What Makes A Microbial Inoculant Effective?

 If you know, you know. That is — if you’re a modern gardener or commercial organic farmer, you’re well aware that chemical-based ag is an outdated concept. But that grasp of the obvious doesn’t always translate into an in-depth understanding of the best microbial inoculant on the market.

That’s what this growers guide is for. We’ll break down everything you want to know about:

  • Microbial inoculants
  • How to shop for the best
  • How some people make it or something like it, and
  • Other options for organic farming 

The agricultural technology that resulted in the world’s first microbial inoculant didn’t happen overnight. There was a lot of research and development that went into creating products for the marketplace that are effective for short-term improvements such as root growth and dry weight yields, won’t break the bank, as they say, and are proven to make a lasting difference on the growth futures of the land. 

It wasn’t until around 20 or 30 years ago that the demand for organic produce and products grew so rapidly, both from people who simply love to grow food in their personal gardens and from a much wider economic perspective. New United States government regulations coupled with an awareness of the environmental and health concerns of chemicals sparked consumer interest, which in turn forced a turn to a more natural solution.

Farmers struggled with creating a growing environment for their plants, whether they were heirloom crops grown in a specific geographic area or tended from some of the new seeds that were being produced that were resistant to weeds and insects. Now, there’s even an interest to eradicate GMO, or genetically modified organism, seeds. 

Microbial inoculants go a step further toward nature, creating a healthy rhizospheric environment by fortifying soils with beneficial supplementation. 

Whoa — maybe we’re moving too fast here! But there’s a serious reason for that: These products have the opportunity to radically improve fertile soils throughout the globe at a time when this land is getting negatively impacted by climate change and development pressures. 

The time for land managers of all levels to learn about the best microbial inoculant is now.

Microbial Inoculants 101

Just to make sure everyone reading is on the same page, let’s start with the basics. What is a microbial inoculant, anyway?

These supplementation products contain beneficial microorganisms such as healthy bacteria, to create a healthy environment within the area of the soil where roots of plants reach for nutrition and water. Instead of killing off the bad stuff, a microbial inoculant will instead add in some of the good stuff.

That in itself can be a revolutionary concept to some growers, who are still lagging in the old-fashioned ideas of spraying plants with stuff to make bad bugs and organisms crawl in another direction. But its simplicity is rooted in facts: The bacteria, fungi, or critters of any kind that negatively impact the root structure of plants are there because it’s a hospitable environment for them. Create stable and balanced soils, and plants will thrive.

Microbial inoculants can be added to growing beds before planting, during the growth period, and even while the plant is blossoming. These soil additives can be used in every kind of farming environment. They’re hard to use in excess.

Many experts liken microbial inoculants to having a big scoop of yogurt every day for your own personal gut health. The reason this probiotic food helps your digestive tract is the same reason that these soil supplements work: They provide help when the environment is stressed. 

best microbial inoculations

What to Look for in the Best Microbial Inoculant

The good news is that figuring out the best microbial inoculant for your soil is also like figuring out the best probiotic for your digestive problem. For example, you may notice that you’re not regular or you have heartburn or have a weight management issue … or a whole host of results that are connected to gut health. But it’s not like you have to take a test to figure out exactly which bacteria count is off.

Instead, most people will notice marked improvements over the course of just a few weeks when they start taking a probiotic supplement or enjoy fermented foods like kefir, kimchi, or kombucha drinks. You don’t really worry about what exactly the species of bacteria that helped, you just feel better.

Plants respond to the best agricultural inoculants the same way. The thing you should look for is a blend that includes the species of bacteria that has been proven effective in terms of clearly documented enhanced nutrient availability in the soils, as well as measured stem, root, and overall plant growth. 

Impello, a company focusing on biostimulants, bio-based fertilizers, and other products for organic growing at home or commercially, has had a third-party analysis completed to test the efficiency of their products. They discovered the use of their microbial inoculant resulted in a:

  • 15% increase in dry weight yields 
  • 14% increase in growth rate, and 
  • 16% increase in stem diameter 

Beyond independent research, you should also look to ensure the inoculant you purchased is a USDA Certified Biobased Product and is listed in the OMRI. If the company doesn’t offer you a guarantee of satisfaction, you should take care. It should be obvious that consistent use of their product will benefit your garden or farm. If it’s not, you shouldn’t part with your money.

How to Make Microbial Inoculant Mixes

Many people are interested in whether there is a homemade version of a microbial inoculant that they can make themselves. While it’s certainly faster and easier to purchase a product, there are methods growers can undertake to create their own kind of inoculant for plants. 

Keep in mind, you can’t be guaranteed of the consistency of a product, so it’s more likely that you won’t see the results you seek. Still, here are five steps you can take if you want to learn how to make microbial inoculant mixes.

  • Determine the Supplementation

  • Some inoculant products have fungi, bacteria, and other microbes, which are designed to live within the microscopic and individual bits of soil. While you may test your soil to see what results of stressful environments — such as a history of inconsistent watering, imbalanced salinity levels, poor soil quality — there isn’t a test to determine exactly what supplementation is needed.

    Companies like Impello have proprietary products. For example, Tribus Original includes three vital species of bacteria:

    • Bacillus subtilis
    • Bacillus amyloliquefaciens
    • Bacillus pumilus

    Some growers will ferment milk, much like creating a yogurt, to utilize that kind of bacteria, known as Lactobacillus.

  • Remove Chlorine from Substrate

    Importantly, you can’t make an organic inoculant for plants if you are using chlorinated water. By design, the chlorine in the water will kill all organisms — including the good bacteria you are trying to add to your soil. To dechlorinate the water, simply leave it out in the sunlight for 24 hours. However, if the temperatures are very cold, it could take longer.

  • Wait for a Few Days

  • Once you add the fermented milk product to the water and put a lid on tightly, you’ll want to monitor for a sour smell associated with it. That’s when it’s time to add even more milk and check under the lid for any gases that need to escape. 

    After about a week, you may notice a clear fluid underneath the solids. This is where the microbes live, and you’ll want to keep it fed with unprocessed sugar or molasses, especially in warm conditions.

  • Experiment with Dosage

  • It’s always hard to know the right amount anytime you create a product at home. You’ll need to create a plan and monitor impacts closely to determine if it’s necessary to supplement with other kinds of bacteria.

    Impello’s product is highly concentrated, so it’s necessary to dilute it in water. For every 100 milliliters, add 200 gallons of water for any kind of dispersant irrigation method. How you water your plants may impact how much of your homemade mix you choose to use.

  • Document Changes

  • You don’t have to be an agricultural entrepreneur to know that it doesn’t make sense to spend time and energy on a product, either homemade or purchased commercially, if it doesn’t work. It’s crucial to document any impact you notice in your crops.

    Use the product every week, or with every watering while the plant is in the active growth phase of its life. Make sure whatever microbial inoculants you use, your mixes are stored in a closed container in a cool, dry location.

    Agricultural Soil Amendments

    Other Agricultural Inoculants

    There’s been a big focus on supplementing the soil with healthy bacteria — and that’s because there is independently verifiable evidence that it works. But it’s not the only thing that an organic farmer or gardener should be thinking about when it comes to caring for the long-term viability and health of the soil. 

    Other agricultural inoculants can include a wide variety of products and best practices, including:

    • Rotating crops so that heterogenous plant species don’t drain the soil of specific nutritional needs, putting the growing bed into a state of stress
    • Reducing tillage so that the microscopic environment living within the rhizosphere, or the area where roots grow, won’t be disrupted unnecessarily
    • Adding compost, such as animal manure or kitchen scraps that have decomposed over time
    • Other soil amendments, such as amino acids and polypeptides, as found in Impello’s Lumina

    Inoculant for Plants: The Bottom Line 

    Modern growers don’t always have the most optimum soil in which to grow their plants, but now new technology has made it possible to support the soil environment and grow organically. No matter the size of the garden or farm, adding different organic materials will enhance the microflora that in turn help plants thrive.

    Whether you mix your own or purchase a proprietary product, using the best microbial inoculant will help you grow crops that are robust and hardy — so you can support your family, your community, and the future of Earth’s fertile lands.

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