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!


  1. Świetny artykuł. Bardzo praktyczny :) Świetna ta firma Microlife.

  2. Thanks for the informative post! We recently moved, and as we anticipated, our fiddle leaf fig is going through some shock. We’ve placed her in an east-facing window with filtered light but I worry that might not be enough light for her.

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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...