What are Microbial Inoculants?

Photo Credit: Kyle Ellefson

Microbial inoculants are mixtures of beneficial microorganisms, live probiotics, that you add to your soil to improve it, promoting strong and healthy plants, and increasing nutrient density in plants grown in this biologically diverse soil. Microbial inoculants can also be used to clean the environment in a process known as bioremediation. Runoff coming from farms using microbial inoculants can clean areas the runoff comes into contact with as a result of their beneficial runoff. This is contrary to conventional farms using synthetic chemicals that have toxic runoff. These microbes are not only helpful to plants but also support other organisms and insects that aid in plant growth. This is a much more organic and natural approach than adding synthetic chemicals to your plants that may be harmful to the area around them. Microbial inoculants help build soil structure and help make nutrients available to plants. A nutrient-rich base is essential for any plant or garden to thrive, so why not encourage your garden with an organic and natural approach with microbial inoculants?

How do microbial inoculants affect your soil?

When you apply a microbial inoculant to the soil a chain reaction begins. Most inoculants require water either to mix them and hydrate the microbes or to spread them out since a little goes a long way. The liquid with the inoculant carries the microbes down into the soil, bringing with them by-products (metabolites) that start to react with nutrients in the soil. If the inoculant is something that was fermented, like a lactic acid bacteria inoculant that you made or one that you purchased that was fermented, there will also be tons of enzymes, vitamins and amino acids that will start to react with nutrients in the soil and also feed little creatures such as worms. Enzymes are specialized proteins that speed up reactions, such as breaking down complex sugars (plant root exudates) and form compounds like polysaccharides that hold soils together, creating structure in the soil. The structure, combined with the polysaccharides affect the ability of the soil to hold moisture and improve drainage. Worms feed on some of the microbes, drilling through the soil as well as digesting things in the soil that ends up increasing the organic matter in the soil that feeds plants. The little tunnels that worms leave behind allow air to travel through the soil, providing oxygen to plants and other organisms in the soil. These holes are coated with more of this polysaccharide material and create a ‘sponginess’ to the soil.

These holes are also tunnels in which beneficial fungi can grow. Beneficial fungi is most commonly known as mycchorizae, but also includes many other types of fungi including yeasts. Fungi in the soil help with moisture retention, nutrient uptake, and pathogen control. They also contribute to increases in organic matter in the soil. Fungi such as yeasts stimulate root growth, which helps plants not only access moisture but also help with the absorption of nutrients.

Increased access to nutrients in the soils means increased nutrients, flavors and smells in plants. A rich soil where plants can access as much as they need will produce plants that have more intense colors, flavors, and aromas.

Microbial Inoculants will work to improve the quality of the garden soil that you have in place. If you are struggling to maintain healthy plants, a microbial inoculant works well in any garden! Try adding a microbial inoculant to areas where your plants are struggling. You will certainly notice a difference between your plants that have been exposed to a microbial inoculant and those that have not. To ensure the success of all of your plants, using a microbial inoculant throughout your entire garden and throughout the gardening season is recommended. Building a strong soil base for your plants to grow in will not only help your long term plants stay strong, but will also help newer plants get a better start. A healthy soil base will encourage all of your plants to grow throughout your garden. Microbial inoculants are the safe and natural way to improve the growth of your plants and the overall success of your garden! Microbial inoculants are a great addition to any composting regimen and will contribute to a nutrient dense base for your garden. They are also a great addition to any other liquid organic fertilizers that you may be using.

Will I see benefits from using microbial inoculants?

Absolutely! Microbial inoculants are designed to help your plants grow from the start and promote the growth of your plant over its life, and they even support the environment around it. Using a microbial inoculant will ensure that you are doing everything you can to promote and encourage a healthy environment for your plants to thrive in. Microbial inoculants are easy to use and will help you build a strong and healthy environment for any plant or garden. If you are looking to improve your garden at home, this might be something that you want to try.

Thinking about trying a microbial inoculant for the first time? Compost teas add fungi and aerobic microbes and are inexpensive to make. If you are not one to fiddle around with things like making your own tea, products like EM-1 Microbial Inoculant are available and have a special balance of facultative microbes and are fairly inexpensive to use.

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.