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Plant Probiotics: What can they do for you as an organic gardener in the UK?

Much has been said recently about the consume of probiotic foods by humans, but not so much about probiotics in general, and how they benefit other creatures in the planet. Probiotics are supposed to help us digest our food better, so the question remains: should it not be expected that other creatures have been taking advantage of their help as well?

We know that the roots of the plants are like their digestive system, being the structures through which plants feed, so it’s no wonder that very recently scientists have started studying more closely the flora in the flora; the little organisms like fungi and bacteria that coexist with plant roots and actually help them perform better. We’ve dealt with the beneficial fungi before, and now it’s time to explore the world of beneficial bacteria (that’s what probiotics are, in the end) and how they can help you clean your soil from chemicals, improve your yields and enhance the health of your plants. Recent studies have called probiotics “a truly green revolution”, and they don’t exaggerate. Let's see why.

soil health, mycorrhizae, roots, gardening, fruits, vegetables, organic gardening, soil microbiology, nutrient absorption, sustainable agriculture
Time for a chart: we made a bit of research in Google Scholar, and this is what we got. The scientific interest and the amount of research done about plant probiotics grows every day! But why?

The benefits of plant probiotics (also called by scientists ‘Plant Growth Promoting Rhizobacteria’, or PGPR for short) work along three main lines: soil cleaning, improved yields and improved quality of the products. Let’s check each of them:

  • Probiotics help clean the soil from the excesses of previous usage of chemical fertilizers and pesticides by helping stabilize, absorb and decompose the remains of those substances. Plants cannot always do this by themselves if the soil is too damaged or contaminated, but coupled with beneficial bacteria their work becomes possible, and when it was already happening it becomes much quicker and more efficient.

  • In the foundational research book Probiotics and Plant Health, a group of researchers from the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University in Lucknow, India, observed how: “…microorganisms accelerate the degradation process of pollutants by producing a wide range of enzymes, and help in restoration of polluted sites”.Basically, they act as the enzymes in our tongue act; pre-digesting the chemicals before they even begin to be absorbed by the plants!

compost, soil fertility, soil structure, beneficial bacteria, crop rotation, mulching, organic matter, pH balance, water retention, plant nutrition
This microscopic image shows one of the many probiotic bacteria only recently being known: Paraburkholderia madseniana, discovered in 2016. These little beings are one-tenth the size of one of our human cells, and exist by millions on your plant's roots.

  • Plant probiotics also improve yields by increasing the fertility of your soil and your plants’ resistance to diseases. A study published last year (the use of plant probiotics is cutting edge research!) in the scientific journal Life presented the findings of a group of scientists of the Mediterranean Institute for Agriculture, Environment and Development and the University of Évora, Portugal, in which they concluded that soil infused with probiotic bacteria produced between 20% and 40% larger yields that soil that had been unwillingly sterilized by being bombarded with inorganic fertilizers and pesticides.

  • The bacteria also served as antibiotics to the plants, targeting and eliminating infections by dangerous fungi and other bacteria, and as stabilizers of their host plants in adverse conditions, helping them retain water and resist droughts.

  • Even more impressively, plant probiotics actually increase the nutrition value of the fruits and vegetables grown with their aid. This and this other study found in 2017 that plants which hosted probiotic bacteria in their roots produced crops with higher contents of vitamins, flavonoids and antioxidants; all key elements to preserve human health. So, with the help of plant probiotics, you’re not only keeping your plants healthier, making them grow faster and produce more while also cleaning the soil they’re in: as if that were not enough, you will in addition be eating better, more nutritious food as a result of their work.

So, you see why researchers around the world are calling these little beings the beginning of a new green revolution. Let’s get to how they can help you, the organic grower, in a particular case.

Case in point: Probiotics and soil culture in allotments.

Very well: let’s say you are only beginning to work a piece of land. Let’s say that, if you’re in the UK, you also partake in the very British tradition of allotment gardening. You have applied to your local council (this is the page if you are looking to apply to one, by the way), and they have given you a plot of land. Though exceptions apply, your plot will most likely be:

  • Overworked from previous gardeners.

  • Overrun with chemicals from previous applications of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides.

  • Barren of important microorganisms, as it has been probably tilled too frequently.

  • New, if the allotment area has just been built, and as such it will probably be filled with soil that seriously lacks organic matter.

earthworms, soil amendments, microbial diversity, cover crops, beneficial fungi, soil testing, organic fertilizers, pest management, crop diversity, no-till farming
Allotments reflect the changing mindsets of their owners, and, like these allotments in Leeds, they aren't always equally well-cared for. Your allotment has probably gone through a lot before coming into your hands!

If you are also beginning your gardening experiences, or even if you’re a veteran, you will also most likely want:

  • Healthy plants, that don’t cause too much trouble or require constant attention.

  • Bountiful harvests, since you will be putting a lot of effort, and want to see that effort rewarded.

  • A clean soil, quickly ridden of remaining chemicals from non-organic gardening.

  • Rapid growth, to fit as many harvests as you can within the growing season.

  • Nutritious, high-quality food. If you didn’t care about what you eat, you would just buy your vegetables at the supermarket.

These are exactly the benefits that probiotic bacteria bring to the soil! The way to attain all of these goals is, then, to begin cultivating your soil at the same time that you begin cultivating your first crops; making your soil work for you, instead of working against you. Consequently, why not introduce the probiotic bacteria that will help you attain all of these goals? The next time you plant, mix in the soil some of our organic Add Life Powder Plant Food, which includes not only the nutrients necessary to feed your plants with 100% organic fertilisers, but also colonies of mycorrhizal fungi and probiotic bacteria that allow you to begin your work with these, the gardener’s new best friends.


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