Microorganisms play essential roles in the lives and health of plants – both positive and negative – just as they do in people. In the past, the most common activities related to them in horticulture were the use of chemical disinfectants and fungicides to rid the plants of any infestation or infection. Fortunately, science has advanced beyond that, and the interest in organic gardening has been a major driving force.
You may be familiar with the application of “worm teas” to plants, apparently leading to improved vigor and disease resistance. Some may consider that “pseudo-science”, but in fact, those liquids, whether the exudate taken directly from worm beds, or made by steeping worm castings in water, are just loaded with micro-organisms that interact with both the planting medium and the plant, making nutrients more available, stimulating self-protective responses in the plants, and keeping the populations of damaging pathogens at bay. Unfortunately, the use of such “teas” is riddled with uncertainties.
There have been estimates of as many as 300,000 different species of microorganisms living in the rhizospheres (root zones) of plants, and each one may interact differently with the substrate and the plant. Therefore, unless you inoculate them specifically, you really know neither what is in the “tea”, nor the concentrations of them. When applying them, you are introducing “foreign” cultures into the substrate and the plant, and as the microorganisms “battle it out” for supremacy, both among themselves and with those already there – good and bad – the outcome is quite unpredictable, and often short-lived.
The scientists at Inocucor, near Montreal, are at the leading edge of this technology, and have developed a highly complex blend of many such organisms that lend a wide range of benefits to the grower of any crop. The product – Inocucor Garden Solution® – is not just a blend of beneficial microorganisms, but the various species are crafted into what are known as “consortia” that work together, forming stable populations, rather than being antagonistic to each other.
University-led studies have shown that the product, which may be considered to be a “plant probiotic”, significantly improved seed germination rates, prevented the damping-off of delicate seedlings, and led to higher crop yields, with the added bonuses of less application of fertilizers and virtual elimination of the use of chemical fungicides. To the orchid-growing world, besides the general pathogen-suppression action, one of the most significant benefits is the protection and hardiness enhancement of newly-deflasked seedlings.
As an example, consider the plight of Paphiopedilum tigrinum. It is one of the more difficult plants to successfully cultivate from seed, but because it is essentially extinct in its native habitats in China, a great deal of effort has been put into learning how to improve the success rate. The late Holger Perner, PhD, of Hengduan Mountains Biotechnology in China, found that by treating the seedlings with Inocucor Garden Solution® upon opening the flasks, and continuing with periodic sprayings after potting them up, the survival rate has skyrocketed from less than 10% survival to maturity to well over 80%! In the limited amount of “deflasking” that we have done – primarily paphiopedilums, phragmipediums, and phalaenopsis – we have lost less than 1% of the seedlings since applying the solution. One phalaenopsis grower recently related this:
"I had a large batch of small Phalaenopsis seedlings from a very crowded amateur flask. They weren't doing well - visible patches of white mold, some seedlings just turned translucent and collapsed. They weren't crowded so it wasn't spreading much, just isolated seedlings collapsing. I had decided it was time to do something... 2.5 days after treating with Inocucor at 1:50 rate the white mold appears dead, and there haven't been any additional seedlings collapsing. Really too soon to evaluate effectiveness, but I couldn't have expected more from any product at this point." - Kirk Z.
And here is another review from an orchid grower whose plants are grown outdoors:
"OK, after 3 applications roughly 10 days apart I can say that I see a noticeable improvement in my problem plants where fungal/bacterial problems are concerned. Spotting on leaves on my seedling Paphs and Phrags is almost completely gone and I am not sure if it is my imagination, but it seems like my entire collection looks to be 'healthier'. For those who are curious about my growing conditions during the last 3 weeks of testing they were as follows; Humidity from 51% up to 98%, Temps were from 51 degrees up to 80 degrees, Sun was intermittent, mostly or partly cloudy for the duration, and rained at least daily, or every night. Good news: I believe this is the ticket for me, doesn't hurt my dog or chickens, plants look good, and from additional info I saw on the web it actually aids in the uptake of nutrients. Bad news: I am out of the sample. Mahalo and Aloha" - Fred Dishman
The “good bugs” in the material, or more likely, their metabolic byproducts can have a direct, physiological effect on the plants, as well. Growers of cannabis, for example, have noted that, in addition to better seed germination rates, the plants tend to have reduced inter-node spacing, resulting in a sturdier, stockier, and bushier plant. Here are some additional beneficial outcomes of its use:
Brookgreen Gardens, a sculpture garden and wildlife preserve in Pawley’s Island SC, tried a controlled experiment with their spring bulb plants: In mid-February, one plot of hyacinth bulbs was dipped before planting, and the planting holes saturated with a 1:50 solution. The other plot was prepared and planted using the same methodology, but no Inocucor Garden Solution was applied. By mid-April, when their spring show took place, the plants in the treated plot were 7”-8” tall and in full bloom; those in the untreated plot were just at the beginning of budding, or only about 4” tall.
In a student greenhouse environment at Clemson University, broccoli seeds were sowed, with half of them “watered-in” with plain water, and half with a 1:100 solution. When the seedlings had germinated, the treated seedlings were again watered with the 1:100 Inocucor solution. Three weeks later, two equivalent sets of 90 plants each were moved to outdoor plots, with the Inocucor-treated seedlings receiving one more treatment at time of planting. Upon maturation, over a three week period, the central heads of the broccoli were harvested (side shoots were not included), all with 10” stem length, and yields compared. The treated plants displayed a 38% improved yield compared to the controls.
Strawberry plants were grown on a farm in Lambeth, Ontario. Bare-root plants were initially dipped in the Inocucor Garden Solution, then their roots immersed in it for four hours before hand-planting them in the field. Another control set of plants were similarly treated, but using only plain water. Two and a half months after planting, they were treated with 30 ml of those respective solutions. The fruit was harvested every two days over a two month period, and the Inocucor-treated plants showed a 31% increase in yield.
Ashley Ridge High School in Summerville SC maintains a one-acre edible food garden to give students an opportunity to experience hands-on planting, cultivating, and harvesting techniques. They conducted controlled experiments on both Swiss Chard and Eggplant. To summarize, the Swiss Chard plants treated with the Inocucor Garden Solution averaged 20” high and 25” wide, compared to 12” x 15”, for the untreated controls, and the Eggplants yielded 12.1 pounds of fruit, compared to 8 pounds for the untreated ones.
How orchid growers use the product, depends upon the application:
- Deflasked seedlings should be dipped in a 1:50 solution (~2.5 oz/gal) immediately after removal from the flask, then sprayed and watered with that solution daily for one week, every other day for another, then weekly with a 1:100 solution (~3 tablespoons/gallon) weekly until the plants are established and actively growing.
- Diseased plants should be treated as soon as any symptoms of potential ailment is observed. Plants should be soaked for an hour or more in a 1:50 solution, then treated using the same application regimen as that recommended for seedlings, above.
- Normal, probiotic treatment of healthy plants consists of an initial inoculation period, then regular maintenance: drench plants and medium with a 1:50 solution at three successive waterings, then go to a 1:100 solution, applied at least monthly.
One of the best features of Inocucor Garden Solution® is that fact that it actually improves the soil – or any planting medium, for that matter. It is safe to handle, and may be used on any crop, including foods, and is OMRI-listed for use in organic gardening.