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  • Naomi Stephens | Permaculture Designer

How to increase Beneficial Bacteria and Fungi in an Apartment Garden

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

Learning permaculture and studying the soil food web taught me that nature is optimal when it comes to balancing and correcting itself with available resources and connections.

Plants work very closely with the micro-organisms they are surrounded by in the soil. In a way that cannot be seen by the naked eye.

Plants connect with bacteria and fungi forming a beneficial relationship in which both counterparts benefit.

We can enhance our plant growth by mimicking this relationship found in nature. Read on to find out how.

Click on the links to go to the section or simply scroll down.

Root bound plant container

1. How do plants use Bacteria to get Nitrogen?

Nitrogen is necessary for the plants to make proteins, amino acids and DNA. Plants need nitrogen but they can't directly absorb it in its raw form. This is where nature steps in and forms beneficial relationships between organisms.

There are bacteria in the soil, like Archaea bacteria, that converts nitrogen into nitrates and ammonium, which allows the plant to absorb nitrogen that way.

Archaea bacteria are one of the only forms of bacteria we know that can thrive in the harshest of environments, for this reason, they are on a category of their own.

You'll find them in environments that have a ph level of 1, as well as in hot pools where the temperatures remain consistently at a level that would kill most bacteria.

Luckily, scientists still find Archaea in our gardens producing nitrogen for plants even after pesticide use.

Rhizobia bacteria are another helper of converting nitrogen too. They live inside plant roots converting nitrogen in exchange for shelter and free food.

2. How do plants ask for help in the first place?

The answer to this question is Exudates. This is a secretion in the roots of plants, almost like a tantalising perfume.

Plants change what kind of perfume to give off depending on the kinds of bacteria they want to attract. Each kind of bacteria gives off different by-products that are nutrients for the plants.

An Exudate is like a promise of what the plant will give to the bacteria in return for their by-products.

This way, even though a plant is an immovable biological life form, it remains in control of sourcing water and nutrients through the means of other life forms.

3. How do plants use organisms to gather nutrients?

Plants can't simply go out and find water and nutrients, they need help from more mobile organisms.

There are fungi called Mycorrhiza, that attach to the roots of plants and spread out far and wide.

They source water and nutrients in the soil and bring it back to the plant in exchange for food the plant provides. Mycorrhiza can do this for two or more plants at the same time.

An astonishing 90% of all plants form this relationship to get the quantities of nutrients and water that it needs.

4. How to add organisms to your apartment garden.

As a small space gardener we have learned how important bacteria and fungi are for plant growth and we must replicate what happens in nature in our containers, in order for our plants to thrive.

This is why I highly recommend that you concentrate not just on watering the plants or providing minerals, but more importantly inoculating your plants with bacteria and fungi and feeding them with a consistent fertilisation regimen.

There are some really easy ways to do this even in a small space garden with no outdoor space.

You can get your hands on extremely rich beneficial bacteria and fungi just by using worm castings see the article by clicking below:

Alternatively, you can buy beneficial fungi to add straight to your garden.

I recommend adding Mycorrhizal Fungi from RootGrow. Which has been endorsed by the Royal Horticultural Society RHS. It's currently £9.99, click here to see it on Amazon

Lastly, you could use bokashi composting in your apartment. It's a process of composting using beneficial bacteria similar to the ones found in probiotic pills.

It's all done in a bucket and you can harvest the liquid, dilute it 1:20 and add beneficial bacteria to your garden that way.

Or you can actually turn the pre-compost into usable compost. See my articles below:


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Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels



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