Beneficial bacteria is the heart and soul in all living soil that lays beneath our feet, but when it comes to observing beneficials in hydroponics we learn that microbes are not only for organics. The constant interaction between bacteria and plants play a large role in factoring soil fertility and plant health. Although there are hundreds and hundreds types of microorganisms on this earth, plants especially thrive when they have a good mix of mycorrhizae, bacteria, and Trichoderma.
Bacteria strains are more durable than mycorrhizae when it comes to synthetic nutrients for hydroponics. Microbes work by using competitive exclusion. Basically, through competing for food sources, the microbes eat quickly and start to secrete compounds that help other similar microbes begin to thrive. Since they reproduce so quickly (some in as little as every 30 seconds!), before long there is a thriving population. When there is no competition, the first thing that is present will establish itself. Additionally, since microbes reproduce so quickly they can also mutate quickly, developing resistance to certain things they may be exposed to. Disinfectants and other antibiotics are some things that microbes have developed resistance to. Although they are designed to kill pathogens, these disinfectants frequently kill the weaker, good microbes too. When they are killed, the balance of good vs. bad is destroyed. If allowed to thrive and compete naturally, these good microbes would normally work to out-compete the bad microbes (pathogens). Synthetic nutrients kill off mycorrhizae, so myco-only products are the best used strictly in organic gardening. Bacteria, on the other hand, can withstand the concentrated nutrient levels found in synthetic products.
If you are using synthetic nutrients, it is best to feed your plants first, then inoculate them with beneficial bacteria after feeding because, although beneficials work with synthetics, they don’t necessarily love each other. If you wait to inoculate after feeding, you reduce the risk of synthetic nutrients causing any harm to your inoculants, especially if you use a mix that also contains mycorrhizae. Although they work with synthetics nutrients, bacterial strains can be equally beneficial to the organic gardener, as well as the conventional grower. Whether you are a tried and true soil gardener or committed to growing hydro, beneficial bacteria is a must-have in your grow, for they enhance resistance to stress, break down organic matter, and improve soil structure.
The easiest, most cost-effective, and fastest way to inoculate your plants is with a pre-made product. You can always brew your own compost tea for soil, but there are products out there that have done the work for you. No matter the type of garden, you can easily inoculate your plants. The easiest and safest way, regardless of your growing method, is simply by top dressing. In either setup, pour directly onto your growing medium. Avoid putting any type of product (especially ones that contain Molasses) into a hydro reservoir or irrigation system. That is a sticky mess waiting to happen! A good microbial inoculant will contain multiple beneficial strains of bacteria, as well as mycorrhizae and Trichoderma.
We recommend Great White Premium Mycorrhizae, a product that you can apply directly to your seeds, seedling roots, or transplant root balls. There are a lot of good powdered and liquid products, but be sure to always check expiration dates. If using seeds, you can soak your seeds in inoculated liquid. Alternatively, you can spray them with water and roll them in powdered spores. With seedlings or the root balls of transplants, you can dust the roots or dip them in a mycorrhizae product. Some people prefer the simplicity of a soil drench, but others question its effectiveness. Since mycorrhizae can take as long as 90 days to cultivate, the earlier in your plant life cycle you inoculate, the better.
Additionally, the included strains of bacteria are symbiotic, meaning that they live harmoniously together. Not very many bacteria can do that, even beneficial ones. Most decomposers will try to digest other bacteria, even if they are beneficial.
Bacillus Licheninformis has anti-fungal properties because it produces an antibiotic that can be helpful in preventing plant diseases. It also produces enzymes that promote and facilitate the nutrient cycle.
Bacillus Pumilus promotes plant growth “by enhancing the uptake of nutrients, nitrogen fixation, interaction with symbiotic microorganisms and producing antimicrobial agents against pathogenic bacteria and fungi as well as by reducing metal toxicity”¹ Bacillus Pumilus is a type of Bacillus Subtilis, so it can often share the same traits.
Bacillus Subtilus functions as an immune booster for soil and plants. It produces the antibiotics polymyxin, difficidin, subtilin, and mycobacillin. These antibiotics increase the “chance at survival as the organism produces spores and a toxin that might kill surrounding microbes compete for the same nutrients.”1 They act as biofungicides and antibiotics for plants. B. Subtilus also creates a biofilm over its colonies. This biofilm protects plants from pathogenic infections, as well as preemptively colonizing areas. Preemptive colonization prevents pathogenic microbes from invading since the area is already claimed by beneficial microbes.
Bacillus Megaterium is the most prevalent bacteria found in soil, hence the name “mega”. Bacillus Megaterium metabolizes soil components to create food for plants and other organisms. It does this by producing the enzyme amylase. Amylase is an enzyme that digests starches into sugars. Those sugars are then used as bacteria and plant food. Like all other beneficial bacteria, Megaterium contributes to the carbon and nitrogen cycles in soil as well.
If you want to build really strong, resilient, super healthy plants, it is important to be sure they are getting micro, as well as macro nutrients. One of the best, most bio-available ways of doing that is to inoculate with beneficial microbes. Be aware, however, that, since microbes increase the bioavailability of all nutrients, too much of a good thing can sometimes be a bad thing. You can actually cause nutrient burn if you give your plants too many beneficial microbes. The general rule of thumb is to inoculate once a week, whether growing in soil or hydro. This gives your plants enough time between doses so that you don’t cause nutrient burn, but frequently enough that they get all of the benefits. Beneficial bacteria is so important because it makes Nitrogen and micro nutrients more bioavailable for your plants. If growing in soil, you get more for your money by unlocking the potential of your soil. If you are growing in hydro, you may be able to decrease the quantity of nutrients you use on your plants. Win!
1. http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detailfull/soils/health/biology/? cid=nrcs142p2_053862 http://www.scielo.org.co/scielo.php? script=sci_arttext&pid=S0304-28472007000100001