Many have heard of EM mixtures, sold worldwide with cultures of effective microorganisms, that due to their symbiotic relationships with each other can benefit the microorganisms’ ecosystem in our soils, compost piles and toilets. They are known to boost yield and speed the composting process and are sold worldwide for their positive effect.
You can read more about the commercial brands of EM and the process of their discovery by Dr.Teruo Higa from Japan in Wikipedia.
There are three types of microbial life that come together to form the mixture. It is not a certain strain of microbes that holds the key, but rather the combination of the different groups that gives the positive effect we are looking for.
These groups are:
- Lactic acid bacteria: these bacteria are found in the air and are the same ones we use to make sauerkrauts and other lacto-fermented foods.
- Yeast: unicellular fungi, found in the air, used for thousands of years for brewing and baking.
- Phototrophic: Bacteria that uses photosynthesis for energy production. Found in healthy forest soils, earthworms castings, and manure, among other places.
Now how do we get all of them to work together for us? We create a medium of wheat bran and molasses, add micro organisms we harvested in different ways, and put them through an anaerobic fermentation process. Easy.
I learned the recipe from Itai Hauben at IPC10, and have used it successfully with a few modifications.
Recipe for 200 liters of mixture:
- 25 liters of fertile forest soil. It should have a white mycelium layer, and shouldn’t have any other funky colors (orange, bright green, red…). Another option is to use manure.
- 25 liters wheat bran
- 25 liters of charcoal powder
- 50 liters of sawdust from a soft tree
- 2 liters of raw milk
- 3-5 liters of molasses or another cheap and non-refined sweetener (I’ve used date syrup)
- 200 grams of yeast — you can use moist yeast that one buys at a grocery store. I’ve used yeast from 2 other origins: kombucha, which I brew at home, and a sourdough starter that a friend uses for bread baking. I also added about a glass of water from our homemade lacto-fermented dill pickles.
- Water — the original recipe I got said about 1-2 liters of water but we had to add about 3-4 times as much. Considering the climate differences this is a variable ingredient. The goal is to get 60% moisture.
If you grab a piece in your hand, your hand should not be dry, nor should you have water dripping on you. Your hand should stay shiny and moist.
- Mix the dry and wet materials separately and then mix them all together.
- Allow the mixture to ferment in a container with a wide opening and a tight lid. To release pressure in the anaerobic conditions created in the container, we used a simple plastic airlock from a beer brewing kit, but you can also make your own airlock by making a small hole (1cm diameter) in the lid and then squeezing a hose into it. The other end of the hose is placed in a bottle of water. You should see the air bubbles coming out of the water in the bottle.
- 5-7 days later, there are no more bubbles coming out the hose. That’s the sign that the mixture is ready. When you open it, it should small like bread, beer and wine. If it went wrong it will small so bad you wouldn’t want to come near it.
Directions for use:
- You can use the mixture right away, as is, but if you want to keep it and use it bit by bit you need first to sun dry it.
- Spread the mixture into a thin layer to dry, turning it frequently. Once dry it can be stored and used for a whole year.
- Add a spoonful to your compost toilet after each visit. This will reduce smells, speedup the composting process and balance nitrogen access.
- Mix it into your soil to create a good microorganism environment before planting.
- Add to your mulch basin every once in a while.
- Make a liquid formula buy mixing in proportions of 1 part mixture to 20 parts water and 0.5 part molasses. After 24 hours it is ready to use.
The liquid should be used within two weeks. You can spray it on your veggies and it will be absorbed through the leaves. Spray on a meadow and your animals can benefit from it as well.
I know some people who use this kind of liquid even to clean their homes, I plan to keep investigating other uses in the future.
Good luck and have a good time with your new microbe friends.