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Legume inoculate

Posts: 1490
Location: N. California
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I have never inoculated legumes before. I love to learn, and love gardening, so I spent lots of time on Permies, and the internet just learning new things.  I've been seeing a lot about inoculating legumes.  I remember my mom always doing it, but didn't know what she's used, I thought it was nitrogen.  Now I know it's a legume inoculate, what ever that is. I have a mycorrhizae fungi that I have been sprinkling on the roots of my seedlings this year. ( Not something I have done before) when I looked up legume inoculate mycorrhizae fungi pops up but seems it's not the same, but can be used, or is it the same? I can't seem to find the answer.
I hope you smart people on Permies can help me out.  

Do you inoculate your legumes?  ( Peas, and beans)

Are mycorrhizae fungi and legume inoculate the same? Different?  

Should I use one, the other, both?

The more I read, the more confused I get. I'm looking forward to some clarity.  Thank you

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There are many way, way smarter people on here than I, but since no one has answered, I will give my simplistic understanding of this.

The inoculant will be special bacteria (so not fungi) that then colonizes the beans' roots and fixes nitrogen for the beans (or any legumes). Different kinds of legumes may partner with different strains of bacteria, so different inoculants may be used for different kinds of legumes.  Most inoculants will contain multiple strains to cover multiple kinds of legumes, though, and it will tell you on the package or the website what you can use them for. The one I bought covers all the legumes I am growing, from pole beans to hairy vetch to sunn hemp.

If you have used inoculant in the past and are growing beans again in the same bed, there is no need to inoculate your beans every year, because the proper bacteria will already be there in the soil. Or even if no beans have been grown there before, you might get lucky and the correct nitrogen-fixing bacteria may just be present anyway. Someone smarter/ more educated than I could probably tell you if a healthy, living, bacteria-rich soil can replace inoculant altogether.

Beans can certainly grow without inoculant, but if they do not find that bacteria to partner with, then they won't be fixing nitrogen, and will be just taking it from the soil like any other plant.

I always inoculate legumes, because why not? Inoculant is not expensive and if I am doing all the work of preparing beds, planting seeds, etc., I may as well take that extra step to help ensure success. It's  little of a hassle, but I do it anyway.
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Location: Sedona Az Zone 8b
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Hi Jen,
Don't actually have a great answer for you, I can only offer my observations, which aren't so scientific.....

Started my gardens 11 years ago. Had a lot to learn. In the beginning there were some successes and lots of failures. By year 3 I had created 3 big beds and about 20 smaller ones all around the yard. I was/am always amending beds. Some are in much better shape than others.

Every year I start or try to start 4-5 different varieties of peas and 4-5 different beans. And I always rotate my crops so they are always in different beds (some good, some not so great) every year. Year 2 I had some decent success with some of the peas and some of the beans. Maybe 3 out of 5 of each did better than the others. Was it the beds I put them in?  But then I had an explosion of earwigs that ate everything. By the end of the summer I got them under control. Year 3 I decided to try using an inoculate. Got the same results.

But then I got an explosion of pill bugs that ate everything in sight. Pill bugs are hard to overcome. I had created a monster and I had “MILLIONS”of them. In the end it took me 5 long years to finally eradicate and control most of them. I had to use serious garden hygiene! I couldn't use any mulch at all, ever. I used lots of Spinosad. At the end of each season I had to remove every plant, all the debris and even the roots from the soil so they had nowhere to hide and nothing to eat. I figure it was kind of like chemotherapy for my garden. I had to destroy the good (bacteria and fungi) with the bad but it finally worked. I have slowly, the last 3 years started to garden more like normal people do.

So, fast forward.... 4 years ago I finally got decent crops of peas and beans again. Maybe 3 out of every 5 different kinds did well again. But I was still practicing my severe garden hygiene so I dug up all the plants and roots again. I noticed on one group of beans that had done really well that there were lots of little white nodules on all the roots. I figured that couldn't be good and I should look that up but I forgot. The next year I dug up the roots of some peas that had also done well that were in an adjacent bed and they had bigger pink nodules all over the roots. I did look it up that time and according to the internet experts that was the nitrogen that the plants were taking from the air, putting in the soil and hoarding! Really!! And you're supposed to leave them in the ground so they release the nitrogen! Why hadn't I heard of that before?? Still don't know how much truth there is to that. But, whatever.

So last year I decided to try inoculate again. I used it on all of them, 5 pea varieties and 5 bean varieties. And it still looks like I got the same results. 3 out of each 5 varieties did much better than the others. So, was it the inoculate or the different beds or the varieties? But I did, for one last time, (don't think I need to dig up the roots any more because my pill bug problem is manageable now) dig up the roots of all the plants. The ones that did great and the ones that did not so great. And I didn't find any nodules on any of them. Go figure! But I did get to pack my freezer full of beans!

So, my final takeaway is... Give it a try, it can't hurt. Happy gardening.
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