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Why Plants Love Probiotics

by on October 11, 2010

Probiotics. Definition? “Live microorganisms that, when applied in the correct numbers, benefit their host.” Definition in English? Bacteria that benefit the living thing that’s carrying them around (plants, animals, you).

That’s right. Humans, just like plants, can benefit from probiotics, which reduce risk of disease and boost the general health of their host. At this point, we could go on to discuss how probiotic yogurt can make you live longer, enable you to fly, etc – but instead, we’ll accept the fact that probiotics do promote health and keep moving.

We’re here to talk about how probiotics help plant health – and more specifically, how compost enhances soil flora. First, it’s important to note that plants don’t have stomachs that digest food/extract nutrients. Instead, plants suck in minerals, nutrients, water, and active probiotic bacteria located near their root zone.

Second, it’s important to know what’s meant by “soil flora.” Soil flora refers to the bacteria, fungi, and other microbes, whether beneficial or harmful, that thrive in a particular soil. The more beneficial the bacteria and fungi are, the more “fertile” the soil is. These microorganisms convert energy in the soil into forms which plants can use by turning complex molecules into simpler ones plants can absorb. Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen molecules make up 95 percent of a plant’s actual mass; none of these are in the correct form.  The microorganisms gobble them up, expel simpler compounds, and the plants eat them up. Again, the more beneficial microorganisms, the better the soil flora. The healthier the soil, the lower the need for synthetic herb/pesticides and fertilizers – which is, of course, good for the environment.

Aerobic “with oxygen” compost has good flora; vermicompost (worm composting) has a great microbial flora. This is why composted soil is so great for your garden – it’s high in probiotic microorganisms that promote plant life.  A healthy soil flora (rich with probiotic bacteria and fungi) will attack and defend plants against harmful microbes in addition to feeding them. Healthy soil flora is essential, then, for keeping plants healthy.

“But what about the yogurt?” you might say. “I thought probiotics could boost my health!” This is where the bubble bursts. While probiotics do promote human health, they don’t necessarily boost health. Rather, a lack of healthy flora weakens you. We live in a time when we don’t naturally eat all of the bacteria we used to – so we have to supplement our diet with additional microbes. So probiotics only “boost” your health because we’re generally deficient in bacteria in the first place.  Still, it’s a good thing to eat those bugs!

From → Composting

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