Organic gardening is a difficult process of deciding between dozens of soil additives to find what makes sense for you. If you need to rely on just on special additive for your garden, it’s hard to argue with effective microorganisms (EM). As a liquid mixture full of beneficial microorganisms that cultivate the kind of environment that causes plants to thrive, you’ll be amazed at the difference you see when you add an infusion of EM into your garden.
If you have more questions than answers about what EM really means for your plants, read on to learn all about this tremendously beneficial soil amendment.
What is EM?
To put it simply, EM is a trademarked term for a probiotic-filled garden amendment that was created by Teruo Higa, a Japanese horticulturist who experimented with effective mixes of different microorganisms in the 1970s. Today, his potent mix of effective micro-organisms is a combination of over 80 different types of microorganisms (along with yeast, sugar and lactic acid) and that have a positive impact on the decomposition process for organic material.
Essentially, EM aids the transition from dead, composting material into nutrients that plants can easily access in the soil. By adding EM to your soil, you can speed up the composting process and help your plants to draw out more of the nutrients they desperately need. The microorganism in EM improves the health of the soil by breaking down organic material, fixing nitrogen from the air into the soil, and even feeding plants and animals. The original blend of effective micro-organisms created by Higa are marketed as EM-1™ (affiliate link), but today there are plenty of companies selling similar products under different names.
What are effective microorganisms used for?
There are plenty of uses for effective micro-organisms in your outdoor life today. Not only is EM useful for improving soil health for sustainable gardening, it also has some documented benefits for human and animal health, as well as waste management and disaster clean up, especially after large-scale events like earthquakes and hurricanes. Some people even use it as a nontoxic household cleaner that’s used to remove mold, mildew, unpleasant odors and even stains.
In Asia, EM is applied directly to plants before they flower in order to stimulate their growth while also keeping pests far away (often aided by adding spices that are unpleasant to insects like garlic and spicy peppers).
Where can you get EM?
There are several different ways that you can get EM, including buying a mother culture and activating your own, purchasing it pre-activated or even making your own.
Using a Mother Culture: Mother cultures of EM can be used in your garden directly after purchase, or you can take the time to activate it first with a mixture of water and molasses.
- Activating Your Mother Culture: Making your own supply of activated EM is simple, though the process might take a full month. By mixing one part EM with one part molasses and twenty parts water and allowing the mixture to ferment, you can create twenty times the amount of EM you had before, all at the same potency as the original. Not only will this save you money, it also improves the effectiveness of your microbial spray because the process wakes up the dormant microbes from the mother culture.
- Make Your Own EM: If you want to go one step farther, you can even make your own effective microorganism mixture right at home. The simplest way to start is to mix vegetable waste, fruit peels, brown sugar and bran together in a bucket with a tight-fitting lid. Keep the mixture closed for a week, only opening it to stir occasionally. After the blend has begun to ferment, the liquid waste that is created can be siphoned off and used as EM-1. Allowing the mixture to ferment farther and adding additional bran and brown sugar will transition the liquid into EM-2, EM-3, and finally EM-4.
What are the benefits?
The benefits of using EM1 go far beyond the health of your garden. Not only is it a cost-effective way to equip your plants to harness their own nutritional potential, it’s also an environmentally safe, non-toxic substance that can be safely put to a wide range of uses, including animal feed, household cleaner, and even wellness tonic.
The beneficial probiotics in EM1 make it an easy way to aid digestion for both humans and animals, and adding some directly to your septic tank will break down the contents and also reduce odors. You can also use EM1 to help purify water on your property, whether it’s in drainage ditches or simply part of a stagnating pond.
General Application Rates
Once you have your EM-1, putting it to use is easy. The best benefits come when you apply EM-1 on a regular schedule in small doses, though at a minimum it should be applied in the spring and fall.
To add a boost of probiotic benefits to your garden plants through a foliage spray, simply fill a hose-end sprayer with your EM-1, set it to 2 TBS per gallon, and thoroughly spray your plants and soil. You can repeat this process once a week throughout the year for the best benefits.
EM-1 can also be applied to compost in order to speed up the process at a rate of one part EM-1 to 99 parts water (about two tsp per gallon of water). Add this mixture to your compost until it is moist, but not soaked in order to accelerate the rate that the organic material breaks down. Your piles can be infused up to eight times a year.
When not in use, EM-1 should be stored out of direct sunlight and at room temperature. Don’t let the mixture freeze or overheat above 115 degrees F, as this will kill off most of the beneficial bacteria. If you have plenty of EM-1 left but it’s approaching the “best by date” you can reactivate the mixture by adding in several tablespoons of blackstrap molasses to encourage a feeding frenzy and grow more microbes. When properly taken care of, your EM1 supply can last you for years to come and work as an efficient and effective way to increase the natural vitality of your garden.