The dictionary definition of the word “science” is “adherence to natural laws and principles”. Nature has all of the answers and we were supposed to learn from her, rather than think we can do better. A prime example of this “learning” potential relates to the role of anaerobic organisms in human, animal and plant health. For some reason there was little enquiry into Nature’s broader intention when considering the presence of multiple strains of lactobacillus on the surface of every leaf.
When we chop up a cabbage and other vegetables, layer them in a container, salt each layer and seal the end-product, we do not need to add any microbes for the sauerkraut to do its thing. The lactobacillus are always present and they just need salt (to slow down the competition) and anaerobic conditions to allow them to kick into action. “Why do these creatures inhabit every leaf surface?” was the question that was never asked. It is certainly not because this allows us to make fermented food without any added inoculum. It wasn’t until Japanese researcher Dr Teruo Higa looked a little deeper, that we finally discovered the larger purpose of this biofilm.
Lactobacillus play a number of key roles in the soil and on the leaf surface. They appear to be involved in protection from numerous plant pathogens, they recycle minerals, some strains are voracious cellulose-digesters (humus builders) and, like all beneficial microbes, they help deliver nutrients to the plant. They also produce a range of exudates, like B-group vitamins, that stimulate plant growth. In humans and animals, they are the single most important probiotic in our digestive tracts.
Dr Higa appropriately sourced the organisms that form the basis of his product EM (Effective Microbes) from the surface of rice. It turns out that we can make our own super-productive lactobacillus brew using this same strategy. Here’s how you can do it:
Recipe for Lactobacillus Inoculum
- 1 cup of rice
- 1 x 4 L bucket (with lid)
- 1 L of water
- 1 fine mesh strainer
- 10 L of milk
- 1 x 20 L bucket (with lid)
- 4 tsp of black-strap molasses
Place the rice and water in the 4 L bucket and stir vigorously until the water is cloudy white. Then strain, retaining the liquid. The rice can still be cooked and eaten. If you want to expand the range of lactobacillus beyond those that are naturally occurring, you could add a cup of Bio-Bubble™ into this mix. It seems to be a productive strategy.
Place the lid on the bucket, but do not fully seal it. There must be a tiny space for the mix to breathe. Then store it in a cool, dark place for 5 – 7 days.
At the end of the week there will be some gunk on top. Skim off the top layer and strain the liquid (serum).
Now add your fermented serum to 10 L of milk in the 20 L bucket. Leave this blend in a dark place to culture for another 5 – 7 days. Again, put the lid on the bucket but do not completely seal it.
At the completion of this process, there will be a layer of curd sitting on the top. Skim off the curd and use it as a probiotic for livestock. It can be tremendously effective, as lactobacillus are key beneficials in all digestive tracts. The pale yellow serum that remains is your unactivated inoculum.
Now add 4 teaspoons of blackstrap molasses to provide enough food to just keep the lactobacillus ticking over. This serum must now be refrigerated or stored in the cold room and will have a shelf-life of around 12 months.
This is the inoculum you will add to the soil or foliar spray on the leaf for disease control. Alternatively, you can further multiply the lactobacillus concentrate by adding 5 L of serum, 5 L of molasses and 2 L of Bio-Bubble™ to a 200 L drum of water. Stir and then leave this blend to brew for a further 5 days.
The completed lactobacillus inoculum is activated by adding 1 part serum to 20 parts unchlorinated water. The dilution is then added to the soil or foliar sprayed.
This recipe can obviously be upscaled considerably for larger areas or downscaled for home gardeners. You have created an inexpensive, super-productive, living fertiliser, which increases fertiliser performance, builds humus and helps to manage pathogens.