Before we get into products that you can purchase to bring into the garden that are microbial inoculants I wanted to talk briefly about how we can culture our own micro-organisms.
The easiest example of that would be to go into a nearby forest and get a little bit of soil, bring it into the garden or the compost pile and what you’re doing there is you’re bringing in a different set of micro-organisms. Or if you went also to a, like a pond – a marshy area- that would be a different set of microbes, too and you can bring that to your compost pile or just kind of spread it on your garden.
And that’s a great way to bring in a different set of microbes. Now we don’t want to be bringing in wheelbarrows full of soil from other ecosystems, but just a little bit is a great idea. What I want to show you today is something else that I’ve done a few times just for fun mainly, is to culture my own lactobacillus which is a very important group of bacteria that do a lot of good things in the soil.
I don’t tend to do it that often because they are in the product effective micro-organisms along with another group, another couple of groups of microbes that are really important, really beneficial when you get them altogether. Whereas this is just mainly the lactobacillus.
But, I like to do it because it’s just neat to show you how you can culture your own microbes and beneficial ones at that. It will also be useful for – it’s great for kids – but it’s also good if you don’t want to bring in too many external inputs but you want to do something beneficial for the garden this is useful. So, what I’ll do here is I’ll turn the camera down to the table here. And I’ll show you.
Ok. So what I’m going to do here – it’s a couple of weeks it takes – but there’s not much. The first step is to take a small amount of rice. I don’t know I have about a quarter cup of rice here and I’m going to rinse it in a little bit of water. And I’m just rinsing it, getting all that, you know when you rinse rice it gets to be a nice murky water and I guess that’s kind of a going to be a substrate for microbes to grow on also maybe there will be some microbes in there, on the rice, too.
And then what I’m going to do is strain that into another container – into this container here – and I’m just going to put it into a maximum of fifty percent full. I’ll do more about twenty-five percent full so really you want the container to be fifty to seventy-five percent empty.
Now what I’m going to do is loosely cover it up, make sure some air can get in there and leave it at room temperature for about a week and then we’ll see what happens next. It’s been a week and there’s some yellow showing up in the water which is the rice bran and I want to kind of separate that out and just take the underlying part and that’s what I’m going to do now. I may need to strain it out, I don’t have the best strainer.
And what I’m going to be doing is I’m going to be adding 10 times as much milk, so I guess I should have said at the beginning if you’re vegan you’re not going to want to do this. And my family none of us drink milk anymore so I had to go borrow some but what you probably want to do is put it in a bigger container. What I’m going to do is just take not too much.
There that worked pretty well to strain that out. So what’s going on now is we have various micro-organisms in here, some of them will be lactobacillus. When I add the milk it’s going to – it’s not going to feed the other ones – but it’s going to feed primarily the lactobacillus.
I think you can use like skim milk, powdered milk things like that, but I think real milk is best. I’m guessing cows milk is best for this. So I’ll stir that around a bit and then I’m going to leave this for another week or so.
Just again with a loose lid. Here we have the finished lactobacillus, it’s only been a couple of days but it’s pretty warm out so it happened really quickly and you can see what happens here is there’s some white stuff floating on the top here, it kind of smells like cheese because that’s lactic acid bacteria or the main micro-organisms in cheese and I don’t really want that stuff I just want to throw that into the compost bin or something like that.
So what I’ll do here is see if my strainer works, strain it out. Can you see underneath there’s kind of a clear, yellow liquid? That’s what I’m looking for. That’s what I want to try and pour. I hardly even need the strainer. Nice. So now I just have that. And this is what I want.
So here’s my lactobacillus and I can mix this week equal parts molasses, if I want to try and store it for awhile and use it over a longer period of time. Obviously that’s a lot of molasses. You don’t have to use the full amount of molasses but a little bit’s nice.
The other thing is you can put it into the fridge and that will help it store even better but the molasses just helps to give some sugar to the microbes if you want to store them. In terms of using it, what I would do is I would take my lactobacillus or my lactobacillus/molasses mixture and put it into twenty parts water when I’m ready to use it.
And you know, in the past what I’ve done is I’ve actually used that, that one to twenty ratio, but I think what you’re supposed to do is take that and further dilute it one to sixty if I’m understanding it correctly. So really, you’re diverting this about one to twelve-hundred parts water, or, I guess simple would be a little less than a teaspoon in a gallon of water.
And then you can spray it onto your organic matter, your compost pile, lactobacillus are great at getting into any anaerobic pockets and decomposing, getting to the ammonium and really decomposing it, controlling odors and things like that.
Also just onto your mulch, onto your plants. Lactic acid bacteria create enzymes and hormones and antibacterial substances and all kinds of good stuff, they’re just really microbes. I’ll be talking about them more when we get into EM because they’re in effective micro-organisms, too.
Incidentally when we do mix this with water we want to do it with non-chlorinated water, nice clean water and I’ll talk about that a lot when I get into compost tea because that’s really important for brewing compost tea, too.
Hopefully you get a chance to do this just as a, if not just as an interesting experiment but also a very, very inexpensive way to put some of the most important micro-organisms out there into your garden.
A garden inoculant is really just anything we use to bring beneficial microbes into our organic gardens.
These microbes are often deficient for various reasons, but if we can get more of them back in there, they:
- Make nutrients available to plants and even feed them nutrients and water directly
- Protect plants from disease both in the soil and above ground
- Improve the structure of the soil so it has the right amount of air spaces, water spaces, nutrient availability, pH, etc.
Plus there’s a whole list of other services they provide for plants and soil. Pretty cool…
My Favorite Garden Inoculants
High quality compost is one of the best ways to introduce these beneficial microbes, if you’re lucky enough to have some around.
I’m also a big fan of using a couple of other things:
- Effective Microorganisms (EM) and SCD Probiotics. This is a mix of especially beneficial microbes that do all kinds of good when sprayed on the soil and plant leaves.
- Mycorrhizal Fungi. These are perhaps the most important soil microbes in the world, forming relationships with over 90% of plants.
- Aerated Compost Tea. A liquid produced by bubbling air through a very small amount of quality compost along with microbe foods.
These garden inoculants have had a huge impact on my garden.
Making Your Own Microbial Inoculant
But perhaps you’d prefer to make your own inoculant, maybe to save money or to be more sustainable or because you just think it would be cool, man.
That’s what I’m going to share today, a lesson right from my online gardening course.
What we’re going to do is gather and multiply Lactobacillus bacteria, which are especially beneficial microbes.
I learned this process from Gil Carandang of Herbana Farms in the Philippines.
Personally, I’ve mostly just done it for fun because they also come in EM, which is something I use a lot and know is more useful.
Still, culturing Lactobacillus is great for people who don’t have access to or don’t want to bring in many external inputs.
What You Need
Applying a garden inoculant.
All you need is:
- A small amount of a whole grain such as rice
- Milk for the lactose that will dissuade other microbes from living there while being a perfect environment for the lactic acid bacteria. I prefer organic whole milk, but any kind will do. I used to think cow’s milk was better, but it doesn’t matter at all.
Obviously if you’re a vegan you can’t use milk. I’ve never seen it done with anything else, but I imagine there are other liquid mediums that would encourage Lactobacillus. For example, I’ve made water kefir before, which includes several species of lactic acid bacteria, and doesn’t use milk. But today, we’re using milk.
Let’s say you’re going to make a pint of garden inoculant, which is a little less than 500mL. That would be 3 Tbsp of grain and 450mL of milk – less than $1 worth of materials.
Rinse the grain in some warm, dechlorinated water.
If your water has chlorine, you can get rid of it by letting it sit out for 24 hours in a sunny spot.
If it has chloramine, you can tie it up by putting pretty much any organic material in there. Vitamin C is often used, but even just a bit of molasses or sugar or lots of things will apparently do it. It happens instantly.
Pour that rinse water into a container, leaving the container 50%-75% empty. This gives us our complex carbohydrates.
Put on a loose lid/paper towel/cheesecloth so that air can still get in, but not fruit flies or whatever else you might have in your place right now.
The grain can be used elsewhere, but isn’t needed anymore for this process.
Keep the container at room temperature out of the sun for 2-7 days – the colder the temperature, the longer it takes.
Once you see a thin film on the surface and a sense a bit of a sour smell, strain the liquid into a bigger container and add 10 times as much milk.
This time, it’s better to keep air out of the process, so put a lid on tight.
After the first couple/few days, it’s a good idea to ‘burp’ it by unscrewing the lid and screwing it back on, in case any gases are building up.
In another 2-7 days you should have some solids floating on top that can go into the soil or compost, and a clear, yellow fluid underneath that contains the beneficial microbes.
Separate this fluid into another container. It will store in the fridge for a year or more.
You can add up to an equal amount of unsulfured molasses or sugar to keep the bacteria fed, which apparently allows it to be stored out of the fridge, but I just keep it in the fridge.
Using This Inoculant
When it’s time to use some, mix it with approximately 1000 parts non-chlorinated water (about 1/2 teaspoon per gallon of water) and spray it as a plant inoculant and soil inoculant.
(When I learned about it this, I was taught to mix it with 20 parts water first, but then that gets mixed with about 60 parts water, so that would mean 1200 parts water total – I just round down to 1000, as this is far from an exact science).
I’ve never seen an application rate, so I just spray my plants until the leaves are dripping.
These lactic acid bacteria will play some role in doing most of the things I mentioned above – making nutrients more available to plants, protecting from predators, etc.
You can also use it as a seed inoculant, soaking seeds overnight with the above dilution.
Feel free to ask questions below.
P.S. Again I should mention that EM contains Lactobacillus along with other beneficial microbes, and is certainly more effective than using a culture with only Lactobacillus, but still, if you don’t have EM, it’s definitely worthwhile using this one.