It has been two years since our first foray into the world of beneficial anaerobes, so I felt it was time to appraise the global performance of our first offering. Until 2016, our focus had always been upon boosting the aerobic workforce in the soil. I have tirelessly promoted the need to protect, replace and regenerate this neglected army. Anaerobes were described as “the undesirables”. The denizens of damaged soils, belching their butyric acid and hydrogen sulfide toxins into a struggling root zone.
However, during my constant travels around the world, I repeatedly witnessed another story. Anaerobes were not all bad. In fact, the Japanese Professor, Teruo Higa, had developed an impressive blend of these creatures that were kicking goals in all climates. EM (Effective Microbes) is one of the most popular inputs in all forms of agriculture in Asia, and there are many singing its praises.
During a visit to his bedside, my late friend and mentor, Jerry Brunetti, suggested I should investigate a local formulation which had impressed him. This input was based upon an EM-style blend that had been boosted with some productive new additions. On his recommendation, I checked out this new formulation and was thoroughly impressed with all I heard and saw.
This well-researched extension of the EM concept involves over 80 different microbe species, including multiple strains of Lactobacillus, fermenting fungi, actinomycetes, probiotic yeasts and purple non-sulfur bacteria (PNSB).
After completing some exciting product trials, Nutri-Life BAM™ (Beneficial Anaerobic Microbes) was born. It has since proven to be one of the most valuable tools in our comprehensive toolbox. Here is a summary of the many benefits that BAM™ provides.
The Key Benefits of BAM™
1) A Living Fertiliser/Plant Growth Promoter
BAM™ provides an obvious fertiliser response, the extent of which surprised us during the initial trial work. In one trial at our research farm, bok choy that had received a single fertigation of BAM™ (at 20 litres per hectare) were about double the size of the untreated control. Foliar applications also delivered a marked growth response.
BAM™ is very cost-effective for all crops, including broadacre, as it can be used effectively from as little as 300 mL/ha. It can be used in liquid injection for cereal and cotton crops. The PGP (Plant Growth Promoter) effect is partially linked to exudates produced by the purple non-sulfur bacteria (PNSB) component of this blend. These photosynthesising, nitrogen fixing bacteria are renowned for the production of substances called plant secondary metabolites.
Plant secondary metabolites (PSM) include powerful protective substances like alkaloids, terpenoids, phenolics and sulfated amino acids. These substances are amongst the most powerful plant-based human medicines, but they are actually created to assist the plant in multiple ways. The sulfated amino acids, for example, include the protective compounds found in the crucifer (broccoli) and allium families (garlic). The plant benefits of PSM are complex and diverse but they include UV protection and greater tolerance of weather extremes. They are antibacterial and antifungal and they increase photosynthetic potential and vigour. However, the metabolite benefit most linked to the fertiliser-like response relates to immune elicitation. These microbial exudates trigger a phenomenon called Induced Systemic Resistance. This plant immunity boost delivers a welcome side effect. Anything that boosts immunity also increases yield (hence the fertiliser response).
A recent Chinese study involving PNSB fertigated and foliar sprayed on stevia plants showed substantial results. Chlorophyll density increased, sugar levels increased, biological activity on the leaf and in the soil was enhanced and the yield of stevioside (a popular natural sugar alternative) increased by an impressive 61%.
2) Seed treatment
BAM™ is an exceptional and inexpensive seed treatment. In fact, it can cost less than $0.50 AUD per hectare to kickstart your crop. Our trials showed seed germination is enhanced (over 20% increase in germination vs the control). After 7 days wheat seeds treated with BAM™ combined with Seed-Start™ showed a significant increase in early vigor.
3) A powerhouse compost accelerant
The common conversion rate from aerobic composting is ~ 670 kg of end product, from every 1 tonne of raw material (taking 3 – 6 months, depending on your effort). In contrast, BAM™ delivers an average 910 kg per tonne of input in just two months! In fact, if you remove the cover and turn it at two weeks, and then repeat that process a week later, the compost can be completed in just five weeks. This involves the production of one third more compost in just a third of the time, with much less effort involved. You simply premix your carbon and nitrogen components, create a 30 cm layer of the premix, apply the BAM™ inoculum to each layer, thoroughly wet up each layer and then you completely cover the pile with a large tarp or silage cover. The cover must be weighted down to ensure anaerobic conditions throughout the composting process. There need not be any troublesome turning involved (unless you are seeking to speed the process down from 8 weeks to 5 weeks, as described above). A few weeks later, you pull back the cover to reveal a bed of delicious black humus for your farm or garden. Farmers have incredibly busy lives, so I am a big fan of reducing the workload to increase the uptake of something as important and productive as composting.
Other reported uses for EM include the following:
Activating manure ponds and septic tanks
Stagnant manure ponds are the bane of many dairy farmers. In many countries, this waste stream cannot be applied to pastures because of an unstable mineral content. The nitrate-nitrogen component can contaminate waterways and phosphorus can spark algal blooms. The addition of EM to manure ponds can transform putrid ponds into living liquid fertilisers that are both stabilised and biologically enhanced. These beneficial anaerobes thrive and multiply amidst this stagnation and they effectively convert a liability into an asset.
Similarly, sewerage can be transformed. You can pour EM down the toilet to activate your septic tank and avoid problems with smell and overload.
Natural, non-toxic home cleaning
You can make up a series of spray bottles, containing an EM inoculum, to take care of all of your cleaning requirements. The addition a few drops of appropriate essential oils to each bottle will add an aromatherapy component to your DIY cleansers. Here are some suggestions:
Bathroom and shower – add ten drops per litre of Eucalyptus oil. These organisms will literally eat out shower mold and bathroom grime and the essential oil ensures a refreshing, natural deodorising effect.
Tile and timber floors – add ten drops of lavender oil per 1 litre spray bottle. This will add a relaxing aromatherapy effect in the house, while the microbes clean your floors.
Painted walls – include ten drops of clove oil per litre to increase the decimation of unhealthy mould spores.
Kitchen benches – create your own living cleanser to keep the stove and benchtops spotless. Add ten drops of lemon or orange essential oil (or citronella) per litre.
If your property has a history of chemical farming, there is a strong likelihood that chemical residues are impacting performance and suppressing soil life. This is just a grim reality of an extractive, industrial model. EM inoculums feature organisms capable of digesting many chemical residues. In fact, EM are one of the very few biological inputs that has been shown to remove dioxins from soil and water.
Often your only opportunity to build humus involves effective and rapid decomposition of your crop residues. I have walked so many fields across the globe where crop residues still remain intact, months after harvest. This is a prime indicator of compromised soil life. Often the microbes most missing are the cellulose digesting fungi responsible for the breakdown of fibrous material. EM inoculums contain fermenting fungi that are facultative anaerobes. That means they can operate with or without oxygen. They usually also feature a particularly voracious cellulose digesting bacteria called Lactobacillus plantarum.
Cleansing compost teas
There is always a risk, when producing compost teas and other inoculates, that the brewing hygiene or the mother culture may have been substandard. Undigested animal manure in a compost, for example, can deliver E.coli or Enterococcus to the compost tea. These organisms are facultative anaerobes, which can thrive and expand with or without oxygen. In this manner, the pathogens can brew up with the good guys and threaten the safety of those working with the compost tea and those consuming contaminated produce. One solution that can help to reduce this risk involves the addition of EM to the completed compost tea. This suite of beneficials can also add further depth to your DIY inoculum.
A productive plant cleanser
A popular application strategy for EM involves something called, “drench to drip off”. Here, the entire plant, including leaves, stems, trunks, and the soil in the immediate root zone, are drenched with a 1:500 solution. The leaves must be soaked to the point of drip off when using this technique. There have been some remarkable reports of crop health recovery with this approach, particularly with compromised orchard crops.
The inclusion of beneficial anaerobes into your agricultural enterprise may prove to be one of your most productive decisions. I can think of no other input with this level of versatility and widespread benefit. Polluted waterways can be regenerated, salt and toxins in the soil can be neutralised, the probiotic impact on leaf surfaces and in the soil is profound, odours can be reduced, pathogens managed, and there is no better way to create a super-productive compost in as little as 8 weeks.