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June 6, 2008
This year at Commonweal Garden, we have been experimenting with the cultivation of various microbes to help nourish and protect our annual and perennial gardens. Why rely on outsourced, petroleum-based, commercial fertilizers when you can harvest fertility from your garden “weeds"?
For example, Lactobacilli, beneficial microbes we often associate with dairy products, are found nearly everywhere. They are good for our intestines and good for our garden plants because they are powerful digesters. In the garden, Lactobacilli applied in a foliar spray will populate the leaf surface and use up the food supply, thereby starving out any pathogens that might also want to populate the leaf surface. Lactobacilli also protect the plant, allowing pores to open up larger and stay open longer so the plant can take in more nutrients.
Where can you harvest some Lactobacilli? Right out of the air!
We are also experimenting with nutritive plant extracts, including nettle, comfrey, and fava beans. It is a great way to stack functions with some of these favorite permaculture plants you may already have springing up in your garden. Got pests? Make eucalyptus an ally; harvest some leaves to make a foliar spray for pest prevention!
Find out more about making your own Lactobacilli and plant extracts in the Farm Favorite Recipes below.
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Beneficial Indigenous Microorganisms – Grow Your Own
**Special thanks to Gavin Raders for his work on these recipes at the garden!**
Lactobacilli are everywhere! They live in the air, on plants, and in your gut (and the guts of all animals); without them, we would not survive. LB are a major digester in any bio-dynamic system, meaning they make nutrients available in a form we can use.
How to collect it:
Purchase a bag of highly refined white rice. Pour rice into a bowl and cover with water. Let rice sit in water for a few minutes. Then, strain out the rice and pour the milky colored water into a jar, leaving room for air in the jar so that the rice wash fills no more than half of the jar’s volume. Cover the jar with a cheese cloth, rubber band it, and set it aside in a cool, semi-dark place for 5 days when warm and up to 15 days when cold. A variety of airborne bacteria will colonize this rice wash. When it is ready for the next step, it will have a sweet alcoholic aroma, and possibly a film on top with spores growing on the surface. Skim off this surface scud before the next step.
Now we need to isolate the Lactobacilli by feeding the bacteria food that LB particularly like so that they will out-produce the other bacteria living in the rice wash. So, add 10 parts milk (does not need to be raw, can be from a cow, goat, or sheep, even powdered milk will work) to one part rice wash. Cover again with cheese cloth and let sit for 5-7 days. The fats in the milk will separate to the top, and underneath the fats will be a clear yellowish solution which is pure lactose. Carefully skim off the fat without letting it mix back into the lactose (if it does, you’ll have to try again once the fat rises again to the surface). In a refrigerator it will keep for 1 year, or if you add raw sugar such as molasses (1/3 sugar to total volume), you will not need to refrigerate it. It if begins to smell rotten, you know the LB are gone.
A) As a foliar spray on leaves of plants, it will totally populate the leaf surface and use up the food supply, thereby starving out any pathogens that might also want to populate the leaf surfaces of plants. Its presence protects the plant, allowing the pores on the plant’s leaves to open up larger and stay open longer so the plant can get more nutrients. To use as a foliar spray, dilute it 1:20 with NON-CHLORINATED water (chlorine kills microbes, but if you only have chlorinated water, let it sit for one day and it will evaporate out), and then you can dilute it again 5 tsp/gallon. One batch is enough for a whole year’s usage on a 5-acre farm. It is generally not used alone, but combined with other plant extracts (explained below) to feed the plant additional nutrients.
B) Eat it yourself to aid in digestion and medicinally to stop diarrhea. Used internally, it does not need to be diluted. Feed it to your chickens, goats, cows, dogs, cats, etc by adding it to their water so that they will digest their food more completely, enabling you to reduce feed by 30%.
C) Add to anything foul smelling, such as your compost toilet or compost pile.
Many different plants can be harvested and fermented to extract a variety of beneficial properties which can be delivered directly to your garden easily and for free. These can be all mixed together with the Lactobacilli in one 55-gallon barrel to be used as a bio-dynamic foliar spray. If storing them on their own, try to stir once a day.
Following are some suggestion of plant extracts to try:
Nettle: A nettle extract is a very important part of any tea and the only plant we know of that can be fermented without adding any sugar. All you do is harvest the nettle, chop it up fine, and submerge in water. Cover it and leave for 10 days. It is an amazing stimulant for all plants, and chock full of nutrients. Use as part of a foliar spray or as part of a root soak solution.
For the following plants:
Harvest, chop finely, add water, add 1/3 molasses to volume, and let ferment for 7-10 days. Stir daily.
Comfrey: ferment for high nutrient load.
Kelp: ferment for beneficial hormones and nutrients, use as part of foliar spray.
Garlic and Ginger: use as foliar spray to prevent bugs, or take internally yourself for many health benefits. Fungicidal properties of garlic fight disease and repel bugs.
Eucalyptus: use as foliar spray for bug and microbial prevention.
Bamboo: harvest young shoots, ferment to extract growth hormone, and use as part of foliar spray.
Fava Bean: harvest tops of plant, ferment to extract growth hormone, use as part of foliar spray.
Other extracts to try: horsetail, calendula, fruits such as papaya for valuable nutrients.