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What is the point of Nitrogen fixing trees without Inoculant?  RSS feed

 
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As an aspiring Permie, I have planted several varieties of legumes, and ordered seeds of several more.  Today, I was disappointed to see no nodules on any of the legumes that are growing.  

For garden legumes, the solution is easy enough, and I will be making a trip to my local nursery to buy the appropriate inoculants.  But what about nitrogen fixing trees?  I'm having trouble even finding which bacteria match which nitrogen fixing trees, let alone a source to purchase them.  I did do about an hour's worth of Google searches before this post.  

I saw Geoff Lawton mention you could dig up some soil from an already nodulated tree (Cassia was the example) and add it, but I have no access to or knowledge of already nodulated trees in my area, especially of a type compatible with the species that I desire.  Is the knowledge of nitrogen fixing tree bacteria so sparse?  I would appreciate any information on this.  I've seen plenty of good lists on different types of nitrogen-fixing trees, but precious little on how to inoculate them.

I want very much to use "free nitrogen" fixing trees but without inoculant, what is the point?
 
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My own thoughts are that whatever the trees need will show up at some point without any help from us.  Somehow nature managed to keep the planet going for millions of years without any help (or inoculant) from humans.
 
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I yanked up the runner beans this week. The roots were covered in nodules, even though I have never inoculated my garden with any kind of microbes.
 
Jason Yoon
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I yanked up the runner beans this week. The roots were covered in nodules, even though I have never inoculated my garden with any kind of microbes.



I admire your plant breeding efforts, but for those of us that have not been gardening for many years and are surrounded by likely chemically sprayed landscapes (very urban where I live) I am not sure the appropriate microbes exist.  I was hoping nature would take care of it, but I have 3 different types of legumes planted, it's been about 6 months, and none have nodules.

I don't mind buying inoculant.  I am frustrated because I am having all kinds of trouble finding any information on how to inoculate nitrogen fixing trees in particular, other than taking a scoop of soil from an existing tree.  I want to try growing some of these nitrogen fixing trees that I keep seeing mentioned on Permies and other sites, but once again, without inoculant, what is the point?
 
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My understanding is that the only trees that are scientifically accepted as being nitrogen fixing are leguminous ones. If your trees are those (use wikipedia) then growing leguminous annuals from innoculated seed near them should do the trick, since they all use the same sort of bacteria.

The other category would be trees that are widely thought to be nitrogen fixing despite there being no science to support it. If your trees are these then they might be fixing nitrogen without any nodules, or they might not be fixing nitrogen at all. You're going to have to go by observation. You wouldn't be able to get innoculant anyways since no one understands how/if they work.

 
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I agree with the above comments. I wouldn't worry too much about inoculation. If it's convenient and you have some then great. If not....just grow grow grow. Even if your soil has been contaminated or the nodules don't show up. The answer is still to grow as much plants and start cycling things through the natural processes. Things will repair and show up when they are ready. Just start growing as much as you can and the rest will take care of itself. The only problem ever would be a place sooo toxic you can't grow ANYTHING. So "just go for it" is my advice....Or should I say "Just GROW for it"! ha
 
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There has been recent news about poplar trees being self-fixing. several bio-tech companies have begun to study the effect to see if it can be transferred into the genome of nitrogen-hungry plants like corn.

https://reeis.usda.gov/web/crisprojectpages/0202663-nitrogen-fixation-within-poplar-by-endophytic-bacteria.html

http://www.washington.edu/news/2016/05/20/bacteria-in-branches-naturally-fertilize-trees/

http://www.poplar.ca/article/poplars-fix-nitrogen-in-leaves-174.asp
 
Jason Yoon
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L. Tims wrote:My understanding is that the only trees that are scientifically accepted as being nitrogen fixing are leguminous ones. If your trees are those (use wikipedia) then growing leguminous annuals from innoculated seed near them should do the trick, since they all use the same sort of bacteria.



I don't think this is true.  For example, the bacteria that fixes for beans don't fix for clovers.  Then Soybeans have their own specific bacteria that don't work with other beans.  Peas have their own.   I don't see how the various nitrogen fixing trees wouldn't have their own varieties.
 
Jason Yoon
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s wesley wrote:I agree with the above comments. I wouldn't worry too much about inoculation. If it's convenient and you have some then great. If not....just grow grow grow. Even if your soil has been contaminated or the nodules don't show up. The answer is still to grow as much plants and start cycling things through the natural processes. Things will repair and show up when they are ready. Just start growing as much as you can and the rest will take care of itself. The only problem ever would be a place sooo toxic you can't grow ANYTHING. So "just go for it" is my advice....Or should I say "Just GROW for it"! ha



I would ask, if a nitrogen-fixing tree isn't actually fixing nitrogen, what is the point in having it there?  Why not grow something else there instead?  Grow grow grow isn't always an answer for those that have limited resources such as space, water, or nutrients.  In my case, I have limited space.  Others may have plenty of land, but only so much water.  Or the land may be infertile, and they are seeking a way to insert fertility or biomass.  Annual legumes + inoculant is proven.  Planting nitrogen-fixing trees, especially non-natives, without inoculant may lead to a tremendous waste of time, space, and energy.
 
L. Tims
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I think they are all Rhyzobia though, and that the inoculants you can buy are a blend so that they can sell them for different things. Could be wrong.

Edit- they definitely sell inoculants that are supposed to be good for multiple plants. Whether that's just sales hype or if they do put all the right ones in, idk.
 
Jason Yoon
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L. Tims wrote:I think they are all Rhyzobia though, and that the inoculants you can buy are a blend so that they can sell them for different things. Could be wrong.

Edit- they definitely sell inoculants that are supposed to be good for multiple plants. Whether that's just sales hype or if they do put all the right ones in, idk.



Yes, they sell a blend.  I just ordered a bean (not soy) and pea combo.  I had to order a separate inoculant for my clover and alfalfa.  My point is ... there's no reference anywhere that I can find that suggests these easily purchased inoculants are compatible with nitrogen fixing trees.  I did see something that suggested pigeon pea is compatible with one of these inoculants, but that's a shrub, not a tree.  Also, there's a whole different class of bacteria called Frankia (as opposed to Rhyzobium) that inoculate other nitrogen fixers such as Eleangus aka Russian Olive and Autumn Olive.

Are the exact species that inoculate the nitrogen fixing trees not known at all, or is it simply not well known?  It sure isn't easy to find.
 
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I don't know about usage specifically for trees, but in the FAQs for MycorrPlus it says: "Nitrogen applications: MycorrPlus contains nitrogen fixing bacteria , but it takes 4 to 5 months for them to really start working. If you normally apply nitrogen, some N may be needed until the nitrogen fixing bacteria have a chance to really kick in."

That is from https://ag-usa.net/application.php
 
Jason Yoon
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Gail Gardner wrote:I don't know about usage specifically for trees, but in the FAQs for MycorrPlus it says: "Nitrogen applications: MycorrPlus contains nitrogen fixing bacteria , but it takes 4 to 5 months for them to really start working. If you normally apply nitrogen, some N may be needed until the nitrogen fixing bacteria have a chance to really kick in."

That is from https://ag-usa.net/application.php



MycorrPlus has nothing to do with nodulating legume bacteria.  It looks similar to a compost tea with mycorrhizal fungi added, although it's difficult to say because they are quite vague with their ingredients.  There are free living nitrogen-fixing bacteria in all healthy soils, and those are the kind MycorrPlus is refering to, but I have come to find there are not always the kind that nodulate and supercharge legumes.
 
L. Tims
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Well I doubt that any tree-specific inoculants are available since that's more of a permie thing than a commercial thing. Likewise, I doubt that much research has been put into the bacteria themselves. So that's probably a dead end.

You might take a page from the anti-inoculant people's book, not by ignoring the problem but by using manure as an inoculant. If you can get some fresh organic cow manure I'd give that a shot on your trees. The stuff is loaded with beneficial microorganisms. Be sure to cover it with leaves so the sun doesn't sterilize it.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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My outlook on growing is very druidic: Life lives. Symbiots find each other. In spite of being in a city. In spite of pollution. In spite of humanity. I don't know why I would trust The Conglomerate to sell me a powder, and that the powder would be viable, and that it would contain appropriate species for any particular plant. And if I applied it, and found nodules, I wouldn't be able to tell if they came from The Conglomerate's powder, or if they were naturally occurring. And if I dug up a plant, and didn't find a nodule, I wouldn't be able to claim that no nodules existed, cause what if I dug up the wrong part of the plant? Or what if I dislodged the nodules while digging?

I'm very much on the side of life lives. Any plant is a good plant. Grow, grow, grow. Trees may live for centuries. That's plenty of time to meet all sorts of nitrogen fixing microbes.

In an urban environment, it aught to be easy as anything to pay close attention while traveling, to find the same species of tree growing nearby. Collect a soil sample and inoculate the new trees, if waiting for nature isn't active enough.



 
Gail Gardner
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L. Tims wrote:You might take a page from the anti-inoculant people's book, not by ignoring the problem but by using manure as an inoculant. If you can get some fresh organic cow manure I'd give that a shot on your trees. The stuff is loaded with beneficial microorganisms. Be sure to cover it with leaves so the sun doesn't sterilize it.



You may be able to get free manure from anyone who raises their horses or livestock organically. But even horse owners who avoid non-organic feeds might deworm their horses at times. Withdrawal times from deworming to when livestock can be butchered tend to be weeks, though, so hopefully the manure won't have much residue most of the time. (The same dewormers are used for equines as for cattle, goats, sheep, etc. - there is a lot of overlap.)

There seem to be more horse people who avoid most chemicals and gmo than cattle ranchers - at least among the ones I see online or have talked with in person.
 
Jason Yoon
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L. Tims wrote:Well I doubt that any tree-specific inoculants are available since that's more of a permie thing than a commercial thing. Likewise, I doubt that much research has been put into the bacteria themselves. So that's probably a dead end.

You might take a page from the anti-inoculant people's book, not by ignoring the problem but by using manure as an inoculant. If you can get some fresh organic cow manure I'd give that a shot on your trees. The stuff is loaded with beneficial microorganisms. Be sure to cover it with leaves so the sun doesn't sterilize it.



Based on the complete lack of answers, I think you're right about the lack of tree specific inoculants.  I recently watched Geoff Lawton's greening the desert part 2 (the new site)and noticed a wide variety of nitrogen fixers they are using on that site.  I wonder if they inoculated those trees, or if they just left it up to nature.
 
s wesley
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How did the bacteria you're searching for begin or end up naturally in the places it does? It didn't come from companies applying products. Where would the product get it's start or culture from? The encouragement to grow comes from recognizing the function of many plants as bio-remediators (some better than others but all do to some degree just by living) and how toxins preventing all kinds of life forms can get locked into the cycles of nature and made neutral or inert. Then once that happens the plants can function to the best of their ability. As I understand it the inoculation is just a speeding up or boosting of the processes that would naturally occur. I would not get caught up in the exact sciences or claims thereof as nature is a never ending mystery that will never be fully known or understood in terms of classification or controlled lab experiments. I encourage you to do some basic trial and learn from the errors and the successes. Experience is key. I have found that in almost all cases I never need to buy a product or input and if I do use inputs then it's either a plant or seed or material from the local area (whenever possible) and/or people. So if you can inoculate by simply culturing using some local soils or other materials without harming those areas then great. If not, again I wouldn't worry because if you continue to grow over time the soils will improve. It will happen faster than one might think. I understand people have restrictions or requirements and only you know what you want to do. I can only say in my case I would still use the nitrogen-fixers and/or legumes and anything else I could fit in. Overgrowing is an easy fix and helps in most cases as green mulch, edibles or other uses.  
 
pollinator
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I can't bring soil inoculants into Turkey. Fungi-perfecti send some and they were send back. Same goes from packages from amazon. There are some available here, but not as many as you guys have in the US. I was lucky a couple of years back when friends brought some. Whenever I go to a new place, I fill a small bag with darkest soil I can find, collect as many mushrooms as possible, get some worms. If I have a struggling plant in my garden and I come across to a similar plant, I collect some soil around that plant. It does work. I have been doing this for almost 8 years, most of the legumes has nodules, soil is eating organic matter and plants have more and deeper roots. Maybe you guys in the US start sharing/sending/selling your permie-soils. I would have bought some soil from, say, Joseph Lofthhouse's corn fields (like a pound or so) while buying corn seeds. (He said his corns might also be fixing nitrogen) Soil for fava beans for 5 dollars, or maybe for free as a gift? He is not only growing landrace varieties, he has been growing soil biota for many years now. Landrace soil biota :p What might be a better innoculant than that? There is no laws against sending soil "samples", are they? I don't see where you are from Jason Yoon, OP, or which nitrogen fixing plant of yours lacking bacteria, what holds you asking for some nodules and soil from another permie and us from sending to you? Shipment is pretty fast in the US as I remember.

Frankly I think I do comprehend the thinking behind "build it and they will come". They do come, but I struggle to understand: when? 2 years? 4? 10? People always ask about when critters will arrive in this forum, they are the quickest actually. If you haven't seen any earthworms, they will pop up in less than 2 months. If you build a pond in the middle of a desert, you will have water snails most likely in less than a year (migratory birds). Fungi, bacteria will come with rain and spiders can fly! If you are not looking for specific species, most of the niches will be covered in 5-6 years. Nevertheless, I see two problems with this logic. Firstly, some of us are struggling in the epicenter of a kill-zone. Take Istanbul as an example. Chances for a spider (or a specific bacteria species) to fly into my garden is pretty damn low with the air pollution and a metropolitan area for 15-18 million people surrounded with industrial zones. Or a frog. I believe even some fungi and bacteria are having problems to access. Because of the heat island effect, there have been many incidents that it rained all around Istanbul with not even a single drop for my garden. Secondly, we are not permanent. Our lives are finite. I want to see results not in 10 or 20 years but sooner. I am a strong advocate for kick starting things as completely and vigorously as possible.

I think the main problem with inoculates is that our knowledge is very limited. I don't think we have a wiki-schema of interactions of all soil bacteria and fungi with all plants. Commercial inoculations gets the job done, but number of species is very limited for healthy plant growth. Mixture of 10-20 species can work for annuals, but I believe, we need an inoculant way more diverse than that for trees. Nitrogen fixture is only one required characteristic and one species cannot fill the whole niche. The most impressive tree I have seen in my life was a 25 year old weeping willow in a cemetery. While this tree and others around it were growing like crazy and strongly, other trees were struggling. Luckily I was not the only one who noticed the difference. The deceased guys last wish was to have a weeping willow growing next to his grave. So they brought a young tree from his hometown. While the security guard was linking plant growth with how pure-hearted the guy was and God made his last wish come true, I believe it also has to do something with details such as his hometown being Sapanca (a place famous with its nature) and his relatives taking over the burden to transport a young tree (and the soil biota) all the way from Sapanca. I suspect if they bought a tree from a nursery and inoculated, it would not be able to reach to that huge size.
 
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Despite being required to by a USDA-NRCS Grant for nitrogen-fixation field conversion, the fact that none was purchased escaped the auditors, and I was paid the full amount of the grant.

It would have been a waste of money; innoculants were never needed.

My question to the orginal poster is: did you adjust to get the proper PH levels in the soil? ALWAYS get your PH right, and then apply fertilizer. In our case, as Permies, "applying fertilizer" is sowing nitrogen fixing plants. They will never thrive though if your PH is off for the type of plant you are trying to grow!
 
pollinator
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If inoculant were required, there wouldn't be so many leguminous invasive species.

Inoculant might be required in a sterile environment, such as lab conditions, where random bacterial contamination is undesireable. Because that environment has purposefully been cleansed of ambient bacteria, none will find their way into the growing medium unless introduced.

I would personally put less trust in people trying to separate you from your money and more in the advice of knowledgeable people on this site without an economic angle, or any horse in the race at all, really.

If there's little to no specific science on the subject, there's probably little financial incentive for companies to do the science, which leads me to believe that they don't see a way to make money selling species-specific bacterial symbionts. That suggests, to me, anyway, that perhaps the necessary bacteria are available in the outside environment, ambient and seeking their host plants, so that they may thrive.

Bacteria are mobile. Why wouldn't they be drawn to their preferred foodsource?

-CK
 
Trace Oswald
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I love Joseph's answer.  Nature takes care of itself.  The best we can do is to observe it and do our best to copy it without messing it up too badly.  I must be an outlier in this regard, but if I had to worry about all the things other people seem to worry about, I fear I would have stopped before I started.  I don't worry about inoculants, PH, nematodes, soil testing, or any of the other things that people seem so concerned with.  My recipe is simpler.  I pick a spot where I want to grow things and I pile on every sort of organic material I can find.  I make compost and use that.  I have clay so I add sand.  I add biochar, charcoal, straw, hay, weeds, coffee grounds, chicken bedding and manure, wood chips, leaves, grass, rotting wood, mushroom slurries, and every thing else I can get.  I purchase Azomite and Sea-90, but beyond that, everything I use I find free.  After that, I plant things and get out of the way.  I did my best to help.  After that, I trust nature to take care of the rest.  With trees I do even less.  I grow many, many trees from cuttings.  I plant them and mulch them.  I plant other things nearby that may help them.  Then again, I trust Mother Earth to take care of the rest.  I plant joyfully, not with trepidation that my PH may be off or that I'm missing some nutrient.  

I'm aware of the fact that people like Travis are relying on a farm to earn a living and feed a family, and I understand the need to analyse more deeply than I do in that case, but for me, things are growing beautifully the way nature intends them to.  I don't feel worry when I do these things.  I'm filled with gratitude.  
 
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s. ayalp wrote:... Whenever I go to a new place, I fill a small bag with darkest soil I can find, collect as many mushrooms as possible, get some worms. If I have a struggling plant in my garden and I come across to a similar plant, I collect some soil around that plant. It does work. I have been doing this for almost 8 years, most of the legumes has nodules, soil is eating organic matter and plants have more and deeper roots. Maybe you guys in the US start sharing/sending/selling your permie-soils. I would have bought some soil from, say, Joseph Lofthhouse's corn fields (like a pound or so) while buying corn seeds. (He said his corns might also be fixing nitrogen) Soil for fava beans for 5 dollars, or maybe for free as a gift? He is not only growing landrace varieties, he has been growing soil biota for many years now. Landrace soil biota :p What might be a better innoculant than that?
...
The most impressive tree I have seen in my life was a 25 year old weeping willow in a cemetery. While this tree and others around it were growing like crazy and strongly, other trees were struggling. Luckily I was not the only one who noticed the difference. The deceased guys last wish was to have a weeping willow growing next to his grave. So they brought a young tree from his hometown. While the security guard was linking plant growth with how pure-hearted the guy was and God made his last wish come true, I believe it also has to do something with details such as his hometown being Sapanca (a place famous with its nature) and his relatives taking over the burden to transport a young tree (and the soil biota) all the way from Sapanca. I suspect if they bought a tree from a nursery and inoculated, it would not be able to reach to that huge size.



I have done the digging up good dirt too, and I'd LOVE to see people like Joseph Lofthouse and Travis Johnson selling soil from their good land as inoculant. I would buy it. I think there is a serious niche market here that is not being filled. I agree that if you are starting with bad soil, and bad conditions, a starter culture is useful. I do fermenting etc, and I use a starter culture that I know has a good chance of being at least close to what I want to grow in it. Of course I want to do the same for my dirt! I mix in local soil when I can, but there is so much chemical use around here I don't know where to dig that isn't on the watershed below someplace poisoned. I'd LOVE to see good starter soil sold, by people who have good bacteria and fungi.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Pearl Sutton wrote:I'd LOVE to see people like Joseph Lofthouse and Travis Johnson selling soil from their good land as inoculant.



Ha! I'm already doing that, and didn't even realize. When I grow tomatoes for farmer's market, I prepare a weed free soil mix, but then I inoculate it with soil from underneath last year's tomato plants, and from a years old compost pile that I maintain in the woods. Adding microbes is an integral part of my potting soil recipe.  I'll give some thought to how I could add inoculants to my seed catalog.

I maintain a couple of lichen gardens. I pick up lichen covered sticks and rocks in my travels, and add them to the gardens. It's not obvious that they are growing or spreading from the inoculation sites, but I do what I can to introduce new species and associations into my gardens. Then I step back, and allow mother to take care of her own.

2007-11-24-100.jpg
[Thumbnail for 2007-11-24-100.jpg]
Lichen inoculant
 
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I yanked up the runner beans this week. The roots were covered in nodules, even though I have never inoculated my garden with any kind of microbes.



Doesn't matter, you have to cut one of the nodules and see the color inside.  "A nodule that is actively fixing nitrogen is will be pink to reddish when cut open, rather than tan (ineffective) or green (dying)."

extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/crops/00305.pdf

I remember one guy used inoculants for several years, then just figured out he did not need inoculant any more, was already throughout his garden and rotations.
 
pollinator
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It is possible that only one of your trees have it this year, by next year it will have spread to "infect" another 30trees and by the following year it will be all your trees, Sometimes we just have to be patient.

But like you I might be in a rush so I would recommend buying some inoculation, or you could find some legumes with inoculant and then blend them up and make a slurry to inoculate your seeds, bare root or just the soil.  

Most legumes also "make" phosphorous in addition to nitrogen so even if you have to wait for the nitrogen you can start getting phosphorous earlier. You can also chop and drop legume the same way you would chop and drop any other plant, and they can still provide shade and nectar/etc. Legumes don't just have 1 function they are just like any other plant but they also have an additional function.

Root noodles also change size and color too depending on if the plant is growing, flowering, fruiting, ripening, or shutting down for the fall.
 
Chris Kott
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I wonder if Dr. Redhawk has an opinion.

-CK
 
Jason Yoon
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I am here seeking information and knowledge.  So far, I've heard a lot of suggestions that nature will take care of it.  I am not so sure that this is the case, at least in a time frame that is meaningful to me.  Also, I've seen quite some suspicion of commercial products.  I personally don't have a problem paying for a good service or product.  For example, I have bought worm castings.  Twice now.  Great stuff.  I have also bought red wrigglers and started my own worm farm.  I now have two separate worm farms running, one a fancy one I bought from a company, and another I made myself out of some totes.  

I have never seen a single red wriggler on my land before I purchased them.  I had seen the occasional earthworm, but no compost worms.  Since I spread some of those red wrigglers around various spots in my yard, they are everywhere now.  Everytime I look under some mulch, there they are!  Should I have simply waited for nature to provide me with red composting worms that could magically cross highways and asphalt streets?  I say no!

I don't think there is anything fundamentally wrong with attempting to do things better and in less time.  I don't actually need the nitrogen that legumes would produce on my small piece of land.  I suspect my urine and food scraps alone would be excess fertility for every single plant and tree on my property.  However, I was very much inspired by stories of land restoration, and have dreams of doing my part one day on a much larger property.  

One day I will be ready to sell this house and go all-in on some real acreage.  Until that day, I am practicing all I can, and trying to get as many rookie mistakes out of the way as I can.  I mean, it took me a year to figure out I was severely underwatering my plants, giving them just enough water to stay alive and grow oh so slowly.  I have a fancy degree from a top university, but I had seen so many warnings against overwatering from gardening sites that I completely messed up the other way.  Later, when I saw a Bonsai show and an expert said it takes three years to learn how to properly water your plants, I was like yes!  I can relate to that!

I think inoculating is a valuable tool, no different than using a compost tea to jumpstart the biology in the soil.  The better we understand the process, the better chance we will have of making effective use of nitrogen-fixing trees.  Nothing wrong with giving nature a nudge in the right direction.
 
Jason Yoon
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s. ayalp wrote: I don't see where you are from Jason Yoon, OP, or which nitrogen fixing plant of yours lacking bacteria, what holds you asking for some nodules and soil from another permie and us from sending to you? Shipment is pretty fast in the US as I remember.



I live in Southern California, near Long Beach.  I'd rather not trouble anybody the time and hassle, and besides, there are no guarantees the appropriate bacteria would survive the trip unless it were packaged well.  I've been planning to start attending some permaculture type events soon.  Nearly decided to go to the John D. Liu event in Santa Barbara recently, but an out of town friend showed up so I didn't make it.  If/when I make some permie contacts, I may request a scoop of soil and some cuttings.  Until then, I'll happily use my purchased inoculants on my annual legumes.
 
Travis Johnson
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Trace Oswald wrote:I'm aware of the fact that people like Travis are relying on a farm to earn a living and feed a family, and I understand the need to analyse more deeply than I do in that case, but for me, things are growing beautifully the way nature intends them to.  I don't feel worry when I do these things.  I'm filled with gratitude.  



I was in no way offended by what you said, but thought I should clarify that I farm the same way. I grew up with a grandfather who taught me how to tell if a field needed lime by what the grass tasted like. Take a stalk of timothy and you can actually taste if it is sweet or sour. But if you see queen annes lace, well a person just know it needs lime. But if a field has milk weed, well better get some potash on it. And lack of nitrogen can be ascertained by the inverted vee yellowing that occurs on blades of grass, or the purplish tinge and stunted growth that is a sure sign the soil needs phosphorous.

The problem with all that, is "it is just a guess unless you test."

How much do I apply to get the best growth? Worse yet, some problems like too much phosphorous causes algae blooms in the local water ways. For non-organic farmers it is easy, they just adjust their chemical fertilizers to meet their needs without applying too much, but for people like me using manures...drat, my sheep manure is what it is. For instance my land is high in copper, and sheep and copper do not mix (it is lethal at around 8 ppm for sheep), so I have to make sure I do not exceed that amount.

That is where soil testing helps. It gives a person exact numbers, but I am with you; nature tells you what you need in an overall broad sense.
 
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Jason, as hard as it is to accurately tell what people are feeling from the "tone" of what they type, I feel as if you might be somewhat frustrated by the (lack of) good answers to the very specific question that prompted you to start this thread.  Instead you are getting a lot of the general philosophy that many of us here at Permies tend to apply when specific answers in the realm of ecological science are lacking ... which is the case, sadly, with respect to your question, at least as far as my own research has informed me.  (I am not a scientist, just a good reader and competent web researcher.)  

In your original post, you asked:

Jason Yoon wrote:What about nitrogen fixing trees?  I'm having trouble even finding which bacteria match which nitrogen fixing trees, let alone a source to purchase them.  I did do about an hour's worth of Google searches before this post.  ... Is the knowledge of nitrogen fixing tree bacteria so sparse?  I would appreciate any information on this.  I've seen plenty of good lists on different types of nitrogen-fixing trees, but precious little on how to inoculate them.



I left out your discussion of legumes, but I wonder whether your question does not have built into it the assumption, common among permies, that every leguminous tree is nodulating (if the right bacteria are present) and therefore nitrogen-fixing.  As near as I can tell, that assumption is false.  Many (perhaps a great many) leguminous trees -- including many that are commonly found on lists of nitrogen-fixers, because they were put there by somebody who assumed all legumes are nitrogen-fixers -- cannot be confirmed by science to be nitrogen-fixing.  By which I mean, not only is there no scientific paper in which somebody confirmed nitrogen-fixing ability with lab methods, but nobody out there has a YouTube video of roots they dug up with nodules visible.  Basically, the lists of nitrogen-fixing trees that circulate among permaculture "experts" and publications are like those fantasy lists of dynamic accumulators that list all the wonderful minerals various plants make available -- there isn't any confirming science in most cases, but the lists circulate with apparent authority anyway.  

So, your question needs to be broken down before it can be attacked in any useful way.  Which tree species, specifically, do you want to inoculate?  

1) If your answer is on the relatively short list of well-studied leguminous trees known to be nitrogen-fixing because of thorough science, the relevant bacteria species can probably be Googled on a per-species basis.  Whether a commercial product containing those bacteria is available is then just a matter of online shopping.  

2) Much more likely, you will find that the tree species you want to inoculate are either (a) known by observation to be nodulating, but the bacterial species has never been investigated and is not known; or (b) has never been observed with nodules.  

If 2(a), then this thread is full of useful advice for what to do next.  Either wait for nature or help nature along by collecting soil/bacterial samples from likely sources in a shotgun approach.  Nobody can sell you a product containing just the right bacteria when nobody knows what that bacteria is.

If 2(b) (tree not known to form nodules) you may be wasting your time.  However, it is astonishing to me how much goes unobserved in the natural world.  Certainly you can't buy a commercial inoculant for such trees, but have they never been observed with nodules because nobody looked, or because a particular species of such trees might have been planted so far from their natural point of origin that they have become divorced from their supportive natural biome, or for some other complex ecological reason involving a lack of soil health or web-of-life complexity where the trees are grown?  It's hard to say.  Once again the scattershot (and patient) approaches in this thread offer the only real hope -- however slight -- of bringing the right bacteria in contact with these trees under conditions where they might do some good.  Possibly a fool's errand, but this is a community that exalts ambitions like growing lemon trees in the snow.

So, to put this as plainly as I can:

1) As best we know, not all leguminous trees have nodules or fix nitrogen.
2) We often don't know (for particular species) whether or not they do -- or at least, that information is not web-searchable.
3) Even when we do know that a tree has these capabilities, the specific bacteria involved are not always known.
4) It follows from all of this that the order-off-a-menu guaranteed-minimum-time solutions you are looking for do not exist in this realm.  

Is it frustrating?  Oh, my, yes!  My land is covered with native species of leguminous trees and shrubs and so far, when I've looked them up online, I have yet to find a single damned one of them that is a confirmed nodulating nitrogen fixer.  Nor, in the digging that I've done, have I seen any nodules.   Many questions. No good answers.  Somewhat at odds with the standard orthodoxies of retail-level permaculture, the kind that you see in all the popular books and articles.  And yet, there it is.  The world does not always give us the easy-button that we seek.
 
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It is true that you may not have nitrogen-fixing bacteria in your soil.

When we built our house, there was no topsoil left anywhere nearby, and not even sourdough starter took off.  

I carried in a lot of soil, mulch, leaf litter and prepared my fish hydrolysate, weed tea and compost throughout the years.

One option is to use Korean Natural Farming practices and prepare an IMO (Indigenous Microorganisms). Cook rice with 1:1 water. Put this in a rattan basket and bury at soil level at somewhere where there is lush growth. Cover
the basket with newspaper and secure it with rubber bands.

After a while, you will see white mycelium growing on the rice along with other micro-organisms. Mix inoculated rice with sugar 1:1 ratio. Once it is like a slurry, dilute and use it in your soil. You may need some more organic material in the soil too.

The other reason that you don't see the nodules would be that the soil is already saturated with nitrogen but judging from what you are saying, this doesn't seem to be the case.
 
Jason Yoon
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Dan Boone wrote:Jason, as hard as it is to accurately tell what people are feeling from the "tone" of what they type, I feel as if you might be somewhat frustrated by the (lack of) good answers to the very specific question that prompted you to start this thread.  Instead you are getting a lot of the general philosophy that many of us here at Permies tend to apply when specific answers in the realm of ecological science are lacking ... which is the case, sadly, with respect to your question, at least as far as my own research has informed me.  (I am not a scientist, just a good reader and competent web researcher.)



You nailed it Dan.  I am keeping in mind that everyone is attempting to be helpful, but I am aiming for as much precision as practically possible.

Dan Boone wrote:

I left out your discussion of legumes, but I wonder whether your question does not have built into it the assumption, common among permies, that every leguminous tree is nodulating (if the right bacteria are present) and therefore nitrogen-fixing.  As near as I can tell, that assumption is false.  Many (perhaps a great many) leguminous trees -- including many that are commonly found on lists of nitrogen-fixers, because they were put there by somebody who assumed all legumes are nitrogen-fixers -- cannot be confirmed by science to be nitrogen-fixing.  By which I mean, not only is there no scientific paper in which somebody confirmed nitrogen-fixing ability with lab methods, but nobody out there has a YouTube video of roots they dug up with nodules visible.  Basically, the lists of nitrogen-fixing trees that circulate among permaculture "experts" and publications are like those fantasy lists of dynamic accumulators that list all the wonderful minerals various plants make available -- there isn't any confirming science in most cases, but the lists circulate with apparent authority anyway.  



Yes, exactly.  It's not even that I truly distrust what I am being told about the value of nitrogen-fixing trees.   I just question which trees will do some work for me here in my location.  There isn't much documentation on how much nitrogen is actually being fixed by many of these leguminous trees.  And you are also correct that not all legumes fix nitrogen.  Off the top of my head it was roughly 1 in 7 that do not fix nitrogen.  There's a subfamily or class where almost none fix nitrogen.  I loved the idea of the STUN or shotgun method when I heard about it, but it isn't appropriate for everybody or everyplace.  It's certainly not appropriate for a home with room for maybe 30 small trees maximum.  I also don't like the prospects of attempting a larger scale restoration agriculture project while counting on nitrogen-fixing support trees that are simply not pulling their weight.  

Dan Boone wrote:
Is it frustrating?  Oh, my, yes!  My land is covered with native species of leguminous trees and shrubs and so far, when I've looked them up online, I have yet to find a single damned one of them that is a confirmed nodulating nitrogen fixer.  Nor, in the digging that I've done, have I seen any nodules.   Many questions. No good answers.  Somewhat at odds with the standard orthodoxies of retail-level permaculture, the kind that you see in all the popular books and articles.  And yet, there it is.  The world does not always give us the easy-button that we seek.



Yes, it's exactly that situation of non-nodulating trees I am attempting to avoid.  Thank you for sharing that!  Not everyone would be so open.  It's not a question of whether a tree has any value.  Sure, I absolutely agree that almost any living root in the ground is preferable to bare ground.  But why that tree in particular?  Why not a different one?  Or maybe that one, but how do we help it achieve its true potential?  Perhaps not with blind faith in Mother Nature, or the patience of a rock, but with some hard questions, and some hard thinking and searching for answers.  I thank you for your post ... you seem to understand exactly why I started this thread, as well as how frustrating it is finding exact answers to these questions with just google searches.  
 
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Dan Boone wrote:Jason, as hard as it is to accurately tell what people are feeling from the "tone" of what they type, I feel as if you might be somewhat frustrated by the (lack of) good answers to the very specific question that prompted you to start this thread.  Instead you are getting a lot of the general philosophy that many of us here at Permies tend to apply when specific answers in the realm of ecological science are lacking ... which is the case, sadly, with respect to your question, at least as far as my own research has informed me.  (I am not a scientist, just a good reader and competent web researcher.)




I can somewhat understand this, but also must say, what happens a lot of the time, and particularly online is; original posters get suggestions they just do not want to get.

For instance I disagree that the Jason did not get his original question answered, in fact in review several of us did answer him, it is just not in the way he really wanted. In skimming off the dross, you can see in my first reply my answer was that inoculants are not needed. Others did as well when you skim off the dross of their replies. A lot of that is just observation and experience.

For instance, I have a nitrogen-fixing tree here that is non-native, so there is no reason to believe that an inoculant is here in the soil as no trees are within miles and miles of it, yet it is 5 feet in diameter and healthy. New trees are everywhere along its base. I seriously doubt my ancestors used inoculants here when they planted the tree 200 years ago. But that is knowing history, observation and experience, not science. And so it is with my nitrogen fixing clovers...no inoculants needed, but the town I live in has the best soil in Maine, and I fertilize and lime my fields well...maybe that is why.

Generally speaking people go to a forum for history, experience and observation, and go to universities and other research sites for science. Thankfully on Permies, many have already visited a host of sites so there is both, which is why I believe this site is as big as it is.

Myself: somethings I think I am ostracized because I do have a big farm and people automatically nullify my history, experience and observation because they feel size is irrelevant to their situation. But that is a feeling, an emotion, and a poor thing for me  to make judgements on.

And if is just as wrong for me to think people are biased against me, it is just as wrong to be biased against someone for the size of their farm too. We all need open minds. That should include replies that we may not want to get. Trust me, it has happened to me, many, many times on here..."drat, I did not want to hear that, but it makes sense." Thankfully by having an open mind, it has netted me serious dividends. Like my Tiny House. The cool factor of building a Tiny House is pretty high, but so was the cost, people kept saying, "just move to the Tiny House you currently have", and when we did, the final cost was $1800. Eating crow is tastless sometimes, but in my case, was cheap. I am glad in any case that I listened to something i did not want to.
 
Dan Boone
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Travis Johnson wrote:What happens a lot of the time, and particularly online is; original posters get suggestions they just do not want to get.



Indeed, yes!  So much so that I have a stock semi-humorous paragraph ready to cut-n-paste about it:

In The Fellowship Of The Ring Frodo famously says "Go not to the elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes." Our local version of this ought to be "go not to permies.com for advice on how to do a thing, for they will tell you at length how to do something else entirely."

I'm afraid it's the permies.com superpower. That hard thing you want to do? People imbued with permaculture thinking are much more likely to have some clever scheme for doing an easier thing instead, or possibly even for doing nothing and calling it "more sustainable". I've been on the receiving end of this enough times to know how infuriating it can be, and yet it really is the permaculture way.



Travis Johnson wrote:For instance I disagree that the Jason did not get his original question answered, in fact in review several of us did answer him, it is just not in the way he really wanted. In skimming off the dross, you can see in my first reply my answer was that inoculants are not needed. Others did as well when you skim off the dross of their replies.



I don't feel that this reflects a close reading of Jason's original post, which in my opinion contains two substantial questions, one dependent on the other.  The first, which he attacks and phrases half a dozen different ways, boils down to "Why is it so hard to find the precise information about nitrogen-fixing bacteria for leguminous trees, or does this information even exist?"  The second, phrased somewhat contentiously by Permies.com standards, and informed by his frustration that an hour spent on Google didn't answer the first question, boils down to "what's the point to having these trees if I can't guarantee that they are working for me by buying a special powder that has the right bacteria in it?"

Everybody on here has focused on answering that second question -- not so much the "what's the point?" part but the "you don't need a special powder" responses.  A point of view with which, by the way, I am in profound agreement; I would no more buy an inoculant product for my land than I would buy magic beans from a shady character I met on my way to the market to buy food for my starving family.  But everybody ignored the first and IMO most interesting part of his question, which has to do with the lack of good information available about the many species of leguminous trees and the circumstances under which they do, or do not, fix nitrogen.  


Travis Johnson wrote:For instance, I have a nitrogen-fixing tree here that is non-native, so there is no reason to believe that an inoculant is here in the soil as no trees are within miles and miles of it, yet it is 5 feet in diameter and healthy. New trees are everywhere along its base. I seriously doubt my ancestors used inoculants here when they planted the tree 200 years ago. But that is knowing history, observation and experience, not science.



I'm asking out of genuine curiosity, not argumentativeness: do you have any notion of whether the tree is actually fixing nitrogen, or whether it's simply happy because it has a well-established root system with access to plenty of nutrients?  I mean, my assumption would be the same as what I expect yours is: if the tree is a known nitrogen-fixing species, and it's thriving, it presumably found the symbiotic bacteria needed in nature to do its nitrogen-fixing thing.  But the part of me that understands science is uncomfortably aware that assumptions are built into that; the tree *could* be thriving without fixing any nitrogen at all.  I think it by far the less likely hypothesis, but I have to acknowledge it.
 
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Dan Boone wrote:

Travis Johnson wrote:What happens a lot of the time, and particularly online is; original posters get suggestions they just do not want to get.



Indeed, yes!  So much so that I have a stock semi-humorous paragraph ready to cut-n-paste about it:

In The Fellowship Of The Ring Frodo famously says "Go not to the elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes." Our local version of this ought to be "go not to permies.com for advice on how to do a thing, for they will tell you at length how to do something else entirely."



I too feel a great deal of frustration when I ask a question and someone tells me to do something else entirely, but I don't think it's quite the same thing in this scenario.  In this case, the OP asked about using inoculants for his trees, and many of the responses were to the effect that nature would take care of inoculating it for you.  In my mind, that isn't the same thing as if I were to come on and ask "how do I find the correct line for my swales?" and someone were to answer "Why would you use swales?  Hugelkultur is better."
 
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Dan Boone wrote:  But everybody ignored the first and IMO most interesting part of his question, which has to do with the lack of good information available about the many species of leguminous trees and the circumstances under which they do, or do not, fix nitrogen.  


That's a very good question. Has it not been studied?  Or is there data out there so tangled up we can't find it? Might be an interesting project for someone to see if there is uncollated data out there that could be collected into one place where it could be found (and posted to Permies!)
 
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