THE FIRST THING people usually think of when they are going to plant is, “What are the nutrient requirements of the plant?” This is the way people are trained to think when planning to plant. Granted, different plants have different nutrient needs to one extent or another. However, all plants benefit from maximized nutrition that includes macro and micro-nutrients. So often do I work with a grower and ask if they have had a full soil profile done and they say, “Yeah, I need x pounds of N and x pounds of P, and I am fine with K.” They may know the pH of their soil, but most often have no clue what the organic matter is or what their micronutrient levels are. I do have to say there are a few who are very focused on soil health, but the majority of farmers I work with have a very rudimentary understanding of soil health. Hardly anyone has a clue about microbes or why they are important. I can say, in the 20 years I have been working with microbes, I have yet to meet 1 grower who has done a microbial analysis of their soil!
Let’s Talk About Farming With Probiotics
Earlier this year I had my product label rejected by the state of California for stating on our label that our product is “…a probiotic for plants and soils…” It appears that the state of California believes “probiotics” are “only for the human or animal digestive tract” and they are concerned people may be confused and consume our product. Of course, I have to differ. Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms. “Probiotics” are the opposite of “antibiotics”. Antibiotics (and many agricultural chemicals) kill all the good microbes; the probiotics. The actual Latin definition of “Probiotic” is: “For Life”. Antibiotic, by the way, means “Against Life”. Soil microbes are what make nutrients in soils available to plants. While the microbes are ingesting the nutrients in the soil, or what is added to the soil, they produce metabolites. Metabolites are the by-products of metabolism. A tongue-in-cheek definition could be “microbe poop.”
On average, each microbe produces several dozen metabolites. What they produce depends on what they are exposed to. Probiotics produce metabolites that are beneficial to the surrounding area. This is why they are also referred to as “beneficial microorganisms.” Some of the metabolites include all the enzymes that make the myriad of reactions occur in soil possible. Enzymes are specialized proteins that accelerate chemical reactions. Some examples are: galactase to break down galactose, fructase to break down fructose, lactase to break down lactose, etc. Hormones that make plants grow and flower are produced by microbes these include indolacetic acid (IAA) and gibberelic acid (GA). Several vitamins are also produced by probiotics. Some of these probiotically-produced vitamins include the B-Complex vitamins, which are produced by yeasts, and Vitamin A, produced by photosynthetic bacteria Rhodopseudomonas plalustris. Co-enzymes take part in chemical reactions and are also produced by microbes such as Cq-10, which is produced by photosynthetic bacteria. Amino acids are building blocks for proteins that are produced by probiotics. As are other organic acids such as acetic acid, carbonic acid, and lactic acid. These acids help with leaching nutrients that are otherwise “locked” in the soil and make them available to plants. An increase in amino acids in the soil almost always leads to an increase in the protein content in plants, increasing the nutrient density of plants grown in probiotic soils. And, increased nutrient availability leads to increases in flavors, colors, smells, brix, and various types of natural pest controls.
Probiotic metabolites affect chlorophyll production and photosynthesis. Probiotics actually produce hormones that affect flowering, flower cycles, and plants cycles that cause fruiting and seed production. They also help plants produce the vast flavors and colors of flowers that attract beneficial insects for pollination. These all have an effect on terpenes and other flavors, referred to as terroir in the wine industry, that become characteristics of the flowers and fruits grown in these soils. It is probiotics that carry these characteristics into the plant.
High levels of probiotics will also result in a suppression of pathogens in the soil. Part of this is because beneficial bacteria produce bacteriocins, chitinaze, hydrogen peroxides, and organic acids. Bacteriocins are kind of like a probiotic’s immune system. They attack pathogenic bacteria and kill them. In addition, the majority of probiotic bacteria secrete acids that suppress the growth of pathogenic organisms such as Salmonella and E. coli.
Knowing this, it is obvious that we want to feed and cultivate the “good guys”; the probiotics in the soil. Probiotics feed on composts and other natural materials such as crop residues, which is one reason why applying compost or cover cropping is so important. Probiotics are also very susceptible to synthetic chemicals. It has been proven that glyphosate, “RoundUp®”, is an effective antibiotic as it kills nearly 99.9% of the microbes it comes into contact with. Killing the good guys isn’t a good idea, especially once you know how much good they actually do!
Are you adding probiotics to your garden? Are you cultivating them so they can feed your plants? Are you killing them? If so, you may want to look into probiotic farming.’
Eric Lancaster is Executive Vice President of TeraGanix, Inc., the exclusive North America distributor of Effective Microorganisms® and EM® Bokashi products. He is the technical expert on Effective Microorganisms® for the US market. Please visit www.TeraGanix.com for more information.
Eric Lancaster is Executive Vice President of TeraGanix, Inc., the exclusive North America distributor of Effective Microorganisms® and EM® Bokashi products. He is the technical expert on Effective Microorganisms® for the US market. Please visit www.TeraGanix.comfor more information.