory and delicious, it adds flavor to many dishes and makes them distinctively Korean. Making doenjang at home takes a long time, you have to be ready to commit to it for one year! It’s not hard to make, but takes patience and some hard work, and some special equipment. But as a bonus, Korean soup soy sauce (guk-ganjang:국간장) is a byproduct of making doenjang, so you get that delicious soy sauce for free!

Of course, you can always buy doenjang and guk-ganjang in a Korean grocery store, which is what most Koreans do. But the taste of store-bought can’t be compared to homemade doenjang and guk-ganjang, you will be knocked out over how delicious they are! And I’ve never found a brand of soup soy sauce in the store that satisfied me, which is why I always use fish sauce in my recipes as a substitute.

Besides the taste, making your own is fun and satisfying to eat. Over years of making, tasting, and fermenting these iconic Korean sauces, you’ll develop experience and sophistication in fermenting and eventually become a Korean food expert.

This video was a lot of fun to make. The recipe took me 2 years to develop, and the video took another year to film. It’s finally finished and I couldn’t be happier to share my recipe with you! Koreans traditionally start the process in the winter because the weather is good for drying soybean blocks. But I discovered that indoors, in my apartment in New York, any time is a good time to start making doenjang.

I hope you try it! Enjoy the recipe!

Special equipment

  • An electric mat or blanket, or ondol-style heating in your house
  • Cotton flour sacking or cheesecloth
  • Cotton butcher’s twine
  • A large shallow bamboo basket about 17 inches in diameter, or a large baking pan lined with waxed paper
  • Dried rice straw or hay that’s been well washed and dried (optional)
  • A cardboard box (an 18-x-10-x-7-inch box will hold 3 bean blocks)
  • A 4- to 5-gallon Korean earthenware crock (hangari) with a lid
  • A 5-quart Korean earthenware crock (hangari) with a lid
  • 3-5 dried jujubes (daechu)
  • 3-5 large dried hot chili red peppers (any variety; about 4 inches long)
  • 3 (4-x-1½-x-1-inch) pieces hardwood charcoal

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Ingredients (for 10 pounds of doenjang)

How to make doenjang

Make meju blocks from soybeans
Blocks of crushed soybeans are called meju (메주) in Korean, and they’re the foundation of doenjang-making.

  1. Drain the beans and put them in a large heavy pot. Add water that is three times as deep as the beans, cover, and cook over medium-high heat for 1 hour.
  2. Turn the heat down to medium and continue cooking until the beans are soft enough mash easily, 4½ to 5 hours, checking to make sure the beans remain covered with water, and replenishing as necessary. Drain the beans in a colander.boiled soybeans
  3. Mash the drained beans to a paste in batches with a large mortar and pestle or in a food processor. Don’t finely grind them, leave some beans half-crushed.mashed soybeans
  4. Divide the mashed beans into 3 portions. Knead each portion with both hands and shape into a firm rectangular block measuring 6 x 3 x 4 inches.form meju meju

Ferment the meju

  1. Traditionally Koreans dry meju on the heated ondol floors of their homes, and if you live in Korea or have that kind of heating in your house, you can do that too. But in my NYC apartment I simulate ondol by putting an electric blanket on the floor. Line the blanket with a clean cotton cloth or waxed paper and set the blocks on top, or put them in an open basket. Set the heat to low. Dry the blocks, rotating them occasionally, until they are solid enough to hang, 3 to 4 days.meju
  2. Tie each block up in cotton twine and hang them. You can hang them outside but be sure to keep them covered and out of the rain, and if it’s too hot out they may rot. Inside, you can hang them from the ceiling with hooks. Wherever they hang, the spot should be cool and well-ventilated and all sides of the blocks should be exposed to air and not touching each other. Let the blocks hang for 6 weeks, until they are well dried out and smell a little pungent when you get your nose close to them.hanging meju
  3. Now it’s time to ferment the bean blocks. Place a layer of dried rice straw or hay in the bottom of a cardboard box that’s just big enough to hold the blocks with a little space between them; the straw will insulate the blocks and attract good bacteria like Bacillus subtilis in the air. (Don’t worry if you can’t find straw or hay; the blocks will still attract good bacteria.)
    meju
  4. Cover the box and put it on the electric blanket. Set the heat to low and let the bean blocks ferment for 2 weeks. At this point, the well-fermented bean blocks will smell a little earthy and pungent and will be covered with white, brownish-yellow, or sometimes greenish fungi. (These fungi change the bean proteins to peptides and amino acids, which will give the bean paste its delicious nutty flavor.)
  5. Tie the fermented bean blocks up in cotton twine and hang from the ceiling, as before, for 1 month.meju (fermented soy bean paste block: 메주)meju-fungus

Soak the meju in brine

  1. Wash the blocks in cold water and to remove the fungi. Place the blocks in a shallow basket or on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper and let them dry in the sunlight for 1 day, turning them until every side of each block is dried.meju drying in the sun
  2. Combine the 3½ gallons water (56 cups) and 5 quarts of the kosher salt (20 cups) in a large bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon until the salt is thoroughly dissolved.
  3. Set out a 4- to 5-gallon earthenware crock. Put 2 pieces of the charcoal on a gas burner; turn on the flame, and heat until they are glowing red. (If you don’t have a gas burner, use the broiler: Put the charcoal pieces under the broiler and turn it on; remove the charcoal when it is red.) Use tongs to transfer the charcoal to the earthenware crock. Drizzle the honey over the burning charcoal. Cover the crock and wait for 5 minutes.heating charcoal
  4. Remove the lid. You will see lots of smoke and smell a good caramel aroma. This process sterilizes the inside of the crock and will give the sauce good flavor.
  5. Remove the charcoal and wipe the inside of the crock with paper towels. Add the bean blocks and salted water to the crock. Add the remaining piece of charcoal, the jujubes, and dried hot peppers; they will float on the surface of the water. (The charcoal will attract and absorb any dust. The jujubes add sweetness and the dried red peppers help prevent the blocks from going bad.)meju soaking
  6. Cover the crock with flour sacking or cheesecloth and put on the lid. Let the blocks soak in the salty water until well fermented, 2 to 3 months. On clear days remove the lid and let the crock sit in the sunlight. Close it at night and be sure to keep the crock covered with the cloth so bugs and dust can’t get in. As time passes, the salty water will turn brown and smell like deeply fermented soy sauce.meju in sunlight

Separate the doenjang from the soy sauce

  1. Discard the charcoal, jujubes, and peppers. Transfer the soaked bean blocks to a large bowl. The blocks may have broken up during the soak, so use a bowl to scoop the soy sauce out of the crock and into a strainer set over another large bowl. Add any pieces of bean block to the bean block bowl. Save the soy sauce for making Korean soup soy sauce (gukganjang) later.
  2. Mix the doenjang with both hands, breaking it up into a paste, and transfer it to a 5-quart earthenware crock. Pack it down and sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup kosher salt. Cover with the cotton cloth, secure it with a rubber band, and put on the lid.
  3. Put the doenjang crock in a sunny spot for its final fermentation. About twice a week on sunny days, remove the lid and let the sunlight shine into the crock through the cotton cloth. When it’s well fermented, the doenjang will smell sweet and taste salty and earthy, with a deep flavor. This will take 5 to 6 months. If it ever looks a little too dry on top, pour some of the separated soy sauce on top to make it moist again. You don’t need to stir it in.
    doenjang

Serving and storage

  1. Store the doenjang in the crock outside the house or at room temperature. Whenever you take some out, press the rest down with a spoon to keep out the air. Once in a while, take the lid off, cover with a cotton cloth, and let the sun hit it again.

Doenjang-making diary

Here’s a schedule of dates from a year of my doenjang-making. You might need to deviate from this timeline depending on how your project is going, but you get the idea of how long it takes and where you should be every month.

January 4 — Soaked the beans.
January 5 — Made the meju.
January 9 — Hung the meju up.
February 24 — Put the meju in a box with hay.
March 10 — Took the meju out of the box and hung them up.
April 10 — Washed the meju and let them dry in the sunlight.
April 11 — Soaked the meju in salty water.
June 11 — Separated doenjang and guk-ganjang.
June 22 — Made guk-ganjang.
December 1st — Doenjang was ready.

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221 Comments:

  1. semuttmadu Indonesia joined 5/20 & has 2 comments

    I ferment my meju block, lot of white, yellow, and pink mold. But it definitely smells earthy. Is it okay?


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  2. Krn827 Idaho joined 4/20 & has 2 comments

    So I have a week left until I’m suppose to put my blocks in a box with hay for 2 weeks and then hang another month. I have some awesome white mold growing inside my blocks, however, in my photo you can see that my blocks are drying where I can see through them. Does this mean they’re dry enough? I live in Idaho with high elevation and dryer air (but blocks hang in the kitchen that helps with adding humidity) so is it possible that it takes less time to dry for me? I lived in Korea a long time ago and their climate is similar to when I lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma which is so not the same as Idaho. So could Idaho weather and elevation reduce my drying time or did I maybe not pack my blocks enough so I’m seeing through them? This was my worst block. My other two are a little bit see through. I know they’re doing great, but I’m just wondering if they’re maybe done and ready for the brine? Thanks!


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  3. Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

    For anybody worried about mold or colors during the process, here are a few links to doenjang making videos in Korea showing things you might expect that are still ok:

    Growth on top of brine – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFRvNwGTD0s&feature=youtu.be&t=435

    Lots of growth on top of brine, just scooped out – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34IQN1LD2kM

    Growths inside of Meju Block – https://youtu.be/SafxD279uFI?t=486

    Growth outside Meju Block – https://youtu.be/zSX_tDV1X3E?t=364

    Red color inside Meju blocks when separating from salty brine

    Salty brine meju and separated Doenjang – https://youtu.be/9YY5g9JGVbg?t=497

    Red color inside meju after separating from salty brine – https://youtu.be/Hfaf6AwHmmc?t=177

    Exceptionally moldy looking meju removed from brine – https://youtu.be/5wgD7_ogD7c?t=342

    More of colored meju removed from brine – https://youtu.be/K56rYIeH4YM?t=134

    Not mold specifically, but lots of good footage of the process – https://youtu.be/g4uiVnfQ23s check the description for part 2.

    • Pidgeonfood Massachusetts joined 10/19 & has 4 comments

      This is all so helpful! Thank you again!! My blocks are drying nicely and just starting to grow white mold – onto the hay next :)

    • Pidgeonfood Massachusetts joined 10/19 & has 4 comments

      Inches,

      My meju blocks are very Very dry, and only one of them grew white mold. Can I still use them for Doenjang? Will they ferment property in the salt water bring and so on?

      • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

        I don’t know what they look like or how long they have been drying, but your description sounds like what we’re trying to do here. White mold is good and the point is to get them really dry.

  4. Pidgeonfood Massachusetts joined 10/19 & has 4 comments

    Mangchi! 안녕하세요

    I am a big fan of yours! I am a chef and love all your recipes, thank you for posting so much content and for your cookbooks too :)

    I have two questions, I am about to make Doenjang, and I can only find “Thai” or Binchotan style charcoal as well as organic hay, will these work for making Doenjang? I posted a picture so you can see what I am using

    My second question is: if there is a lot of cloudy days where I am and I still hang my meju / put my Onggi in the window, will the recipe still work to be “disinfected” enough? I see a lot of your subscribers have bad mold growth from not enough sunlight

    Thank you!
    -Matthew


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    • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

      As long as there is no additives in the charcoal it’s probably fine. Mine came from Menards and it specifically said no additives. Check my images in comments below.

      You don’t have to use hay but it is supposed to help. Your hay can’t hurt. If it was washed in some way it might not have spores on it, but it can’t hurt probably. Again, if it’s not treated in some way.

      Most of the bad mold growth I suspect is coming from really hot and humid places, like Israel and other islands. Those are not “normal” circumstances for doenjang to be made so they’ll have to adapt a lot. Maangchi is in NY and presumably similar to MA.

      Check my latest comment for lots of videos of mold growth in Korea when making. There is a surprisingly lot of mold from all these. Only slimy or putrid smells and worms are bad I think.

  5. Osan888 Los Angeles joined 3/20 & has 1 comment

    Hi Maangchi, my meju have been drying for four days. There is some white bacteria but also a tiny bit of green. Is the green ok, or is that bad mold? Do I need to throw the meju out? Thanks!


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  6. CynMer Oroville, CA joined 2/20 & has 1 comment

    I’m a big fan of yours, Maangchi! After the meju blocks are hung to dry, your recipe says dry for 6 weeks. I have them hanging protected under porch ceiling. Where I live, the humidity is low, so not sure if they will need to hang for 6 weeks. Question is, Do the blocks need to be dry in the middle after hanging, before putting in the hay box to further ferment. Should they be dry all the way through? Thank you!

    • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

      I do believe that the second drying is to get the blocks dried all the way through. They not only need drying, but time to ferment both where you can see and where you can’t.

  7. Nono18 Transylvania joined 2/20 & has 2 comments

    Hi Maangchi! Today I made doenjang, which I think is very interesting. I’m looking forward to sniffing you!


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  8. natto la joined 1/20 & has 1 comment

    Hi Maangchi,

    I separated the soy sauce from the doenjang and now im fermenting the doenjang in a separate jar. There are little brown spotted molds forming on top. should i scrape and throw out and salt more?

    Thanks again!!


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    • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

      You should probably scrape the top off, yes. Are you letting sunlight in? This helps disinfect the top and keep this from happening. Put a thin white cloth over top to keep bugs out but UV in through. You can also spread a layer of salt on the top after removing this growth to help prevent this from occurring again.

      • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

        Check my later comment about lots of videos and what they have growing on theirs in Korea. Your mold is probably fine, but it’s hard to tell what it looks like now or what your weather conditions are.

  9. LeeEiner Las Vegas, New Mexico joined 1/20 & has 1 comment

    I live in northern New Mexico, very low humidity. My meju also were not growing mold. They developed a nice funky smell after hanging for awhile but that went away also.

    I read NOMA fermentation guide and they say 86 degrees fahrenheit and 75 percent humidity is optimum for growing aspergillus mold, so, I put a plate in the bottom of a large crock pot, meju on the plate along with hay, and I poured in a shot glass of water every day so it goes to the bottom and doesn’t wet the meju directly. Lid on, of course.

    A week in and I have patches of white and green mold!

    Sharing this for those who also live in desert-like areas and can’t get their meju to go moldy.

  10. Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

    I have my menu blocks drying by the fire. I’m excited to start my journey!


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    • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

      I used a potato masher, ha.


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    • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

      I found lump charcoal that is the perfect size. I think this will work.

      P.S. the warning says do not burn inside, it will kill you!


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    • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

      They are drying nicely. Changing color slightly. I can tell I did a bad job of smashing now that I can see all the whole bean pieces, haha.


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      • Maangchi New York City joined 8/08 & has 11,948 comments

        Yes, they are chunky but you can fix them. You have another chance to grind or smash them. After your meju blocks are fermented in salty water, take them out and smash them finely before putting into an earthenware crock. Good luck!

    • Maangchi New York City joined 8/08 & has 11,948 comments

      I feel your 3 meju blocks will be treated so nicely until they become doenjang (soybean paste) and ganjang (soup soy sauce)!

    • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

      Today I moved my meju into their new apartment. They are staying in my room ^_^

      The whole house has smelled wonderful this week. It’s like fresh baked bread every day! I see white mycelium like when I made tempeh.


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    • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

      Their final resting place is yearning for them below. I’m borrowing the other one for veggie kimchi fermenting. I hope my doenjang doesn’t taste like kimchi if I use the same pot.

      I bought two new oongi from H-Mart because they were used for makgeoli and gochujang. Both used gluten and I need to be careful of gluten now so I cannot use them. They were expensive but now I just have to make a lot more in the future!

      I’ve watched hours of videos on meju and doenjang searching for both the English and Korean words. They are all the same. The only difference I see is that some lady put pine needles on top with the red peppers, charcoal, and jujubes.


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    • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

      I ended up getting a small heating mat instead of only fire. Quickly after the white mycelium began to grow between the beans.


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    • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

      Tiny black dots are appearing within the white mycelium fungus growing between the bean cracks.

      I will keep an eye on it but I’m sure it’s fine.

      I wonder if they want more fresh air and UV disinfectant light from the sun. My windows block both from coming in ^_^


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    • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

      My meju blocks are ready to be hung up after sitting in the box and heating blanket for 2 weeks.

      I bought solar salt today. According to this paper I found, it has higher good bacteria and lower bad yeast if you use solar salt (or even better with bamboo salt, but that is very expensive)- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/27291678/


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    • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

      I cannot get the meju all underwater. All the parts above water started growing a little white and green fungus. Is this acceptable?


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      • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

        I added lots of salt all over the exposed areas. Is this the best I can do?


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      • Maangchi New York City joined 8/08 & has 11,948 comments

        Press the floated meju down once in a while so that it can be submerged in salty water which will keep the surface from attracting mold.
        The mold color looks good to me. If it’s bothering you, gently wipe off the mold with paper towel. I am making my own doenjang these days and my meju is soaked in salty water right now. I keep pressing the meju down.
        Good luck!

        • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

          Thanks for providing feedback throughout my process ^_^

          Here is the latest progress photos. The bean blocks are pressed below the water, but now the green and white is floating on the top.


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        • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

          I have removed some of the growth for inspection. The growth is growing somewhat white after the green color. Now that there is a lot more white among the green, small orange dots have begun to appear in the white areas.

          On the underside of the growth, there is black. This looks like what happened to the mold that was on the meju after I submerged it under the water. It looks like the growth dies when touching the salt water directly, so the underside of this growth is the dead parts.

          I’m fine with keeping this inside if that is what is expected, but I keep wondering if I should try to remove as much as I can. My other comment detailed many videos of korean people making doenjang with lots of growth, but I still have a hard time believing it’s ok, lol.

          Like this for example: “Lots of growth on top of brine, just scooped out – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34IQN1LD2kM

          has so much growth all the way at the end and they just scoop it out without worrying. I guess everything is ok then? ^_^


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          • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

            For other’s reference, I carefully removed all of the stuff that was floating on the top of my jar per recommendation from the Korean Cultural Center of Chicago. I also wiped the edges with a paper towel dampened by tequila (they suggested Soju).

            There began to be a lot of orange and built up drops of liquid on top. It was kind of slimy I learned when removing it. It may have been fine to keep it but it’s probably better to have removed it. It was pretty easy to do anyway.

            Then just for good measure, I heated up some charcoal to white and plopped them in on top with new dried peppers and jujubes. I also combined my two jars because the largest jar seemed to have evaporated quite a lot of liquid.


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    • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

      My doenjang is playing in the snow for the first time in its life. I got the glass lids that allow air and sun but block rain and snow.


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    • Inches Chicago joined 6/16 & has 47 comments

      Separation day! I was very excited to split my meju from the soup soy sauce. I only had a little bit of growth inside my bean blocks. I used a food processor to blend a lot of it before putting it back into my onggi because I didn’t mash them well enough when I made the meju blocks in the first place.

      I boiled these inside because I had no way to do it outside. Oh boy did it smell. It’s wasn’t really a piercing bad smell, but it was certainly reminiscent of a wet dog which was unpleasant, haha. I’m going to give it a few days before I try cooking with it, but I’m very excited to try the guk-ganjang in a recipe!


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      • Maangchi New York City joined 8/08 & has 11,948 comments

        Wow, congratulations! “I boiled these inside because I had no way to do it outside. Oh boy did it smell.” Haha!
        I’m going to separate mine this week! I doubled the recipe this year.

  11. kjasonadams Singapore joined 12/19 & has 1 comment

    Maangchi thank you for the recipe. My 7yr old daughter and I have had fun trying this recipe. Lots of challenges trying this in Singapore but we’re at the stage of soaking our blocks with great results thus far. We had to make some changes for the heat and humidity but everything looks great! Thanks again.

  12. BryanH Malaysia joined 10/19 & has 1 comment

    Hi Maangchi, another great video from you.. Anyways, i cant seem to find any fermented soybean powder/flour here, after watching this video, was thinking if i can grinding the meju blocks down to be fermented soybean flour/powder?
    Thanks.

    • Maangchi New York City joined 8/08 & has 11,948 comments

      Meju garu is actually not made with just meju but made with soybeans, rice, or wheat. I have never made meju-garu but someday I will post the recipe after learning how to make it.

  13. Danielb Israel joined 9/19 & has 3 comments

    I have maggots in my meju what should I do

  14. Danielb Israel joined 9/19 & has 3 comments

    Maangchi i have meju thin becous this i turnd to direction side and meju block no dry in the meju this duration is rot files after 4 day dry them electrical mat what do you do.

  15. Danielb Israel joined 9/19 & has 3 comments

    Hey i farmnted meju block 4 day in electrical mat 2 side and not dry enough in the meju and rot flies come in the meju i am start new now.

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