Last night, when deciding what to write about for today, I looked around my apartment, saw my probiotic fermenting away on the shelf, immediately took this photo, and proceeded to write this step by step process for making effective microorganisms.
In gardening, there’s a lot of talk about chemistry – the fertilizer, NPK, carbon, etc.
All important stuff, but I like to spend just as much time on the biology – the microorganisms, insects, animals (and of course plants).
It’s especially the microorganisms that really rule our world, our bodies (we contain 10 times as many microbes as we do human cells), and our gardens.
Today I’m pumped to get right into teaching you about these good microbes and how to make effective microorganisms.
These efficient microbes improve the soil, increase plant health and yield, help keep pests away, and are some of the most important beneficial bacteria and yeasts that make up our world.
They can be purchased as a liquid that contains specific species mixed at specific ratios.
This is done in a lab, so you can’t make it from scratch yourself, but you can get what’s called a ‘mother culture’ and then make 20 times that amount. This not only saves money, but wakes up the dormant microbes, making them more effective.
That process is called activating the effective microorganisms. It’s a fermentation, like wine and yogurt, but the result is much better for you and your garden. And today I’m going to give you my own effective microorganisms recipe.
I’m not going to get into the details of what it is and why you should make it because this post is just about how to make effective microorganism solution (I’ll give you a link to the what and why at the end of the post), but I will just say that I believe this is the most important thing for most people to bring into most gardens. I’ve seen seemingly miraculous results with it, both in the garden and in people who drink it (I’ll talk about the drinking part another day).
Now, EM Effective Microorganisms® (it’s called EM or EM1 for short) is actually a brand name. I tend to use the term generically like ‘Band-aid’, but I don’t even use the EM product. I actually use a similar product made by SCD Probiotics.
But both brands are great, so go with whatever you can get your hands on.
And this is a great time of year to start the process…
Here are the steps:
1. Mother culture. First you need a mother culture. The one I’ve been using for 10 years (and started selling in the U.S. last year) is called ‘ProBio Balance’ (you can get it here). The ‘Bio Ag’ product on that page is for people who don’t want to do this activation process, as it’s already activated for you and can’t be reliably activated anymore.
2. Molasses. Get some unsulfured blackstrap molasses, from me or from the grocery store. Unsulfured is important because sulfur is used in some molasses to actually kill microorganisms, while we’re trying to multiply them. Blackstrap is important because it’s lower in sugar and higher in nutrients. Organic is not all that important for this, but I always prefer to go organic when I can (note: it’s never been an issue for me before, but I recently read that organic molasses may have a ‘pH buffer’ in it that can stop the pH from falling in the activated EM, so some people add an amount of vinegar equal to the organic molasses to overcome that – again, this is new to me and I’ve never done it, but thought I’d mention it here).
3. Container. Find a used plastic container with a tight lid, like a water or soda bottle. Any size will do, but I usually make batches in 1 quart, 2 quart or 1 gallon containers. If you’re lucky enough to have a carboy (pictured above), that will work too because it allows the gases to escape that are formed during fermentation. But if you don’t have that, the reason plastic is nice is because it has some flexibility and can handle the gas pressure better than a regular glass container.
4. Water. Fill the bottle approximately half full with hot water – not boiling, but something that’s slightly too hot to take a bath in. If you can use spring water or dechlorinated water, that’s great, but you know what, I’ve made this plenty of times with city water with chlorine or chloramine in it and it works fine as long as it’s not over-chlorinated – the microbes probably even clean that up because some of them are detoxifiers.
5. Mix in the molasses. Add the unsulfured blackstrap molasses to the water at 4% of the container’s volume (table below). The heat coupled with your swishing (which you can commence forthwith) will help dissolve it.
6. Mix in the mother culture. Add the EM1 or ProBio Balance at 5% of the container’s volume.
7. Nutrition. This is a bonus step. You don’t have to do it, but it will add some more nutrients in there. If you have sea salt or kelp powder or sea minerals, add one of those in at 0.25% of the container’s volume.
|Container Size||Hot Water (80-85%)||Molasses (4%)||Mother Culture (5%)||Sea Minerals (0.25%)|
|1 pint||1 ¼ Cups||1 ¼ Tbsp||1.5 Tbsp||¼ tsp|
|1 quart||2.5 Cups||2.5 Tbsp||3 Tbsp||½ tsp|
|2 quart||5 cups||5 Tbsp||6 Tbsp||1 tsp|
|1 gallon||10 Cups||⅔ Cup||¾ Cup||2 tsp|
|5 gallon||4 Gallons||3 ⅓ Cup||4 Cup||3 Tbsp|
The percentages don’t add up to 100% because I leave a 5-10% air space on top. Also note that while I’ve given fairly exact numbers above, you don’t have to be nearly that exact. Just try to use a little more EM than molasses.
8. More water. Fill the rest of the bottle up with more hot water, leaving an inch or two of space on top.
9. Shake. Gently, but firmly, like you’re playing shaker in a Sergio Mendes song – not like you’re a machine that shakes paint cans.
10. Warmth. It will do best to sit somewhere between 90-110 degrees Fahrenheit, so put it in the warmest part of your house. I actually put mine in my oven with just the oven light on, and a post it note on the ‘Bake’ button to let the cook of the house know it needs to be removed if any cookies are to be made (learned this one the hard way). It will work okay at 70F, but will take a lot longer.
11. Leave it. I leave the cap off for the first 24 hours, but after that I screw it on tight because this is a fermentation (without air). It will take at least 1 week until it’s okay to start using, and more like 2-4 weeks until it’s really good (or 6-8 weeks if you can’t find a warm place for it to sit). Even at a warm temperature, it’s nice to give it 1-3 months to reach peak perfection. That’s why it’s nice to start this process now, so it’s ready for spring.
12. Burp it. If you don’t have a carboy, you’ll eventually want to ‘burp’ it daily by simply unscrewing and screwing the lid back on, to release the gases that will start forming after 2-5 days depending on the temperature.
13. Test it. Once you’ve been doing this for awhile, you can get a feel for when it’s done by smell and taste, but I still like to do a test with pH paper (or a pH meter) that gives readings in the 2.5 -4 range. Anything below 3.8 and above 2.7 is okay, with 3.0-3.5 being ideal. 3.8 and above are no good.
14. Use it. I’ll leave those instructions to my more detailed page on Effective Microorganisms and SCD Probiotics, but in short, I use it monthly as a spray on my plants, soil and compost, at 1/2 cup per 1000 square feet.
15. Store it. At room temperature, not in direct sunlight, but not necessarily in the dark either, as it seems to like a little indirect light (I’m not sure how important the light level is, and I’m not sure how the bright oven light affects it during the fermentation period). The mother culture has an expiry date, but in my experience will last a year beyond that. Your homemade activation is most effective within the first month after the pH drops below 3.8, but will store for months after that. If you make a few bottles, once the activation is done, you can use one bottle to fill the rest up to the brim so as to store them without air, and then just use that bottle first. A little air is okay during the fermentation, but not during storage if you want it to last a long time.
By the way, if you order the ProBio Balance mother culture from me, I’ll give you free access to the course in my Smiling Gardener Academy that gives a more advanced, detailed process for how to make effective microorganisms (plus it’s all on video).
For those of you who already have batches on the go or who will be starting a batch this winter, it would be awesome if you would post a photo in the comments below and then I can also paste it up into this article to show readers what some different brewing setups look like.
And if you have any questions, feel free to ask down below, too.