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Getting down to Earth about Using Inoculants

Those of you who have been receiving these newsletters for some time know that many of them have dealt with big general issues relating to agricultural growing methods.

Such topics have included the depletion of crop soils by overuse of chemical fertilizers, increasing problems with soil compaction and salt buildups, fertilizer runoff into streams and underground drinking water, the relative absence of research funding to explore biological alternatives, and whether current soil chemistry practices are sustainable.

You also know by now that I'm rather pessimistic about anyone actually doing anything about any of the above, at least until situations reach disastrous can't-be-ignored levels. Just like a small leak in a dam, it's relatively easy and inexpensive to fix problems at early stages. Right now would be a better time to begin protecting the beneficial soil organisms in our crop soils than in future years. Unfortunately,it's not happening.

But, as promised, let's switch to a more positive gear and put the focus of this issue on how to use the power of microbial organisms to grow plants today. For some, it would be very simple to do. For others,more difficult.

The easy ones: Home gardeners,landscape installers, lawn-care, small market-vegetable growers, and those putting in new orchards/vineyards.For these purposes,just introducing the right types of mycorrhizal spores to plant roots and then avoiding fast-acting fertilizers can work wonders in terms of plant health and performance - with minimal human involvement required.

Actually, one of the biggest problems for bio-growers is making themselves fight the urge to "feed" their plants like the persuasive TV commercials recommend. From a soil-biology perspective, applications of synthetic fertilizers can do much more harm than good.

A few examples of easy and effective applications - put a pinch of our BEI inoculant on vegetable transplant (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, etc.) roots as you set them out; scatter a tablespoon of our LA landscape inoculant in ornamental planting holes, dissolve our BEIM micronized product in water and apply as a drench to lawns, dip the root tips of bare root transplants (fruit trees, grapes, etc.) in our RD root dip before planting; or blend our MycoMinerals powder into garden beds and then just plant as usual. See or for more details.

The more difficult situations: Large plant nurseries, lower-value crops, and big farms. A nursery should actually be a very logical place to create mycorrhizal relationships on plant roots, as then the pre inoculated plants take off like a shot and are more disease-protected when transplanted, but we have found that most large nursery operations are pretty much locked into established chemical routines.Another problem is if bark-based potting media are used - may have fungicidal effects, which is not a good thing when working with beneficial fungi.

For large farms, especially those growing lower-value crops (grain, soybeans, etc.), converting from chemical to biological practices can be a scary proposition, especially when chemical fertilizers are still generating good yields. I receive many calls from farmers who would like to experiment with our Inoculants, but want to try them as an add-on to standard fertilization practices. I have to explain that high-analysis NPK is not compatible with mycorrhizal fungi, and that it would be a waste of money to inoculate seeds that are going into what amounts to a toxic situation for the fungi.

Farms that do want to move to bio-methods can arrange to have our BEIM micronized inoculant blended into seed coatings, or dust the BEIM onto slightly-damp seeds as they are loaded into the planting machine. We suggest using at least 1 lb. of inoculant per acre. (Note that the number of seeds does not matter - they are merely being used to distribute the mycorrhizal spores evenly throughout the field.) Compost or plant residues tilled into the soil would be very helpful to the restoration process, but this is not always possible.

Another way for farms to restore biological activity to large acreage is to inoculate cover crop seeds. This can have a powerful effect on following crops, but for soils that are in production year-round it requires "taking a break" and foregoing some immediate profits.

I'm reminded of when a guy in a neighboring office asked if our spores would do anything for potted plants. He had a small plant in his reception area that looked nearly dead. I probed a hole in the soil with a pencil, put in a bit of inoculant, pushed it down to the roots, and forgot about it. He called me over a few weeks later to show me a vibrantly-healthy plant that was about to bloom for the first time ever. Ten seconds of time and a couple cents of inoculant made all the difference in the world in that situation.

So, why not do the easy ones?


Don Chapman
President, BioOrganics, Inc.

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