Saturday, February 24, 2007

Home Grown Biofertilizer

The role that soil microbes (archaea, bacteria, and fungi) play in soil nutrient availability is an interesting area, one where we have much to explore. Biofertilizers are increasingly available commercially, meaning those of us outside the academic community will have increasing opportunity to conduct our own reseach. From Montana State University:

Some soil bacteria and fungi can access otherwise unavailable phosphorus, and some are commercially available. In a study on barley, one of these bacteria increased phosphorus availability by about 10 percent. In another study, a phosphate-solubilizing fungus was found to increase spring wheat grain yield by nine percent. "For both studies, the economics need to be considered to determine if these increases are worthwhile, and additional research is needed to determine the effectiveness of these products for different crops and soils," Jones said.

Growing your own biofertilizer may not be that difficult, depending on what it is you are trying to grow. Pictured is some compost tea starter I am "growing" for tomorrow's 36 hour run of actively aerated compost tea. I am going for a fungi-rich tea. Since the aerated tea process favors population growth of bacteria (and, one would think, archaea) over fungi, I am giving the fungi a boost before I start the tea. To 2 cups of compost, I have mixed in 3 tbs oat bran (the white flecks) and 1 tsp of T and J Enterprises (Spokane, WA)'s trichoderma rich "Soil Life & Activator" mix. As you can see the fungi is doing mighty fine. My first couple runs at promoting fungi growth were not as successful. By the looks of this one I am starting to get the hang of it.

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1 comment:

michaelangelica said...

I vaguely recall a Japanese study where they found a bacteria that made phosphorus available.
I think they said that their volcanic soils contain a lot of phosphorus but it is not readily available to plants. They were interested in Australian technology with making super phosphate applied to farms more available.

Australian soils are phosphate poor. Most natives react very badly (die) to phosphorus because they have evolved in a low phosphorus environment.
What happens if the Japaneses phosphorus-making-available "wee beastie" visits Australia? How would the native plants feel about that I wonder?

It seems we need to spend a lot more $ working out the different "suites" of 'critters' that live and have evolved in different parts of the world.
I am worried that throwing about commercial 'wee beastie' mixes might kill or endanger native bacteria, fungi etc before we have even managed to give them a name - let alone work out what they do.

I guess whenever we garden we destroy as well as create.

In housing estates popping up locally on virgin soil developers are required to collect native seed growing in the proposed development area, propagate it and replant it when the houses are up.
No one has yet thought of asking what the amazing soil zoo under their feet contains.