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Soil Inoculant: Fix Nitrogen WITHOUT legumes!

 
Marc Troyka
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It's pretty well known that soil inoculants can improve plant growth, resistance to pests and disease, nutritional content, and resistance to drought, but some recent papers I've read add yet another dimension to the list, and one that's rather surprising.

Certain bacteria, namely Azospirillum, Paenibacillus Polymyxa, Klebsiella Pneumoniae, Azotobacter, and a certain species of Pseudomonas (amongst others) can all fix nitrogen in association with non-leguminous plant roots. Of those, Azospirillum and Azotobacter can do so in the presence of oxygen (which usually inhibits the nitrogen fixing enzymes), whereas the others do so by eating up all the oxygen in their immediate surroundings.

How much nitrogen can they fix? Well, according to this review (p14) typically 20-50% of plants' total nitrogen needs. This is similar to the amount of nitrogen which legumes can fix (30-70% of their requirements). Total fixation depends on the number and quality of nitrogen fixing bacteria used, and what other companion bacteria they may be combined with, as well as the effectiveness in delivering the inoculant to the plant roots at the time of sprouting. These other N fixing bacteria show little host specificity, also, and have been shown effective for a wide range of plants including grains (and corn), tomatoes, and even trees. They can also improve growth and N fixation in legumes.

In terms of 'giving back to the soil more than what you take out', I can hardly find a better example or an easier way to accomplish this regardless of what you happen to be growing.

Inoculants which have these sorts of bacteria:
Earth Juice
MycoGrow Soluble
Xtreme Gardening Azos (azospirillum brazilense)

Using corn as an example, since it's a nitrogen heavy crop that permies tend to hate, based on data from scientific studies I've been able to estimate that the grain of corn plants (what you take out of the soil) makes up about 1/3 (a bit less) of the total mass of the plant. Given that the plant takes as much N from fixation as from the soil (ie +100% of soil N), we can calculate;
200% * 66% (the part of the plant left in the soil) = 133%

So in other words, the dead corn plant adds 1/3 more nitrogen to the soil than what it took out.
 
Eric Markov
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Interesting article, thanks for posting.




"Inoculants which have these sorts of bacteria:
Earth Juice
MycoGrow Soluble
Xtreme Gardening Azos (azospirillum brazilense)"


Has anyone tried these inoculants?
What were the result?


 
                              
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Very stimulating topic.
I knew about Azotobacter, but not the others.
So I have spent this week in an endorphin frenzy studying these other organisms.
Some are already used widely in agriculture.
But I could not find much literature on how to encourage them in the environment.
But in the lab, most are grown on some sort of saccharide / starch / glucose plate.
While I could not find exact studies, it would seem to be yet another reason
to grow plant sources of saccharide / starch in range fields to encourage these bacteria;
such as Jerusalem artichoke, burdock, wild chicory, wild leeks, wild onions, etc.
Troyka - Thanks for the stimulating conversation.
 
Marc Troyka
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Always a pleasure. Scrounging google scholar for free articles is usually pretty rewarding. Also, AFAIK all the species I've listed live preferentially in symbiosis with plant roots, which is how they are propagated commercially. Basically, from what I've read, the general procedure is to inoculate some seedlings with plate culture, let them grow up in sterile planting medium, and then wash it out and filter out the spores through fine mesh after ~90 days or so.

The main consideration for successful inoculation is that the inoculant should get a head start and be most directly in contact with the plant root as soon as the seed germinates. Also, a lot of species will attach themselves firmly to clay particles and don't "wash in" very well, in contradiction to the instructions and claims of many products. My conclusion has been that seed balls should fall best within these constraints.

@Erik: I haven't seen a lot of people here who use inoculant, and none of them use the ones I listed . I plan to mix them up for my spring plantings, but it'll be a few months at least before I get that far. I'll definitely post lots of pictures of how that works out. I'm thinking of only inoculating half of each of my 2 hugelbeds so a good comparison can be made (as much as I hate giving up efficiency ).
 
                              
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Which plants are used commercially to grow out inoculant?
 
Marc Troyka
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Grasses usually, since they grow quickly and are prolific. If you planted up an area with polyculture and inoculated it it'd work just as well. Inoculating perennials is also effective. Basically it just means controlling at least most of the roots in the patch of ground of interest for a season or two. Anything left in the ground long enough to harvest will put out a good batch of spores, and once they've built up enough to become competitive that dirt will be an effective inoculant forevermore. Not tilling/digging and keeping roots in the ground year round helps with upkeep.
 
Eric Markov
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Please do post some results next year.

I just added a Windows calender reminder to inoculate 1/2 of one of my hugel beds on April 2013



 
                              
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That makes sense. Most of the early research I could find was on grasses or trees. But the more recent research is on all vegetables: squash, roots, beans, etc. They generate nitrogen and supress harmful organisms. This should be a part of everyone's tool kit.
 
John Polk
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Inoculants which have these sorts of bacteria:
Earth Juice
MycoGrow Soluble
Xtreme Gardening Azos (azospirillum brazilense)


While Earth Juice and Xtreme Azoz make many claims, they seem rather silent when it comes to listing ingredients.

On the other hand MycoGrow proudly lists the beneficial ingredients it uses.
They have numerous fungi, both endo and ecto, as well as an impressive list of bacteria including 'azos', and pseudomonas.
It may not be cheap to buy, but if it can bring new life to your soil, it is a valuable investment.

I know a very serious tomato breeder that always uses the MycoGrow. He swears by it.

For a breakdown of the ingredients, check out this page in FungiPerfect's store:
http://www.fungi.com/product-detail/product/mycogrow-soluble-1-lb.html

 
Marc Troyka
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Ah, I found a page that lists Earth Juice's ingredients. Azos is just Azospirillum Brazilense, technically probably overpriced but a price I'm willing to pay for that extra inch of diversity. A. Brazilense is more active during warmer months, whereas A. Lipoferum (from earth juice) is more active during the cool season.

Artemesia Bloom wrote:That makes sense. Most of the early research I could find was on grasses or trees. But the more recent research is on all vegetables: squash, roots, beans, etc. They generate nitrogen and supress harmful organisms. This should be a part of everyone's tool kit.


That was my thought in starting this topic. I'm surprised how few permies seem to be aware of the potential. Interestingly so far the biggest users of inoculant have been in third world countries where they can't afford chemical fertilizer, but where inoculant has proven quite cost effective. Hopefully we can convince more people with our pretty pictures. Unfortunately this means sacrificing half of my garden (including some perennials like strawberries) for a control plot, but I guess that's the price of being part of an experiment .
 
                              
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I would not have found out about it if you had not stated the exact scientific names
(something I can Google). Thank heavons for forums like this to help spread the word.

My frustration is that there is still so much we do not know and one can
only make educated guesses as to how to encourage these microbes once
inoculation has occurred. I do not want to reinoculate every year.

For example, Streptomyces lydicus has been used to control harmful fungus over 15 years.
But I have never been able to find any research on how to encourage it once the
soil has been inoculated.
Since Streptomyces lydicus was first isolated from flax roots, the best
I can come up with is to grow flax in rotation just before I grow a broadleaf
which is susceptible to fungus.

Once I found out that sorghum and leek encourage the broadest range of
mycorrhizal fungus, I have regularly worked them into my rotation;
especially just before crops that require lots of phosphorus.

I work chitin sources into my soil regularly (Aquatic shells and scales).
Chitin will encourage Streptomyces actinomycetes which will suppress
harmful fungus.

An even bigger concern is that many of these inoculants are being
genetically modified. It is very difficult to find out which ones are
and how they were done.
 
Marc Troyka
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Well, I haven't seen any research that suggests the use of GMO bacteria for commercial applications. Most of those companies don't because it would toss out their USDA organic label, which is their largest market. If things continue the way they're going, it's a market with lots of room for growth still.

Mycorrhiza are more particular about plants than bacteria seem to be, but not so much overall. If you plant a variety of things over a year, and plant the same sorts of things year after year, then you won't need to keep inoculating. From what I've read the best way to improve inoculation of both mycorrhiza and bacteria is to combine them and inoculate together. Many bacteria included in inoculants improve the growth of mycorrhiza, and vise versa. The other thing is that the inoculant has to be in contact with the root as soon as the seeds sprout. Putting them in seed balls accomplishes this quite well.
 
                              
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Your right, there does not appear to be much in the US. Most of it is in Europe and Asia with only a little in the US.
 
julian kirby
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I'm going to be inoculating with Azos on everything I plant. Be aware of ALL NAMES for ALL VARIETIES of fungi/bacteria in your inoculant, and what their function in an ecosystem is.
 
Marc Troyka
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julian kirby wrote:I'm going to be inoculating with Azos on everything I plant. Be aware of ALL NAMES for ALL VARIETIES of fungi/bacteria in your inoculant, and what their function in an ecosystem is.


Absolutely. In general inoculant manufacturers won't add anything that's potentially harmful, although they will add useless stuff sometimes (like yeast) and trichodermas can cause problems with infecting non-mycorrhizal fungi. Trichodermas will also eat pathogenic fungi (and some really horrible ones, too, like dieback), so it's a double-edged sword.
 
julian kirby
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as you said Trichoderma are a double edged sword, they are probably already present in soil, I would rather get innoculant w/o filler whether it be inert dust or non-bennies. A 1% mix is unacceptable IMO but that's how most of the OTC innoculants are sold, I'm sure that online there are purer products available. The bag of Azos I bought is a 1 pound bag, with 1% brazilense in it, it was 20 bucks, but now I get to start some plants in the window so by spring I'll be able to take the soil from those plants and innoculate a slightly larger area than if I had the powder alone.
 
R Hasting
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I was looking at a TED talk promoting proper soil carbon cycling as the solution to green house gases. This is a video I found that is all about how they have been able to inoculate plants and get a huge percent of additional growth compared to the controls or chemical controls.



Something useful in there, I am sure of it!
 
Paula Edwards
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What I've learned from the thread is that myco.. is something with beneficial fungi and inoculants are beneficial bacteria.
Our soil is landfill, stuff excavators dug up. So I think it lacks in both, bacteria and fungi.
There's an Australian source for the fungi, it seems quite expensive: mycoapply
I did not find a source for inocculants for home gardeners though.
I wonder weather one could rely on something homemade for both?
And once you have applied that stuff the bacteria and fungi should be happy and procreating?
 
Morgan Morrigan
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Yeah, your going to need to mix in some organic material, and i would also mix in some regular table sugar, and some sea salt.

It looks like specific innoculants will be required for each family of plants to create nitrogen nodules, but the basic innoculants will work for happy and healthy plants.

the top place to find em should be the hydroponics companies.

they use them to keep rootballs thicker , and hold nutrients from washing out.

do some searches thru local hydroponics suppliers.
 
John Polk
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Mix in table sugar?

Wouldn't feed grade molasses be a better option?
 
Paula Edwards
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Thanks for the hydroponic idea. What does the table sugar do and the salt - or the molasses (which is maybe even more expensive)?
And how is it used in what quantities?
 
John Polk
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Sugar or molasses is food for the microorganisms.

EM (Effective Microorganisms) are traditionally bred/raised in an anaerobic water/molasses mixture that is fermented.

Molasses is expensive if you buy it in the grocery store (in tiny little bottles).
However if you buy 'feed grade' molasses in the farm feed stores, it becomes much cheaper.
(I can buy it locally for $2 to $4 per gallon, depending on volume. Or I can buy 50# {22K} bags of dried for $23)

EM is commonly used in soil inoculation, speeding up composting, septic management, and is the basis for bokashi composting. Packaged EM is quite expensive (around $60 per US gallon). But with 1 gal. EM, 1 gal. molasses, and 20 gal. water, I can make 22 gallons AEM (Activated Effective Microorganisms). That brings it down to a price suitable for large scale usage.

For making your own AEM, see this page:

www.emearth.com/newpdfdocuments/How%20to%20Make%20Activated%20EM%20(1).pdf
 
Adrienne Beck
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Quick question on EM ... I am currently activating some EM a friend gave me. If mine has finished 'gassing off' (after 4 weeks) and the ph is at 4.5, if I leave it for a few more weeks, will the ph drop down to the ideal 3.5 range? Or, did I screw up the activation? - thanks
 
Marc Troyka
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Adrienne Beck wrote:Quick question on EM ... I am currently activating some EM a friend gave me. If mine has finished 'gassing off' (after 4 weeks) and the ph is at 4.5, if I leave it for a few more weeks, will the ph drop down to the ideal 3.5 range? Or, did I screw up the activation? - thanks


You don't have to 'activate' them. You can grow your own, but that requires growing plants with them.
 
C Tejleap
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I agree with you Artemetsia Bloom, about the effects of some rotation on mushroom inoculants and I wished there was more studies on natural ways to promote them. I have previously worked on the development of Mycorrhize in it's early stages and attended over 100 experiments in fields with various grasses, plants and trees. In general with mushroom compost there is a percentage of effectiveness that is noticeable but not extraordinary. most of our experiments were done by planting multiple rows consisting of natural (I-E nothing added), fertilised using something like 20-20-20, with inoculation and another one using both fertilizers and Mycorrhize. and analysing the differences between them. honestly most of the time I could not tell them apart by looking at them. At first the product was produced as a white and pink pallet form or a gel and then later on was transformed into a dirt looking substance.

The thing that frustrates me is that they rarely give the whole description of ingredients that are mixed. Of course there is mushroom spores or dormant forms of bacteria that are natural, but there is also a wide list of ingredients that are not listed, as soil preparation agents, wetting agents, mushroom growing agents, that are rarely natural or organic. The company is able to get their organic labelling because these agents are not directly acting on the plants but helps the mushroom to develop itself. The USDA has been removing some of their labels in the last few years but there is not much research done on this subject. With the company refusing to give away their recipe to the public, it makes it hard to know if you are in fact using a non-organic product in disguise. deceiving.

99% of the products out there uses a fungus that grows naturally on peat moss. This is why I use it in my soil today.

Another good source of natural fungi is compost brew. The best one I know being a stinging nettle brew I found in a biodynamic book. It can considerably act on the decomposition of other organic substance. Other source of beneficial bacteria can be found in manure, especially well rotted liquid manures.

Molasses is great too.
 
John Bird
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Does anyone have any idea where you can buy garden scale inoculant in Europe? I am in Portugal, and the only supplier I have found is in England and deals in huge quantities for farms, and what I need are the small packets. Any help appreciated.
 
Burra Maluca
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Have you looked on ebay?

If it's for things like broad beans (favas) then you can ask a neighbour for a bit of soil that theirs have been growing in. The Portuguese tend to grow favas in roughly the same place for generations and the level of appropriate bacteria in their fava patch will be very high.
 
John Saltveit
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I did an experiment with Mycogrow.
I noticed that all of the best old gardeners in our Home ORchard Society cared about the amount of fungal material in teh soil.
They talked about the tilth of the soil, whether it had fungi in it, how well it drained, and how much microbiology it had in it. As I’ve been learning about different kinds of fungi, one kind that has been a bit mysterious to me has been mycorrhizal fungi. Most of the mushrooms that people pick while out on forays are mycorrhizal fungi, as they grow in symbiosis with the roots of the trees they are partnering with. In recent years, I’ve become interested in mushrooms as well as growing fruit. In the last few years, I’ve been hearing about people trying to urge us to add mycorrhizal spores to our plants when we plant them. Most of these people are planting annual vegetables and flowers. They often show the difference between how much more the plant grows with mycorrhizal partners than without. That makes sense, as we know the mushrooms we gather help the trees in the forest and vice versa. However, most of my garden is already planted in fruit trees and berry bushes. What can I do to add mycorrhizal fungi to an orchard or to already planted trees to help them grow better?
A lot of promising research has been done in this area by the Rodale Institute of organic gardening fame in Pennsylvania. This is where the soil scientist Elaine Ingham now works. A researcher there named David Douds set up a protocol to increase the amount of mycorrhizal fungi so you can spread it on your farm. Well, I’m not a farmer, so let’s see if we can adapt that to a garden. There’s also a series of youtube videos that have been set up on the topic. Search for “growing mycorrhizal fungi” on youtube.
Douds planted the seeds of grasses to try to build the mycorrhizal mass. He chose grasses because they are very efficient in growing a wide variety of mycorrhizal fungi. Many of our mushrooms only grow with one species or a few, so they’re not so good for growing the mycorrhizal fungi. He selected bahia grass, a tropical grass that would grow the fungi and then die off during the winter, leaving him with a bulk of mycorrhizae that he can plant or distribute throughout the farm. I don’t want to produce a huge amount of mycorrhizae out of the ground. I want it evenly distributed in my yard with the plants so they will be able to withstand droughts, disease and other challenges. In addition, bahia grass costs about $50 to have it shipped to your house. Wheat seed is really cheap and locally available, even at your grocery store. You only have to buy as much as you want, and enough might cost you 48 cents.
I decided to use wheat as the “substrate” to grow the mycorrhizae on. It won’t necessarily die in the winter here, but that can be an advantage. The mycorrhizal spores will die if they don’t find living roots within 48 hours, so I want it to stay alive long enough to intertwine with the roots of the trees and bushes and continue the life of the mycorrhizae. I want the mycorrizae to live on the roots of my trees and bushes. In nature, squirrels and other rodents find the sclerota (fruit of the underground mushroom), eat part and plant the rest for later, increasing the places where it grows.
I followed directions and planted wheat seed in planters filled with a mix of 4 parts vermiculite and 1 part compost. It worked just like they described. The wheat grew to in between 1 and 5 inches. Almost all of the grocery store wheat seeds grew. Then I removed the wheat plants from the planter, and dipped them into a mix I got from fungi perfecti. You can get mixes from other companies as well, but since they are so close geographically, I figured the mycorrhizae will be more acclimated to our climate. Remember to use unchlorinated water for the mix, so you don’t kill it. You can boil your tap water or use distilled or spring water from a grocery store.
When I planted the wheat, I made sure that the roots of the wheat were in contact with the roots of the tree or bush. The packet of dried spores can make a lot of the mixing fluid, but I just made enough for the seedlings I had. Fungi Perfecti advised me to only make enough liquid mix for 2 or 3 days, after which it may have become contaminated. I covered the bowl the mix was in between planting times. I dipped all of the roots of each plant into the mix, and then planted them. Then I poured the rest of the fluid at the base of the trees. Most of the wheat plants grew for a long time. Some now have little kernels of wheat on them.
I just planted my next batch of wheat seeds in the fall after the initial spring planting. Someone asked me if there was any big difference that I noticed in my garden. I really couldn’t tell them I saw a difference. A couple of weeks later, I was gathering mushrooms and I noticed some mushrooms that had been there for awhile, but they hadn’t developed a real stem. I gathered one and brought it for ID to my mushroom club. The sign said, “Scleroderma cepa” after they had sliced it open to help ID it. I thought I had remembered that type as mycorrhizal, so I went on the Fungi Perfecti site and looked for that as an ingredient in the mix. Sure enough, there it was on the list. When I came back with the mushroom from the ID show, I planted it below my other apple tree that had not yet shown the mushrooms. Hopefully it will grow on that apple tree too. Since then, I have seen several other mycorrhizal mushrooms growing in other parts of the yard. Many of the mycorrhizal fungi don’t make above ground mushrooms. They make below ground sclerotia, like truffles, so I actually have no idea how many are in my soil now. Hopefully a lot. These mycorrhizal fungi aren’t edible or medicinal for humans, but they will certainly help our gardens grow and adjust to changes in weather. Think about in nature who waters plants during our long, dry summers. Why don’t most plants in nature get diseases and die? Each species of mycorrhizal fungi does a different task for the trees. After all, for more than 99% of all history, no human ever watered or took care of plants. Mycorrhizal fungi did.
John S
PDX OR
 
duane hennon
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I don't know if this fits in this thread but

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/09/140918-soil-bacteria-microbe-farming-technology-ngfood/

Why Tiny Microbes Mean Big Things for Farming
The soil-dwelling bacteria that we walk on every day are working their way into technologies that could help feed the world.

........

"More than a decade ago, German scientists described the elusive bacterium, known as Streptomyces thermoautotrophicus, which has a special knack for converting nitrogen from the air to a form that plants can use—even in the presence of oxygen, which normally poisons the bacterial enzyme that pumps out nitrogen. The process is called "fixing" nitrogen.

But after the initial finding about the bacterium, it apparently went missing. If it can be found again, and its abilities engineered into plants that normally can't fix nitrogen, farmers could grow more crops using less fertilizer."



AHHH, big science is about big ideas - engineering it into plants
rather than, say, spraying it on the ground or soaking the seeds with it
 
Wojciech Majda
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@Marc Troyka

Your guesstimates about how much nitrogen can free living nitrogen fixing bacteria fix are very optimistic.

Highest reported rates of nitrogen fixation (by them) are up to 50kg/per hectare (aprox 50lbs per acre).

But to get these rates your soil needs to be:
-clay-ish (on sandy soils the rates are lower)
- have plenty of nutrients that are needed for nitrogen fixation. Mainly Ca, P, Mn, Mo...

It is also known, that nitrogen fixing bacteria needs approximately 100 g of carbohydrates to fix 1g of nitrogen. So to get higher rates you need to have a lot of organic matter in the soil and/or healthy plants that can give a lot of sugars to the bacteria through the roots exudates.
 
Cee Ray
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Blooming blossoms brand makes a N2 fixing inoculant for the soil and one for foliar. They are the same species but different strains of bacteria. I used both and had good results, no side by side or anything but I did not see any N deficiency symptoms on plants that were treated. I added some to my worm bins as well.
 
Scott Stiller
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Good thread. I'm still bothered that now I feel the need to bring something from outside the farm and put it in the soil. I try to only use what is within the farms borders. Surely there's some way to make homemade inoculant. Maybe a good project for the lab. I may even take this challenge on myself.
 
Karen Walk
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Marc Troyer - if you are still watching this thread - how did your side by side hugel bed comparison go?
 
Sean Benedict
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Relevant:
http://www.googlesciencefair.com/projects/en/2014/b69203da66c44d96e4fb3d6fd88d47a6eb3c927805255d7f4c7c439fddd9c256

TL; DR 3 Irish girls used nitrogen fixing bacteria to improve germination and crop yields. In doing so, they won a prize at the Google Science Fair in 2014.
 
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