Enhancing Soil - Microbial Brews
TEAMING WITH MICROBES
If you want to understand soil, I recommend a wonderful book called Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis. It reveals the fascinating world that makes up soil. In the past, we just added fertilizer from the store to feed plants. This book shows how that our priority must be to enhance healthy soil life in order to ensure long lasting sustainability, stability and eventually resiliency of our growing systems. And all that with higher food quality. Even at the large acreage level it is possible to increase the fertility of soil over years rather than deplete it. Check out http://grainworks.com for a look at a 9,000 acre farm that has done this. And all that without the use of herbicides, pesticides and fungicides or commercial fertilizer. Soil is not just some inert material that gives plants a way to stand up and drink water waiting for humans to feed it through chemicals so it can produce food. It is a world of things like minerals, bio-materials and living microorganisms working in balance to provide an environment for plants to thrive. Anyway, buy the book to get yourself well informed on enhancing soil health rather than just depleting it from shallow and short term thinking. The book is available on Amazon.ca or .com
As we grow intensively, plants will use up existing soil resources. To give the soil a boost we can employ a few methods to keep it full and vibrant, in some cases able to produce multiple crops in one growing season. If your system is feeding intensively, you must boost soil health. One way of doing that is by using microbial brews. Microbial brews are concentrated prepared solutions of natural ingredients that we add to our systems to ensure healthy soil life and therefore good quality food consistently. Our purpose should be to always leave the soil better at the end of the growing season than the year before. That would certainly guide our decision making process about growing things toward true sustainability.
The following photos describe what I do to enhance our soil. 20 gallons of microbial brew per acre adequately enhances soil health. Every 5 gallon production of the brew can be mixed at a 1:5 ratio. One part brew to 5 parts water. Rain water is best as chlorine and chloramine in water can damage microorganisms in water. This brew can be applied directly on the soil or better yet showered overtop of the plants to give them added immunities.
MICROBIAL BREW INGREDIENTS
The ingredients of the microbial brew in a five gallon container are: 2 tablespoons of Blackstrap Molasses (unsulphured). Sugars may be substituted although are not as rich a food source for microorganisms. 1 generous handful of rich living compost. Composts from a variety of plant materials is better than compost from just one like grass clippings. A small handful of finish composted manure always adds a lot to the mix. The more variety of materials the greater the variety of microorganisms which is better for the soil and plants. Add a small handful of rock dust, or volcanic powder, or azomite. Also, a large handful of worm castings. A handful of rich soil is great. I have some powder that is a compost starter, basically beneficial microorganisms in hibernation waiting to be activated. You get the idea. A variety of rich life-filled materials.
MIXING MICROBIAL BREWS
I stir the molasses into the water first until it is fully diluted. If the water is cold and you add molasses without stirring, the molasses is likely to just sink to the bottom of the pail without really dispersing as a food source throughout the solution. After adding the molasses, I set in the bubbling system, which you will see below, and weigh down with a rock or brick. The key to the bubbling system is to produce a huge amount of vigorous agitation. There are biological reasons for this. The examples you often see on YouTube with the little aquarium bubblers are not adequate. Agitation forces the biology onto the food source you've added to the water and provides lots of oxygen. If you have an oxygen meter you are shooting for at least a constant 7% oxygen solution. 11% is ideal. This will ensure a microbial population explosion. This brew is designed to dramatically increase microbial numbers in 1-2 days.
Now place all these materials in a fine straining bag like a paint strainer and submerse into the solution. I use string to keep the bag submerged without allowing the materials to spill into the water. Using a strainer helps keep the solution free of debris when later you dilute it and get ready to pour or spray on the soil. Less clogging of nozzles.
APPLYING MICROBIAL BREWS
Very important. Do not "cook" the solution for more than 48 hours. Use the solution up within 1 hour after the bubbler stops and thoroughly clean all parts of the brewing system immediately. Use baking soda and a scrub brush. You want to be breeding beneficial microorganisms, not harmful ones. This bubbling system is designed to exponentially grow beneficial aerobic biology rather than anaerobic biology. Cook the brew and get it out there as quickly as possible. Ideally, a batch spread out on the property every month is great. Or three times during the growing cycle. If you live in cold climates, you can charge the soil like this before the snows fall for a great head start to the growing season the following Spring. Add it to your growing areas in the Winter as well. Microbes will activate in the Spring. OK. Now for the photos.
Volcanic Rock Mix
Compost we make
Composted Sheep Manure
5 Gallon Container
Aeration Hose Unit
Vigorous Water Agitation