Our Story of Success with using EM Inoculants.

Effective Microbes (EM) and Cultured Fungal Products has become a very big part of the rapid turn around of the intensively cultivated areas at Footstep Farm. The pastures that have little irrigation will take longer to improve, but we have been noticing some improvements there also. 

I will begin with a description of what EM does for the soil, and why it is a great fit for our climate and soils. Then I will go into our story of experience with EM-1 from Teraganix on our farm as we grew more confident in the product and its many uses.

Nature is wonderfully created and the way nature works always follows the same template. In your body there are 10 times as many microbe cells as human cells. The job of these microbes is to support the optimal health of our body by digesting our food, producing hormone building blocks and controlling many immune supporting functions. In our soil the role of microbes is the same. There are digesting microbes that break down organic matter, synthesize vitamins and plant stimulants, and even living inside the plant to support healthy growth. 

In the human body, it is common knowledge that if we catch a bad flu bug, or use antibiotics to treat an illness we are reducing gut health. It is advisable to take some diverse probiotics to rebuild our gut health. By introducing the most beneficial bacteria back into our digestive system, we can reset our health balance. The same applies to the biology in our soils.

Many of the practices in farming impact our soil biology negatively. Tillage kills the larger soil organisms, chemicals kill a lot of fungi and bacteria, long fallow seasons starve the endophytic microbes (microbes living in the plants), and monocropping causes microbial imbalances of microbes. Over time, much of our farmland has been losing microbes completely and the remaining balance is disturbed to the point that it is not healthy for our crops. Many of our farming soils are in need of a great probiotic. 

Good compost is an excellent options but even this can lead to problems. The main reason that most composts will not be the complete fix is that they is often alkaline. In our alkaline and arid climate it is important to try to apply a probiotic that would counter the main tendencies of our soils. The microbes that thrive in alkaline compost are the same that are already doing well in your alkaline soils. This is where the benefits of these acidic fermentative microbes come in to solve the problem. EM (Effective Microbes) are one of the most advanced products that provide a diverse source of these microbes.

On our farm we combine several natural farming techniques to produce the most diverse fermentative inoculant we could. We found that EM as a purchased product was very effective, and at our acreage scale it was already too expensive on its own. At a farm scale it would be completely unattainable without incorporating some other techniques to be able to maintain high diversity while we expand the volume of the product. These techniques will be discussed in future blog posts.

Prepared to begin another EM brew

Our First time brewing up more than 5 gallons of EM at once.

Here is our own story of using EM and our results with adapting this mixture of microbes to thrive in our climate. 

We live on a small Farmstead in a location that has very alkaline soils that were quite neglected. We knew that we would have to use animals and their waste to make good compost for our farm. This was our best chance at recovering soil health and increasing the water holding capacity of our topsoil. I have always enjoyed gardening, and we really wanted to find a solution to our site challenges. My research led us to a composting technique that is designed to be quicker than regular compost, and produce a final product that has a lower pH. This difference in pH will help us balance the alkalinity at our farm.

We began inoculating our compost piles with a product called EM or Effective Microbes. It was expensive to start with, but through the research we did, we are now producing a mixture of EM where we add native organisms from two different collection techniques. This means the chance is higher that the organism is well adapted to our climate. This addition to our composting process has a dramatic effect. The temperatures of the piles were always very manageable because the EM microbes would quickly heat up, but they would keep it from going too hot. This means that we did not need to turn the piles very often.

EM Garden Compost

Our garden was treated with this pile of EM compost in the spring of 2023. 

Large compost pile inoculated with EM

We now have a much larger pile of EM compost from the fall of 2023.

In February 2023 we had a 250lb calf die on our farm. We put it in our compost and let it freeze. In April when we moved the pile for the first time the carcass was beginning to thaw. To keep it from attracting wild animals we covered it with a foot of bedding manure, and then added several gallons of the inoculant we had made. By the end of May when we finally had all our other compost ingredients ready to mix together we were surprised to find only a few bones and the teeth of the dead calf. In 2 months, it was all broken down, and there was only a smell for about 2 days after moving it in April. 

The next experience we had was to test the value of this inoculant as a treatment of our pond water. We use a dragline and pump to fill our pond several times per year, and then we have a salty well that we use to add extra water until the salt levels get to the limit for good plant growth. We began to add 5 gallons per month to our pond to try to treat the salt in the water. The effects were surprising again. 

We really did not know what to expect, but our research suggested that it could help reduce the salt’s harmful effects to plants. What we noticed first was that the pond became nearly crystal clear. And that the smell of dirt in the water was gone. We also pushed the salt levels to the limits (1200 ppm TDS) and we did not notice any negative effects on our garden that was receiving weekly irrigation. Our pond is a lined pond, and we expect that as a sediment layer builds up from blowing dust that we will need to increase that rate.

Pond is clear with the EM added

Even with some algae in our Pond it was still very clear on this picture.

There is also a claim, as well as some studies to prove it, that odours can be controlled with the regular use of EM. Many farms even use EM as a fly control because, with fewer odours there are fewer flies reproducing, and the manure also decomposing faster because of the inoculation with EM. We spray EM in our chicken coup regularly now to control the odour. We noticed that it worked quickly, but we have not been able to use this for a full season to see if it works for flies. 

Chicken coup does not stink with EM

Our chicken coup gets sprayed with dilute EM once a month to control odours.

Our final test to prove its effect is to tackle our worst odour source. Our farmstead has had a bad smelling septic system since the day we moved here. We heard that by using lots of probiotic liquids (Ferments, Brews, Whey etc) that the smell would be reduced. We did this regularly, but we never really noticed an improvement. On windy days we would always smell it while sitting on our front deck. Since I had started making larger amounts of our inoculant for some friends, and for our own use, I figured I should just put a full 5 gallon pail of the inoculant down a toilet. IT WORKED! Six weeks later we smelled the septic again for the first time. We are now treating our system with monthly doses of 3-5 gallons, and we enjoy our front deck a lot more. 

We continue to find other benefits of making EM a big part of our farming system. As our experience shows there is something special about the complete combination of microbes found in EM. We feel that we will never again farm or garden without this, and we are looking forward to trying out other uses and protocols that can enhance our garden and pastures even more. 

If you have never given EM a try, this winter is a great time to look into it. 

We are working on getting some EM-1 starter culture in stock at our farm next spring. This will save you the shipping into Canada. It is always good to use this pure culture as your starting point, and several times a year refresh your brew.

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