Saturday, February 9, 2019

Why I Love Microbes Part 1

Man, do I love microbes. Well, some microbes. The good guys. you can make or break a plant by providing or denying good soil microbiology.

Within our soil you will find a rock/mineral component- this can vary from location to location, but it is the non-organic element in the soil. There is also the organic component. All gardeners work hard to make sure this is present by adding compost, sowing cover crops, etc. There is also a biological component- the microbes, bacteria, fungi, and tiny life forms that live in the soil. They are extremely important. Unfortunately, many practices that are employed in the modern landscape and garden have wiped them out. You can bring them back to healthy levels, so fear not.

For our purposes today, let's define some of the terminology- When I speak of microbes, I am talking about the beneficial fungi and bacteria that exist in the soil. These microscopic warriors colonize the root systems of plants and aid in nutrient absorption and combat pathogenic microbes. There are thousands of species, and they all have a specific job. It is important to have a good population of these living organisms in you soil. Even a perfectly mixed soil, with perfect organic and mineral components that drains perfectly, has the perfect oxygenation, and all other perfect features will only ever grow OK plants without the microbes. That is a lot of work to achieve perfect for an OK result. Add microbes and nurture the ones that are already there. The process of adding microbiology to your soil is called inoculation. So, how do you inoculate?

There are several super easy ways to add good microbes to the soil. One is to use a fertilizer that contains a good, robust package of them in it. When you look at the label, and this is only going to be on organic fertilizer, you will see something that says "With Active Soil Microbes" or "Contains Mycorrhizae." Now, mycorrhizae is just fungus, and you need bacteria, too, so flip the bag over and take a look at the actual list of species on the back. If there are only a couple, you can probably find a better choice. I LOVE Microlife Fertilizer and Fox Farms Fertilizers for their big packages.

 As you can see there are many different beneficial microbes listed on this Microlife fertilizer...

And many different species of bacterial and fungi on this Fox Farm fertilizer.

When you are visiting your independent garden center- (for the record, the IGC's are going to have this stuff, the big box stores will not, so do support your Independent Garden Centers, please.)- don't be shy, flip the bags and check the package. It is nice to use a fertilizer with microbiology- I love saving steps. I have been asked if you can over do it with microbes, and the answer is no. Beyond wasting money, there is no detrimental effect of adding too many beneficial microbes. They will find a balance, and self regulate their population. So, using a fertilizer that contains these guys is perfectly fine to use every time- I highly recommend doing just that. And look to the right side of this blog for links to Microlife and Fox Farm to learn more about their products. I promise I am not getting paid to say this- I use and believe in these products.

If you do not want or need to fertilize, you can inoculate without fertilizing. Again, both Microlife (MicroGro Grannular) and Fox Farm (MicrobeBrew), have products that are just the biology. Every time I plant, I use these. Especially when planting trees, when planting during stressful times during the year, or when planting in containers. Let's go on a tangent and talk about a container- there is no way those plants can get anything they need unless YOU put it in the container. Synthetic fertilizers are totally out in about 10 days, and your plant is starving. There is no microbiology unless you purchase a soil with it in there, like Fox Farm Happy Frog. So, in a container, it is not just about fluffy soil and a shot of miracle grow (please, no, not ever). Use a good slow release organic with microbiology for better container environments. Any hooooo.... where was I? Ah, yes- straight inoculate. A straight inoculate is also great as a follow up to a chemical treatment that wiped them out. Good segue.

Please stop nuking your microbiology with synthetic junk. Weed and feed, any liquid fertilizer that you mix and is bright blue, herbicides, fungicides, did I say weed and feed... all of these destroy your soil ecology, and for what? A temporary shot in the arm that does NOTHING long term to correctly and holistically improve your soil or your plants. If you use an organic fertilizer and dial in your plant culture, many problems, like brown patch, which is treated with a fungicide, will be eliminated. If you have already used something like this, or plan to for whatever reason, I won't judge, do go back a few weeks later and reintroduce your microbes to the soil with a fertilizer or straight inoculate.

Please check out Rebel Roots for Part 2 of Why I love Microbes. I do not want to bore anyone too badly in one sitting about this very important, and lengthy topic!

Talking Microbes on Central Texas Gardener

Here is my segment about soil microbiology from Central Texas Gardener! I love those guys! What an amazing group of people!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Micro-greens! Easy and Inexpensive

Micro-greens are Easy-Peasy-Lemon-Squeezy. When I realized how many micro-greens are utilized in Chef Stephane's Conscientious Cuisine menu at Lake Austin Spa Resort, I knew I better figure out how to produce these for him, and quickly. At first, I was intimidated. As with all things horticulture, you can travel deep into complicated town, or you can keep it simple. I kept it simple.

There were a few key elements to consider. Lighting, growing medium, selection of species to grow, water, fertility, and timing. Sounds daunting. Trust me, it isn't. Keep in mind, I am growing for a restaurant. All of the elements will be the same for you at home, you need only adjust the amount you are sowing.

Micro-greens are a tasty, nutritious addition to our diet, and can be a lot of fun. I love to engage kids in growing and making healthy choices, and this is a wonderful way to do
just that. Kids that GROW veggies EAT veggies. Micro-greens are a super quick crop- like 7 to 10 days- so kids get results quickly.

Consider the following:
Lighting: You can grow micros in a super bright window, or, like me, with an inexpensive utility light and a LED grow bulb. I love those LED's because the stay cool. You must, however, situate that bulb right over your growing tray. If you hang it three feet above, you will not have good results. Mine are about 10-12 inches above the tray.
Growing Medium: You have options when it comes to choosing a growing medium. You can use anything from auger to a high quality potting medium- just make sure it is all vegetative, organic material, no top soil, sand, etc. I use cellulose grow mats. The soil-less option was the right one for me because it made harvesting and presenting them to Chef in the kitchen easier- no soil to wash off.
The cellulose mats are clean, inexpensive, easy to cut into whatever shape or size you need, and hold water well. They come pre-cut to fit our 10"x20" growing trays. If you use the cellulose mats, you will want the trays without holes.
Species to Grow: There are so many options for micro-greens! I currently grow a spicy salad mix, a mild salad mix, radish, basil, and peas. A great resource is True Leaf Market. They are a great online source for the seeds and all of the supplies. If you are just getting started, the mild salad mix is quick, easy,and goes well with most recipes.
Water: Before you sprinkle your seeds on the seed mat or on the soil, make sure your medium is wet. We saturate our seed mats first. After you sow, check you seeds daily. They should never get dry. We keep a pump-up mister with ours and spray them as often as they require. We also use a humidity dome for the first 24 hours or so. This helps aid germination, but you want to remove it after about a day, or you risk too much humidity and potential infections.

Fertility: Let's just step back and look at this crop- you are going to eat it quickly, like within 7 days or so of it being sown. So, two things- one: how much fertilizer do you think it needs? two: these are tiny micro-greens- you will have a hard time washing them, so don't put anything on them that you don't want in your mouth. I usually use clear water. If I use anything at all, I may mix in a tiny bit, like 1/8th strength, seaweed. But that's it. You don't need anything more.
Timing: How many folks are you providing micro-greens for, and how often? We are fulfilling the needs of a restaurant, so I start a 10"x20" tray of 3 varieties, a tray of peas, and a tray of basil once a week. You won't need that much. But you might! Only you will know. In case you end up with too much- chickens love them, birds love them, and kitties and dogs like them, too, but please double check and make sure you are growing things that are safe for them to eat before you share. Co-workers and friends will be impressed, too.

Micro-greens are fun, easy, and your set up does not have to break the bank. It's micro-greens, not a cash crop with a super high return (Colorado, I'm looking at you). To be honest, it is super satisfying to sow some seeds and see them germinate and grow right before your eyes. And using these in your cooking is super pro-chef, so get out your plating forceps and put Chef's Table on Netflix- you've got this!

Why I Love Microbes Part 1

Man, do I love microbes. Well, some microbes. The good guys. you can make or break a plant by providing or denying good soil m...