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How To Try Out This Biology Stuff

OK, so you have been reading more and more about using soil biology instead of chemistry - letting mycorrhizal fungi, beneficial bacteria, earthworms, etc. nourish and protect plants. Are you ready to give it a try, but not ready to make a complete commitment with your farm, nursery, landscape business, or garden? Fair enough. Let's look for ways to put your toes into the water instead of going off the high board into the pool.

The first step is to stop and think about how to set up a valid comparison. You need the same type of plants growing in similar situations, with the only difference being fertilization. (Mycorrhizal plants will require less watering, too, but let's keep the variables to just one for sake of simplicity.)

For farms, mark off a small area of a field - either a block or a strip - and avoid putting ANY fertilizer on that area. Instead, inoculate those seeds with our BEI or use BEI on transplants - see Also avoid using pesticides and side-dressings on that test area during the growing season. You should notice that the bio-inoculated plants will look weaker than the fertilized ones early on, but as the mycorrhizal fungi colonize the soil in that area, the plants should show superior insect resistance and yields.

Nurseries can usually set up grow-test comparisons fairly easily, but may have a problem with their potting media. Some partially-composted bark-based media can have fungicidal properties which inhibit mycorrhizal fungi. We suggest peat, coir, or fully-composted wood/bark material may be needed to get benefits from biological methods. Bioassays of roots are recommended as a way to gauge inoculation effects (which is true for all types of growers - bioassays can be far more useful than tests of soil pH and NPK levels).

Landscapers can simply dust our Landscape Inoculant (LA) on the roots of some plants as they are being set out and not on others. However, note that it will be critically important to NOT apply fertilizer, especially in liquid form,to the inoculated plants - that will ruin the test. Remember to advise the homeowner or maintenance crews to avoid "feeding" the bio-inoculated plantings. Again, the inoculated plants may look weaker until the fungi can colonize the surrounding soil. Be patient for a few weeks.

Home gardeners have the best of it. They have planting areas that are manageable in size and can usually keep close controls over inputs. We have developed a product specifically for them - MycoMinerals - see This is basically finely-ground volcanic minerals with mycorrhizal spores blended in. The minerals provide a broad spectrum of minor and trace elements that may not be present in soils, and the spores introduce the powerful effects of good biology. It is intended to be worked into soil before planting, so just use the product on one section of a vegetable garden or flower bed, or work it into the area around some larger plants (tomatoes, melons, squash) and not others. And NO fertilizing - none, nada! - either before or during the season.

But what about nitrogen, you may be thinking. How will the plants get that element that we all know is so necessary? The volcanic minerals have little or no N, so where will it come from? Answer: from the biological activity in the soil. Where do you think wild plants find enough N to thrive and never deplete their soils? It's all a very complex process, but the excretions and dead bodies of the soil biota represent perfect plant food, and mycorrhizae is the mechanism by which plants uptake those great nutrients. If you can get high populations of beneficial organisms going in the soil, the "good little bugs" will handle most of the plant feeding and root protection functions.

Skeptical? Fine. But what's the harm in trying it on just one small spot?

NOTE: If you are dealing with long-term valuable crop plants like grapes or orchard trees, you may lose the chance to introduce superior types of mycorrhizal fungi if you do not inoculate at planting time. There is enough established evidence of the value of inoculating these type of plants that we suggest leaving only a few "control" plants if you want to make with-and-without comparisons.

Cheers and good growing, my friends,

Don Chapman
President, BioOrganics, Inc.

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