Organic gardening is all about sustainability and supporting our planet through biodiversity. On our farm, we practice the technique of permaculture, which means observing and utilizing the earth’s natural ecosystems to create the healthiest and most robust soil possible.
The core aspects of practicing permaculture involve the reduction of waste and appreciation for the abundant resources provided by nature. A few ways we can practice this mindfulness is through the creation and utilization of soil enrichments, including compost and compost tea, fermented plant extracts, and fermented fruit juices. When added to your garden’s soil, these techniques help to provide many necessary nutrients to growing plants. Soil that has been depleted through unsustainable farming practices or which contains high levels of toxic contamination can also be brought back to health with the help of these soil treatments.
Similarly, an additional method that should be added to this list is the use of solutions containing beneficial bacteria that are naturally present in your local region. These types of desirable bacteria are referred to as Beneficial Indigenous Microorganisms.
What are Beneficial Indigenous Microorganisms?
Indigenous microorganisms are defined as:
“A group of innate microbial consortium that inhabits the soil and the surfaces of all living things inside and outside which have the potentiality in biodegradation, bioleaching, bio-composting, nitrogen fixation, improving soil fertility and as well in the production of plant growth hormones.”
Solutions containing Beneficial Indigenous Microorganisms (often abbreviated BIM or IMO) help you introduce helpful microbes from nearby areas into your garden’s soil. In creating your solution, you will want to collect samples from a variety of ecosystems in your local area. Make sure each site is in a healthy state before collection, and be sure to collect from a variety of types of ecosystems. For example, forests will have different microbes than grasslands, and both are likely to be of benefit to your soil. Your goal is to have a very wide diversity of beneficial bacteria included in your solution.
Some plants benefit most from particular microorganisms. If you want to target your BIM solution to a specific type of crops, such as vegetables or ornamental flowers, focus on collecting microbial samples from areas where similar types of plants are already thriving. Ecosystems with plants that help to restore soil nitrogen – such as alfalfa, clover, or leguminous crops such as beans and peanuts – are also good considerations as they contain beneficial rhizobium bacterial strains.
Super Charge Your Soil
Culturing and using indigenous microorganisms in our gardens is an effective way to super-charge the soil microbiome. The keyword here is indigenous, meaning originating or occurring naturally in a particular place.
Bacteria in the soil microbiome are hyper-localized. This means the microbial life in your garden’s soil will be radically different from nearby areas, and from different types of ecosystems. Even when two drastically different ecosystems are situated side by side, the differences can be astonishing. Microbial life in the soil can also differ radically by elevation on a slope. This is true even when the mineral composition of the soil is the same. In addition, the natural succession of an ecosystem over time alters the microbiome significantly.
Therefore, collecting and culturing microorganisms from different spots relatively close to your land will increase the diversity of your garden’s soil microbiome. Depending upon how much time you are willing to dedicate to making a super-charged solution, you can also ferment and add any number of plant extracts or fruit juices to create a highly individualized mixture.
While the concept of utilizing microbes to improve the health and vitality of your crops may seem unusual in our current age of antibacterial awareness, the truth is that our plants thrive off of the right balance of good bacteria present in their soil.
Understanding the Benefits of Indigenous Microorganisms
Records related to the practice of Korean Natural Farming credit indigenous microbes with being the most vital key to creating fertile soil. Centuries of practice in Asia and the growth of organic and natural farming, permaculture, and edible forestry around the world has resulted in many anecdotal testimonies to the benefits of incorporating specific microbes into your gardening and fertilization routine.
Unfortunately, there are few studies demonstrating the effectiveness of using BIM solutions, due to the wide variety and independent production elements associated with their use. The greater scientific community’s attention to soil microbiomes has been nearly non-existent until recent years. This is especially true in terms of links between the use of indigenous microorganisms and productivity in specific plants.
More recently, some scientists have begun studying microbiomes and techniques involving the use of these microorganisms by farmers and gardeners. So far, most of the studies focus on the characterization of Indigenous Microorganisms and their potential ability to provide superior protection against plant pathogenic fungus.
Research shows us that in order for the application of BIM solution to be most effective, it is important that the soil has adequate moisture, oxygen, and organic matter to facilitate replication of the beneficial bacteria. It is also noted that a wider variety and abundance of microbial diversity correlates with increased protection against, and suppression of, many common plant diseases.
Where can I find Beneficial Indigenous Microorganisms?
Making your own BIM solution is relatively simple and well worth the effort. Though we are proud to offer a range of other soil amendments and probiotic options in our shop, BIM solutions are dependent upon the inclusion of indigenous bacteria, meaning bacteria that is naturally present in your area. The most effective and beneficial BIM solution will be made by collecting microbes from a wide variety of naturally-occurring, thriving ecosystems that are within close regional proximity to your own soil.
How to Make Your Own BIM Solution
Gather your materials:
- A small wooden box, or plastic container with perforations cut for airflow
- A glass jar with a sealing lid
- A carbohydrate source such as rice, barley, or oats. Enough that when cooked, it will cover the bottom of your container, about one inch deep, loosely packed
- Sugar or molasses
- Fresh, clean water (unchlorinated water if using for aquatic life)
Prepare to attract the Beneficial Microorganisms
- Scout out an ecosystem that you think may have beneficial bacteria that would help your garden flourish. Choose an area with thriving grass and other plant life or lots of healthy molds (such as naturally-formed piles of decomposing leaves).
- Cook your rice (or other carbohydrates) and place it into the bottom of your box. Do not compact the rice, as airflow is critical. Your bacteria will attach to the surface of the rice grains, so make sure they have enough room to grow!
- Cover top of the box with breathable material that will keep out bugs, such as nylon, cheesecloth, or fine wire mesh. Tie a string around the box to secure the cover if necessary.
- Optional, but recommended step: Write the date and site of your collection on the side of the container.
- Go to your intended collection site, and place the box into an area of undisturbed soil. Do not bury the collection box – only make a shallow indentation in the soil to hold the box upright, and loosely cover with soil and leaves.
- Around 5-10 days after placing the collection box, small colonies of white mold will begin to form. This process happens faster in warmer temperatures and slower in cooler conditions. Mold will usually progress from white, to yellow or green, and then to black. You want to collect the mold when it is on the white stage. Collections containing black mold should be discarded, as black mold typically indicates more opportunistic microorganisms that develop under undesirable conditions (not beneficial bacteria).
Feed your bacteria-babies!
- Transfer molded rice from the collection box into a plastic or glass container or jar.
- Mix an equal amount of sugar OR molasses into the rice at a 1:1 ratio. If you have one cup of rice, you will use one cup of sugar/molasses.
- Mix carefully with gloved fingers. You want to “mash” the rice and sugar together until it reaches the consistency of molasses, but do so gently enough to avoid destroying the delicate mycelia.
- Cover mixture and let sit undisturbed for 3-7 days.
- When the mixture has become mostly liquid, add three parts of water. If you have one cup of liquid-mixture, you will add three cups of clean, freshwater (unchlorinated water if intending to use BIM solution for aquatic life).
- Let the diluted mixture sit undisturbed for one week (7 days). Keep lightly covered with a breathable material such as cheesecloth or newspaper. You want to keep critters out, but let plenty of air in.
Make BIM Inoculant:
- After one week, you should have a juice-type liquid with the consistency of mud. Strain remaining liquid out of the container into a glass jar, but DO NOT seal the jar right away. Allow the jar to sit undisturbed until no more bubbles can be seen forming. Once the bubbles have stopped, you should seal the jar.
- Congratulations! You have made microbial extract! Continue this process for multiple collection sites from various ecosystems to produce a wide range of beneficial microorganisms.
- When you are ready, combine all of your microbial extracts together, and then mix 1:1 with lactobacillus serum. Now you have BIM Inoculant ready to be used in a variety of applications.
Dilute Your BIM Inoculant:
- For most applications, you’ll want to start by diluting your BIM inoculant. We recommend a ratio of 1-2 teaspoons of inoculant for every gallon of water.
How to Use Your BIM Solution
In the Garden!
Use as a foliar spray or soil drench. BIM helps to establish a healthy microbial balance on plant surfaces and within the soil, which is critical for nutrient delivery and disease resistance.
BIM solution can also be added to compost for a microbial boost, or used as organic fertilizer. Adding BIM to your nutrient solution can also help to break down nutrients into a more bioavailable form for your plants to use.
For the Animals!
BIM solution can be fed to your animals similarly to lactobacillus, helping to aid digestion, encourage healthy animal development, and to protect against bacterial-related diseases. It can also be sprayed in the yard or on bedding to prevent an overgrowth of unwanted bacteria.
…And the Fishes!
BIM can help the water in your fish tank (or pond) to stay clear for longer because the beneficial microbes digest fish waste! It also improves digestion, helping fish to grow larger, and increases the “carrying capacity” of your tank or body of water. We recommend diluting one liter of inoculant into 700 cubic meters of chlorine-free water for aquatic-life applications.
Very big thank you to The Unconventional Farmer for the recipe and instructional inspiration that contributed to this post.
Do you have any specific questions or additional tips for collecting and utilizing BIM on your own homestead? We’d love to hear from you as we continue to learn and grow, together!