Harvesting Microbes with Nigel Palmer

On Wednesday, May 24,  at The George Hall Farm in Simsbury, the Hartford Area CT BFA Chapter enjoyed a very informative talk by Nigel Palmer of The Institute of Sustainable Nutrition on how to capitalize on the ubiquitous supply of indigenous microbes that will boost our soil and plant health.

Nigel talked about how critical it is to have a robust and diverse population of microbes and insects and worms in our soil.  The diversity and number of life forms in the soil is the key to our plants’ health.  The life in the soil is like the digestive system of the plants, to compare it to the importance of diversity of bacteria in the human gut.

Plants need minerals, that is their food.  Minerals in the form of ground up rocks are converted by soil biology to a form of nutrition the plants can readily take up and use.  The plants drive this system of feeding by pumping out root exudates associated with photosynthesis by which the plant converts the sun’s energy into sugars to partially feed itself but mostly to feed the soil biology.

We know our tomato plant, for example, needs calcium, nitrogen, phosphorus, etc…  If we gardeners and farmers get into the habit of providing all those nutrients we take away the plants ability to work with the soil biology to gather those nutrients for itself.

Nigel stressed the importance of low cost and high Brix gardening.  If it costs money, if it needs power of a machine to create it, it may not be worth implementing in your system.  Nigel prefers to use the natural systems already in place to enhance the health of his soil and plants.  He talked of achieving tomatoes that Brixed 6 and 7, and that it is important to save seeds from those accomplishments by which we truly can improve our food quality.

Nigel practices Korean Natural Farming.  A few resources he mentioned are:  Ultra Low Cost Agriculture by JADAM; and I found this version of a book on Korean Natural Farming online:  https://ilcasia.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/chos-global-natural-farming-sarra.pdf

The above online book has many of the recipes and descriptions of the techniques that Nigel showed us last night.

Nigel talked about amendments you can make by just adding healthy looking weeds, tops or roots and all, to a bucket of water, let stand a couple hours so the microbes release from the plant into the water; then use that to drench or foliar spray, no need to dilute.  Nigel shared a tip on taking the bones leftover from making soup and roasting them until they are just about black and then dissolving them in vinegar (raw apple cider vinegar) to extract the calcium and phosphorus and other minerals.  You would then use this vinegar extraction in a very diluted form on your plants and soil.  Nigel talked of fermented plant juices, potato and leaf mold IMO which we made together last night.  Nigel talked of shelf stable vs. perishable IMOs and amendments.  The potato and leaf mold IMO is not shelf stable so must be used soon after making.

To make Nigel’s Potato-Leaf Mold IMO:  Supplies you’ll need:  1 pair all cotton, uncolored and unbleached socks (crew length is good, do not need to be new); 2 small stones; 1 medium potato boiled till well cooked/mashable; 1 paperclip snapped in half; 1 good handful of leaf mold and soil from the woods where the ground has been undisturbed and untreated for a very long time; one 5 gallon bucket and 1 piece of wire to go across top of bucket top; well water or any water that is non-chlorinated and non-fluoridated; optional:  1 tsp good quality sea salt

Directions:  Work in the area outside, sun or shade is fine, near where you will use this IMO.  Once you have mixed up your bucket you cannot move the bucket until you use it or you risk disturbing and setting back the growth of the microbes.  Affix a piece of wire so it is attached to both sides of the wire bucket handle and the wire stays taut across the top of the bucket.  Insert cooked potato and a stone in one sock, fold down top and use paperclip to make a hook so potato hangs suspended from overheard wire into the bucket.    Insert a stone and the leaf mold/soil into the second sock, fold down top and use paperclip to suspend inside bucket.  Fill bucket with water while kneading the 2 socks to release starches from cooked potato and microbes from soil and leaf mold.  The starches from the potato are the food/fuel for the microbes to use while they multiply in the water.  The microbes will double in number in minutes!  Cover the top of your bucket to keep rain and insects out, resting a piece of wood or a stone or the lid on the top is fine.  Do not disturb the bucket for about 5 days until it is “done”.  Do not peek until about day 4.  You should see a scum floating on the surface, and foam forming in the center of the top.    There should be a perimeter at the edge of the bucket where you can see the liquid, a gap where there is no scum or foam.  This indicates movement of the microbes which reassures you they are quite alive.

 (My picture shows a small amount of foam which means we waited a little too long and the microbes were running out of food/potato starch.)  When there is a good healthy foam on the top your IMOs are ready for use.  If you miss this window and the foam is subsiding by the time you check your bucket you may not have as much living microbes but the bucket contents are still a good nutrient amendment.  Bucket contents should be used right away, this is NOT a shelf stable product, and your microbes will begin to die if left in the bucket.  TO USE:  dilute 20:1 Water to IMO for drenching; dilute 10:1 water to IMO for foliar spraying.  The best time to apply as foliar is first thing in the morning so the plant can absorb it before the sun hits the leaves; or just before or during a gentle rain.  Drenches are best added just before or during a rain as the rain will help the IMO penetrate further into your soil.  You can also soak your compost pile with the IMO mixture and add it to your garden via applications of compost.

These IMOs help the plants avoid succumbing to Powdery Mildew and other pathogens in the same way our healthy immune systems and healthy population of gut bacteria prevent us from getting sick.    The more biology in the soil the more organisms there are feeding nutrients to the plants and therefore the greater chance your plants will stay healthy and not be eaten by insects or other pathogens.  Other ways to treat plants under insect attack are to foliar spray the plants with jerusalem artichoke water, garlic water, whole raw milk diluted 20:1 / water:milk.  Nigel said rhubarb leaf water may also be good but he has not used that himself.  To make the water fill a container with fresh non-chlorinated, non-fluoridated water, then add handfuls of the leaves or chopped plant to the water, stir and let sit for a few hours to impart the chemistry and the biology to the water.  You can also make fermented plant juices and use those mixed into water to spray on your plants.  Follow the links in this article, or sign up for classes with Nigel at TIOSN to learn more.

Here is a youtube channel that has tutorials for all the IMOs #1-4 that Nigel talked about last night:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7N2PXBKf_GE&list=PLeGHRYFVwS1zHwYqGvlEAjvq89iMs2vmz

And here is a blog with recipes for some of the things Nigel talked about.  http://theunconventionalfarmer.com                                                          For more information on Nigel and his work with Korean Natural Farming, check out http://tiosn.com, maybe register for more classes, so you can keep learning natural ways to put the health back in your soil and your plants.

To your good health!


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