Using Microbial Innoculants in the soil & garden

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Starting a thread to discuss using EM cultures in the soil & garden. This one accompanies the Bokashi thread. Bokashi "composting" is a process that uses EM innoculated bran/fiber to ferment food/garden waste before it is placed in the ground.

The liquid EM mother cultures can be used in many other ways. Let's discuss how we use the liquid cultures here.

Scotia, CA(Zone 9b)

Could you start even more basic and explain what EM innoculants are?

Tucson, AZ

EM is an acronym for Effective Microorganisms. Effective Microorganisms was discovered and named by Dr. Teruo Higa, a professor of horticulture at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan. The cultures are, by definition, a blend of at least three microbes from at least three genus. It must include at least one type of lactic acid bacteria, one type of yeast, and one type of photosynthetic bacteria to be called "EM".

In the 1960's agronomists and waste management professionals around the world were researching microbes for various uses. Soil scientists were looking at using single strains of microbes, with single inoculations, for disease and pest control. In waste treatments (solids wastes and wastewater), photosynthetic bacteria were and are regularly used to break down various toxins. These bacteria are often used in bioremediation projects such as brownfield cleanup.

Dr. Higa combined the different microbes and also looked at repeated applications. Over time he noticed that repeated applications encouraged the growth of beneficial microbes (desireable ones that exert antioxidant effects) and deterred/out-competed pathogenic (oxidizing/putrefying) bacteria.

The original formula for EM1 today contains the following microbes:
Lactobacillus plantarum,
Lactobacillus casei,
Lactobacillus fermentum,
Lactobacillus delbrueckii,
Bacillus subtilus,
Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and
Rhodopseudomonas palustris.

I guess you can say the EM is a probiotic for your plants and soils.

This message was edited Jan 5, 2008 5:11 PM

(Sheryl) Gainesboro, TN(Zone 6b)

I use it my imagination! - haven't ordered it yet, but after starting to read about this method I keep finding stuff that I could compost "if only I had some...."

Just what I needed, G_M, another project. Thanks!

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Eric, thank you for providing the background and explanation of EM1

FYI all, there are a number of competing companies that make products with the microbial innoculants for use in the soil and garden. I have also seen the acronym EM used by two separate companies, but with differing translations (Efficient Microbes vs Effective Microbes). EMEric is affiliated with the company that makes EM1 in addition to being a gardener. We need to be sure that we don't put him on the spot and ask him any questions along the lines of which company's products are better or to compare different companys etc. It would put him in violation of the DG acceptable use policy banning vendors from promoting their products on the forums and we would lose a great source of knowledge on this fascinating topic. :-)

Eric, you mentioned bioremediation. Would regular use of microbial innoculants in the garden help deactivate/detoxify pollutants in the soil. I'm thinking dioxins and heavy metals here, but I'm sure there are others. A recent trend in the SF Bay Area is to tear down old industrial complexes and build housing. Although new topsoil is usually brought in, one still wonders about what may be in the ground. Some of the standard sprays used on the fruit orchards in the "old days" included arsenic. The San Jose Mercury News recently ran an article about the high levels of arsenic found when testing soils in parks and school yards. Would an EM drench or spray be able to neutralize something like that?

Tucson, AZ

Hi G_M,

To give you an idea of how many microbial products there are on the market, there are over 1,000 for septic tanks alone. There are many for soils, ponds, human consumption, and animal consumption! It can get confusing fast.

The most commonly used microbes for breaking down toxins are photosynthetic bacteria. The Department of Defense ran studies back in the early 1980's to break down RDX, an explosive that contains perchlorate. Perchlorates are used in fuels and also in dry cleaning and mechanical shops since it is a strong surfactant. In dry cleaning, you may hear of a place uses 'perc'. This is perchlorate. Perchlorates have contaminated all the water in the state of California and can now be found in EVERY bottle of milk on the varying amounts.

The latest edition of books from Dr. Higa, Our Future Reborn, came out in English in April 2007. One third of the book discusses the use of EM1 to break down dioxin at incinerators and in soils. Dioxin, by the way, is a carcinogenic compound that is produced every time bleach is used and when garbage is incinerated. In 2003 a peer-reviewed paper was published in a prominent environmental journal on the use of EM1 for remediation (break down) of dioxin in soils.

So, there are lots and lots of methods and lots of possibilities.

Mid-Cape, MA(Zone 7a)

Dioxin, by the way, is a carcinogenic compound that is produced every time bleach is used

Eric, you've got this environmentally-naive person thinking. . . does this mean that when I use bleach in my laundry to "whiten my whites" I am creating/introducing dioxin in my septic tank, which then might leach into my soil? To say nothing of how it would kill any good microbes in my tank?

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

I assume we're talking chlorine bleach here?

Mid-Cape, MA(Zone 7a)

I assume we're talking chlorine bleach here?

That's what I'm using in my laundry: Chlorox, etc. . . . is there another kind? I am no expert in chemical matters.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Oxygen bleaches are also available.

(Phyllis) Flint,, TX(Zone 7b)

Thanks G_M for starting this ....
and EMEric wow so much info to read amazing what ya can learn form a simple question

Tucson, AZ

Hi folks,
I have been off line for the day...
You can learn more about dioxin by doing some google searches. I am not chemist either. I had to look into it when writing a speech for Dr. Higa this past spring. I have seen several research papers on the use of EM1 for breaking dioxin down and basically created my own crash course on it.

As for using bleach in laundry, if you are mainly using it to get clothes white and you have a septic tank, you may want to look into user hydrogen peroxide. Bleach kills ALL bacteria..good and bad. It is a disinfectant and has its place. The only thing that keeps your septic tank functioning properly is the bacteria that is in it. You should seriously limit putting things down the drain that will kill bacteria. In this vain, you should also avoid antibacterial soaps.

Back to gardening...with microbes....
I would say the most important step in growing is to prepare and care for the soil first. As with cooking, if you buy low quality ingredients, you are not going to make a 5 star meal. You need to focus on building the soil. This means you need what will sustain life in the soil. A healthy soil will help you grow a health plant.

Always include microbes in the preparation. They add vitamins, enzymes, breakdown organic matter, fix nutrients, synthesize polysaccharides, help retain moisture, and support the growth of life in the soil.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Many of us garden with municipal water supplies. That means some type of disinfectant is usually in the water supply. In my area we are dealing with a particularly nasty type of water chemical called chloramine which the SFPUD started using in 2004. One of the first things we noticed when the cloramine was introduced was the death of all the frogs and toads in the garden. We're trying to get this stuff banned. ( ) Until then we have a filter on our garden hose.
Installing the Garden Gro filter has helped a lot, but I worry that we are losing some of our soil microbes every time we water since chloramine can't be boiled or evaporated out of the water like regular chlorine.

Tucson, AZ

I use city water as well. EM1 has been tested for resistance to chlorine. The standard amount is about 0.1 ppm (parts per million) as set by the EPA. EM1 can tolerate up to 3ppm for up to 10 minutes. It is some pretty strong stuff. It has not been tested...yet...on chloramines. I am just recently hearing about this stuff being used. In Tucson, the type of chlorine most commonly used is sodium hypochlorite...most of know it as HTH or "shock" for pools.

When I got my wastewater treatment license, the subject of chlorine and its toxicity was brought up. One person in my class brought up the byproduct of chlorine use in wastewater (which has a lot of ammonia in it) being chloramines. Our instructor told us that chloramines are carcinogens. I found it strange to hear that a utility would actually use this compound as a method of disinfection.

Water is a science in itself. There are volumes of books written on water. My belief is that we shouldn't put synthetic chemicals in any water. Good luck on getting its use stopped. The Bay Area has had many successful movements stopping the use of things like this before.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

My understanding is that SFPUD is using chloramine because it's the cheapest allowable disinfectant. Until we can get it banned, I'm putting filters whereever I can and spraying EM solutions on every possible surface.

Tucson, AZ

Take the probiotic approach for sure. Anyone taking an antibiotic should take probiotics at the same time. The first thing that is going to grow is the microbe that is there.
Ozone would do wonders too and it does not leave any negative residuals. Because it is usually generated by lights, the issue of electricity costs comes up. But, only ozone can kill viruses too.

Burlingame, CA(Zone 9a)

I did a google search for SFPUD and it returned SF Water: Chloramine second on the list. Here's the link where the water company defend it's use:

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Thanks wgnkiwi. I'm aware of SFPUD's position on chloramine from the many discussions we've had with them. For every argument/study that they offer in favour of its use, there are many more against it.

The end result is still the same - our quality of life deteriorated when they started using it. My skin would burn from the tap water. I spend a lot of money on shower filters. The filters have helped, but the water still makes my skin dry and itchy, which it didn't do before chloramine was reintroduced. Our tap water frequently smells like a bottle of chlorine.
The city has come out and tested it. Everything is within "allowable" limits but is still causing problems. Our prior tap water was not killing the fish & frogs and negatively affecting our health.

Tucson, AZ

You can make arguments about fluoride as well.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Oh, I can give you many arguments and scientific backup against the flouridation of municipal water supplies. We already have some lively discussion threads in the DG forums on that one. We filter it out of our drinking & cooking water.

Thank you for the suggestion of the EMX ceramics. Will these also remove chloramine?

Tucson, AZ

I want to check with EMRO to see. I'll let everyone know what I find out.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)


North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

Must ... restrain ... reference ... to ... General Jack D. Ripper ...

Thumbnail by PuddlePirate
Mid-Cape, MA(Zone 7a)

You should seriously limit putting things down the drain that will kill bacteria. In this vain, you should also avoid antibacterial soaps.

Thanks, Eric. I very much appreciate your taking the time to advise us. I plan on eliminating my use of chlorine bleach as much I can--and continuing to use my Bokashi Juice in my drains (hope this is the right thing to do?)

Norwood, LA(Zone 8a)

G_M---you've introduced an interesting topic. I just put kitchen scraps and compost ingredients directly into the garden, on top of or under a shovelful of soil. But the EM culture is better, apparently.

I'm appalled by all the municipal water supplies adding chlorine and flouride to the drinking water. Around here they spray Roundup in ditches everywhere--why not just dump it into the aquifers? It has negative effects on human reproduction. Just one more drop in the chemical soup we swim in.

On a positive note, "my" local WalMart is selling organic seeds and a few heirloom tomato seeds. They're also stopping the sale of cypress mulch from trees in environmentally-sensitive wetlands-. Maybe we'll see Bokashi juice on their shelves before long. I'd also like to see them sell dishwasher liquid without phosphates that end up in sewer systems.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

maypop, I'm happy that there has been so much interest in EM/Bokashi/Microbial innoculants on DG. This is a fascinating subject with some wonderful uses to heal our ailing planet.

I'm especially happy that we can discuss this in the newbie friendly environment of DG. There are a number of yahoogroups dedicated to the topic where the grouplist owner, while seemingly experienced and knowledgable, is arrogant and quite hostile to newbies. I don't feel comfortable sending anyone to those groups to ask questions. The DG environment will give us a friendly place to learn from each other's experiences.

Tucson, AZ

I like newbies too. It must be the teacher in me!

If you want to see some videos on Effective Microorganisms, there are about 10 or 12 on google video. I uploaded several of them for the public to have open access to them. This is a link to google video
(I hope this is allowed).

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Ooh! Thanks for that link. I've only watched part of the first video so far. It is very educational and inspiring. I'm going to have lots of questions. Maybe we can clean up SF Bay one day with microbial innoculants. Actually, I think I'll send that video to our city council. There are few park "duck ponds" that could use some help. A friend of mine cleared the gooey algae growth from her ranch pond using EM.

I can see it now, teams of Microbial Mauraders (kind of like Guerilla Gardeners) pouring activated EM in polluted lakes, ponds, sloughs etc to clean them up while the town sleeps.......the van drives up, the teams jump out, casks of precious beneficial microbes are emptied in the targets and a quick getaway!

Norwood, LA(Zone 8a)

First of all, I am jealous of all you guys who can watch educational videos. I can't even get a satellite connection in my area to replace my dialup, the world's slowest. Not enough installers, so they say. I hope that the new maxi-wireless will come to my neck of the woods before the year 2525.

Would EM be safe in a koi pond, like a lot of us have? Please say yes, it's safe to swim in, bathe a baby in, etc. Safe to drink if you leave a batch in the fridge and your brother-in-law takes a swig?

The Gulf of Mexico needs to go through detox, too. Who knows how much stuff comes down the big river where we get shrimp, fish, and oil and gas.

Very exciting to hear about a likely fix to our polluted groundwater. Thanks, G_M and EMEric.
Kind of disappointing to hear that there are cliquey chatters who won't give a newbie a break.

Tucson, AZ

Hi G_M,
The City of San Francisco has been using EM1 since early 2003 on the Harding Golf Course (which was on the PGA tour recently). The casting ponds in Golden Gate Park were treated with EM1 back in 2004 to clear them up for some submarine races.

Maypop: Yes, EM1 is used extensively in aquaculture. Roughly 80% of shrimp farmers in Thailand use EM1 regularly to produce the shrimp. Yes, it is safe to swim in, bathe in. You do not need to refrigerate it. There is a version of it specifically for human consumption called PRO EM1. That came out in 2004.

There is some research on EM1 being used to clean up oil spills, refinery wastes, etc. There is even some on the use after Chernobyl to accelerate the breakdown of radiation (in decreases the half life of the radioactive material).

Norwood, LA(Zone 8a)

Have we finally learned how to save the planet?

I went to a field day event at an LSU research station last year to hear several grad students talk about the success they've have with phytoremediation of contaminated soil and water. Black willow and bald cypress (I think) have in very short time completely erased toxic chemicals from polluted places. Live oaks, too, maybe?? They don't know how it's done. Now if Dow and Dupont and Monsanto put up major bucks to fund research . . . ?

And then I read that EM1 may be able dispose of radioactive waste. Wow. Science is moving fast. When will they finally start making flying cars and self-cleaning houses?

Tucson, AZ

Hi Maypop,
Funny... You know there is the little robot/vacuum on the market. and a wireless lawn mower. I think that is as close as they have come.

(Sheryl) Gainesboro, TN(Zone 6b)

.... and the vacuum ROCKS!

Now, if it would just do the dishes....

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Pagancat, you going to use EM in the horse barn? Please let us know how that works out. The videos and reports of EM use in dairies and other livestock areas are very inspiring.

Scotia, CA(Zone 9b)

I think my biggest concern is this stuff sounds too good to be true! Are we going to start trusting it to clean up our messes and develop EM resistant strains in the process? What will the long term effects be if this is used on a global basis?

LOL I sound like an alarmist but so many things have been scientifically declared wonderful over the years and then we discover that we have made things worse instead of better or what was good for us yesterday is killing us now.

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Good point Zany. If the microbes in the EM were genetically modified, or man-made in some other capacity, I wouldn't go near them. My understanding is that that these particular microbes are naturally occuring ones that are found all over the world to begin with. Our modern lifestyles ("better living through chemistry" & urban density etc) have greatly decreased the natural population of these probiotic organisms.
When you make compost tea and spray that on the garden, you are using a similar approach. It's the same with stinging nettle or comfrey tea/elixirs (biodynamic preparation) and other herbal formulas for use in the garden.. We ferment the herbs in water, then strain, dilute and spray or drench.

I'm sure Eric will have a more reasonable explanation.

(Sheryl) Gainesboro, TN(Zone 6b)

Excellent question, Zany ...

Norwood, LA(Zone 8a)

Pcat--glad to hear the robot vac works. I'm also tempted to buy the steam mop that uses no chemicals (not that I mop all that often--conserving water resources, you know).

ZanyM brings up a good point--EM's "good" bacteria fight "bad" bacteria, but can it also detoxify high levels of harmful chemicals that find their way into our soils and food--arsenic, boron, nitrites & nitrates?

G_M--I also dislike the "better living through chemistry" ad. I stay away from chemicals other people buy by the barrel---chlorine (swimming pools), aluminum (deoderants and cookware=which releases poisons when you cook onions & other things).

Tucson, AZ

I can't count how many times I have been asked the question about EM possibly causing problems in the environment. The answer quite simply is, "No". The microbes in EM1 are beneficial microbes, their by-products are antioxidant compounds. These are not new microbes. They have been on the planet since the planet was formed and have been here all along. The microbes in EM1 have never been found to cause sickness in adult humans or animals. They are all on the GRAS list (and FDA list of approved ingredients for foods) and they are designated BioSafety Level I, a National Institute of Health designation showing no precautions are needed when handling them.

Synthetic chemicals and genetically modified organisms are a greater threat to us and the environment when abused. Synthetic chemicals exert mutant pressure on opportunistic organisms (pathogens). Pathogenci bacteria are mostly anaerobic (without air) and they produce or secrete substances that are harmful to humans and animals.

The best case in point is MRSA, antibiotic resistant staph. This mutant was created through years of use of disinfectants in hospitals. Chemical companies keep coming out with stronger and stronger disinfectants to kill these type of bacteria. Chemicals have to get stronger and stronger, yet something as simple as a natural enemy, a probiotic culture, can prevent it from replicating its DNA by changing the surrounding area by adding antioxidants, establishing itself and encouraging the growth of other beneficial microbes.

Probiotics do not KILL. The action of killing results in mutations that form resistance. Probiotics work by creating an environment that is more conducive to the growth of beneficials, which are also helpful to us. Pathogens will mutate to resist certain chemicals they are exposed to. It is a survival instinct. We actually mutate ourselves as we become exposed to something like the chicken pox virus, we devolop and immunity to it.

If you get more into this, there is tons of research available on the net going back to the 1800's, after the development of the compound microscope. You would also have to know the microbes in the EM1 and look each one of them up. You could basically make a full time job out of reading all the research that has been done on each one of the species in the product.

(Phyllis) Flint,, TX(Zone 7b)

would it be an example by looking at how things used to be versus how they are done now in growing veggies.
Back in time you used natural ways to fertilize the garden before chemicals came into being so there was a natural plant and grow getting real sunshine then picked when ready and sold at markets or shared through friends letting them mature naturally and now a days you buy veggies from the store and they were produced in a greenhouse under certain conditions to get them to grow so they do not get natural sun light and they are picked early to send to the stores with chemicals in them to help they last longer so they do not have all the beneficial nutrients they once had.

Or maybe put it like this ...
When you were a kid you went outside and played in the yard getting dirty and water free soap was not around so you got some of those natural nutrients in your system which enabled you to fight off getting sick ...maybe you ate mud pies (laughs) and now a days more kids are getting sick because they don't go outside and play as much so they get sick easier.

so what we are doing by using the EM1 is per say playing in the dirt with the natural stuff to put back what has been taken from the ground or putting back into the ground so the cycle of life as it should be can continue?????

Just thinking of ways to explain it instead of using some of the "big words" that not everyone knows the meanings of.

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