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activating effective microbes in big batches

Posted by Michael Phillips 
activating effective microbes in big batches
January 21, 2013 05:52PM
Effective microbes can be activated so as to make twenty-two times as much by volume of the purchased mother culture. This mix of probiotic organisms offers what I call biological reinforcement on the canopy surface to assist fruit trees in fending off disease organisms. The notion of competitve colonization is one of the keys to the holistic method. Some growers are using compost tea for this; a few are exploring a mix of tea and em; I'm pleased with the results of activated effective microbes alone. This post is meant to get discussion going on better methods for successful brewing.

Explicit details to do this in gallon batches are provided in The Holistic Orchard. In a nutsell, the goal is to maintain a temperature on the order of 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the first 2 to 3 days of the brew process to get the lactic acid bacteria in the culture actively reproducing . . . followed by maintaining the temperature closer to 78 degrees Fahrenheit for another 5 to 7 days after that while the photosynthetic bacteria awaken from dormancy.

Now I want to up the ante and start doing this on barrel scale in batches of 44 gallons at a time (not quite a full barrel suits my scale). The amount of mother culture required to start such a quantity of brew will be 2 gallons, along with the same volume of blackstrap molasses to feed the critters within. Our man Tim made a suggestion in another post about using a Uline drum heater to "thaw" a barrel of pure neem oil. This looks liike a very useful means to maintain a constant barrel temperature for activating effective microbes. The thermostat range goes from 50 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit for a plastic drum. That certainly suits. I do understand from the manufacturer that the thermostat is more like a lo-hi deal so you'd want to monitor the results with a separate thermometer. The question is has anybody in the network given this a try? Or do you have another suggestion entirely?

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 06/20/2013 04:00PM by Michael Phillips.
Re: activating effective microbes in big batches
February 04, 2013 07:28PM
Does anyone have a source for larger quantities of EM? The cheapest source I've seen is fedco seed at $25.00 a quart-2 1/2 gallons at this price is a little steep! Thanks
Re: activating effective microbes in big batches
February 04, 2013 09:24PM
Two reputable suppliers in the US are TeraGanix and SCD Probiotics. Links to both are on the Grower Resources page at GrowOrganicApples. I've used ProBio Balance from SCD in my earliest trials with microbe cultures. Growers will find the trademarked EM-1 product from TeraGanix contains a wider array of microbe species. This is the original culture as developed by Dr. Higa in Japan, and the one with which most of the research into effective microorganisms has been done.

I've learned a few things in investigating current pricing for this season ahead:
    -Last year I apparently ordered the wrong product from SCD, a culture called Bio Ag, with five gallons costing $109. including free shipping. Certainly this appeared as economical as all get out at first glance. Bio Ag, however, is not the complete culture I had been using in previous seasons. Its the ProBio Balance Plus culture that contains those important photosynthetic bacteria. Last season turned out to be fruitless (due to spring cold) so no harm done.

    -You will be linked to Innovative Probiotics for direct retail sales of SCD products here in the states. The five gallon size of ProBio Balance Plus costs $279.95. Shipping is now being charged on bulk quantities, which in choosing ground delivery by UPS here to New Hampshire, currently adds $36.35 to the cost, resulting in a total of $316.30.

    -This compares to $249 for five gallons of the EM-1 Microbial Inoculant offered by TeraGanix. Shipping via ground delivery by UPS here to New Hampshire, currently adds $49.91 to the cost, resulting in a total of $299.90.
Competitve colonization is a bit more costly than I thought last season. This investment for five gallons of mother culture results in 110 gallons of activated effective microbes. The recommended rate from the manufacturer is 1 to 4 gallons per acre per spray. I went with the low end when first using EM but now envision using two gallons per acre for foliar application and 4 gallons per acre for ground application as a result of brewing bigger batches. This quantity allows for both 2 ground apps (early spring and fall) and 8 foliar apps for four acres of orchard/garden, with a little left as well for livestock and composting use. Change the math to get an acreage appropriate for your own intentions.

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 02/05/2013 09:43PM by Michael Phillips.
Re: activating effective microbes in big batches
March 03, 2013 03:35PM
I buy my EM at Teraganix. I've been brewing it in a five gallon bucket with molasses(same amount of EM) and putting the bucket in a black 55 gallon drum in my greenhouse, I checked the ph and it was roughly between 3.5 and 4, after a few days, but after that the temps in my greenhouse fluctuate too much between day and night. So this year I will prepare it in 55 gallon drum and I'm buying the Uline drum Heater for plastic to be more specific with temperature. I spoke with the Uline rappresentative and they told me I can use the plastic heater also for metal drums(Neem Oil), hope it works.
I have a couple of questions on how to make the best EM's:
1. Do you need an aerator like compost tea or not? I was thinking to use one of my empty "fish" drums for this year EM, with 2 small opening(screws in), do you need to get air every day out of the drum??
2. I understand the temps on the first 2-3 days and the following 5-7 days, but then after that, what temp should i keep it? I saw a Youtube video of this guy saying you can use the EM up to 30-40 days......so after the 7th or 8th day, what is the best temp?

Thank you.

Westwind Orchard
Zone 5b in New York

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 03/03/2013 11:24PM by Fabio Chizzola.
Re: em aeration / holding period
March 18, 2013 03:17PM
An aerator is not necessary to activate effective microbes, Fabio. This has to do with the groupings of microbes chosen to make the em culture as originally developed by Dr. Higa in Japan. This is a liquid culture of facultative anaerobic microbes that provide organic benefits when combined together in specific proportions. These are microbes that can live both in air with oxygen, and also in low oxygen conditions. That last bit explains why a bulk volume of liquid can be left to brew cut off from an active air supply. I would screw those caps on loosely and even then plan to "burp the barrels" during that first week of activation at temperature. The pH test tells you when activation has essentially stabilized, once the brew tests at 3.8 or less.

Microbe cultures are said to shift 30 to 40 days down the road, but at what pace and in which direction, I do not know. A first barrel batch ready by the week of quarter-inch green followed by a second barrel batch ready by petal fall/first cover seems about right for orchard purposes. I plan on brewing in my farmhouse cellar, as its warmer than in the barn early on but then definitely cooler during the summer months. My scale is such that I won't brew a third or fourth round unless I choose to activate partial batches come the summer cover period. I have not yet decided about that. I'm open to seeing what's on hand for the fall spray several months later if I do choose to do a full barrel in round two.

We have things to learn in making things practical for growers.

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/27/2013 12:31AM by Michael Phillips.
Re: activating effective microbes in big batches
May 27, 2013 12:47AM
Reporting back ... the Uline heating belt worked well for this purpose. I preheated the water the first 36 hours on the high setting then got to brewing. I found setting the dial at "6" resulted in keeping temps steady around 100 F for the first phase of the lactic acid bacteria activation for three days. Subsequently, I set the dial at "2" to keep the temps more in the 75-80 F range for the photosynthetic bacteria to come up to snuff. I kept a folded sleeping bag (or try a blanket) across the barrel top to help hold in the heat. This process in my farmstead basement environment (not exactly warm!) brought the em brew to a pH of 3.5 in approximately ten days. Perfecto. Bulk activation works on a small scale. The cost of the Uline heater belt is admittedly ridiculous -- $240 with shipping -- but so it is. I suppose one could take plant propagation mats and tape them accordingly to the barrel. My placement of "the belt" was at the lower rib, and even then I aided heat dispersion with occasional physical rocking of the barrel. I think it best to activate 2 gallons of mother culture at a time ... thus make a 44 gallon batch ... in order to allot air space enough to shake things up. Now at petal fall, so will be making a next batch shortly for the summer months. This is a big improvement over single gallon activation with hot water bottles in a cooler on the kitchen floor.

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/08/2013 08:54PM by Michael Phillips.
Re: activating effective microbes in big batches
May 30, 2013 07:16AM
The Uline Drum Heater sure does look like the right solution.

I have found over the years that Uline doesnt make a number of the items they sell, but rather they resell them. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but as costs are always key to the farmer's bottom line, I wanted to toss out an alternative source to Uline (possible the company who makes the drum heaters for them anyway) called BriskHeat Corporation in Columbus, Ohio.

Here is a link to their drum heater offerings . . . The one that looks equivalent to Ulines offering starts at $188 each for the 55 gallon rated size


One other plus to BriskHeat Corporation is that they are heating specialists that service a dozen different industries. Should any of the HON members and guests need technical support on our specific applications, they will have folks on hand who are very capable of providing technical assistance. . . . and they have distributors across the US and Canada too.

Gopher Hill Apples
Zone 8 in California
Re: activating effective microbes in big batches
June 20, 2013 04:02PM
One other comment here concerning the keeping qualities of activated brew. This certainly becomes relevant in brewing bigger batches for making several or more sprays. My first barrel of the season was started on April 16 and I used those microbes through the 1st summer holistic spray made on June 12. The pH of the batch continued to drop all that while to 3.0 at the very end ... which is a very good indication of species stability with facultative organisms. This spread of time is approximately 60 days, double that of the manufacturer's recommendation to use activated em within 30 days. Had the intervening pH risen back above 3.8, I would have questioned just what was happening with those photosynthetic bacteria. The lactic acid bacteria and yeast tend to be far more stable, even as the pH rises.

This is eminently practical for a small to midsize community orchard as growers need a reasonable shelf life in the midst of it all. The new batch of effective microbes (started last week) is about done processing and thus will be ready in time for the 2nd summer holistic spray envisioned early next week. This will carry me through July and August. My final gallon of mother culture (having purchased a 5-gallon tote for the season) will be activated in early October for the fall application.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 07/08/2013 08:57PM by Michael Phillips.
Re: activating effective microbes in big batches
November 07, 2013 05:57AM
I'm confused by the instructions given by Michael and the instructions of the TeranGanix website for "activating the EMs". Their activation process will make 10 gallons for each gallon that you start with and it doesn't involve the high heat discussed above. It does mention a fermentation process like you would use for hard cider: putting the solution in a carboy with molasses and an airlock for a week or so at room temperature and watching the pH. Is this the same as the heat method? If so we only need one gallon to make 10 gallons.

Fruitilicious Farm
Zone 9b in California
Re: activating effective microbes in big batches
November 08, 2013 02:54AM
Methinks you have landed in a cul-de-sac of misinformation, Zea ... which is so easy to do on the web! I went to the TeraGanix site just now. It clearly states that the activation ratio for EM-1 is 22 to 1. Other companies indicate the same. The notion of LOW HEAT is to accelerate the reproductive cycle of the organisms in the brew. Do this at room temperature and it may take 3 to 6weeks, and that's if you bring the brew into your living space. Finally, the airlock. Not necessary if your volume container is essentially filled to the brim, and even then probably not necessary. The airlock allows you to skip "burping the barrel" but it's not like vinegar mother takes over. This discussion stands as a practical way to brew effective microbes as needed for orchard use.

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire
Re: activating effective microbes in big batches
April 05, 2014 08:30PM
Slightly off the thrust of this thread, but perhaps useful for us small-time growers. I have 1/3 of an acre, with ~180 trees, so need less than barrel amounts, but more than backyard amounts. I am brewing in 1 gal batches from mother culture, and bumped up against the question of how best to maintain the desired initial 50 degree C temperature. There is a surprisingly sophisticated gadget sold widely on-line called an STC-1000. If you can afford to wait a couple of weeks, these are sold for less than $20 by eBay vendors in China, or a little more from North American suppliers with faster delivery. (My last one cost $15, with free shipping). They are used by aquarium fanciers and home brewers, and, once one figures out how to set them, will maintain a temperature within 0.5 degrees. They come with a temperature sensor on a long wire, and provide switched power control to both heating elements and small refrigeration units. (Limitations on power consumption of both, but if this is a sigificant problem, one can simply drive an external relay with a higher power rating from the STC-1000.) I am using a heating unit which was designed as a hot pad to keep a pot of food warm at the table, and it has worked perfectly. (To be specific, I have a bucket of water, into which I immerse my jug of brew, and put the sensor in the water rather than the brew itself. But the sensor is completely sealed, and indeed food-grade plastic, so it could equally be immersed directly into the brew.)
The hot pad cost me $2 in a garage sale; the STC-1000 was $16.50. Bingo - less than $20 and we're in business. (Actually, I have other intentions for this rig also - we are making our own cheeses, and this process needs both controlled warmth initially and, later, controlled cool storage for maturation.)
Only caution: make sure that the unit you are buying is rated for 110 Volts; many are made for 220 V, and jury-rigging them for North American power is a pain. And if anybody does choose to follow this path, and wants help in following the instructions for setting the temperature, (which are written in Chinese English), feel free to contact me directly and I will happily give you direction.

Broomholm Orchard
Zone 5b in Nova Scotia
Re: activating effective microbes in big batches
April 07, 2014 04:18AM
I'm a small operation like David , 80 three-quarter size trees (15' high) I make my em's in gallon milk jugs and put them in a spare oven with the light on (60W bulb). I have to watch that they don't overheat, may have to crack the door some. Building a wooden box would be the same, putting vents in so heat could be controlled .

Another thought. My dad was a beekeeper. Honey went into 45gal drums for storage . When it came time to package honey for sale he would need it to flow. He put a 150W light bulb under the barrel and a cut down refrigerator box over top to keep the heat confined. A couple days like this brought it up to flow. Might that work for your bigger batches of em's ?

Curious as to how much effective microbes others use in their tank sprays ? My supplier said I should use 1 liter per 50 gals .

[Editor's Note: Let's take a discussion about "biological rates and frequency of em applications" to a new thread please.]

Hillview Heritage Farm
Zone 5*in British Columbia

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/07/2014 02:26PM by Michael Phillips.
Re: activating effective microbes in big batches
April 23, 2014 03:49AM
One wee bit to add here as I start my first barrel brew for a new growing season. I met up with Eric Lancaster of TeraGanix this now past winter conference season. Eric informed me that adding 1% by volume humic acid to the activation insures that the desired microbes will maintain long-term in proper proportion. As in a full 9 to 12 months down the road, plenty of time to preserve the current season's efforts to start the next season. I'm quite convinced that a dropping pH speaks to this same result. Being able to replicate the shelf life of the purchased product seems on board to me.

Here's the thing: Dormant microbes - whether the "mother culture" as purchased from the supplier or a well-stored activation -- need some time to wake up on the plant surface. No one speaks about this. The recommended "use within the next 30 days" window after activation informs us as growers that microbes are rarin' to go. But what about sleeping organisms? I've handled this with an additional charge of molasses in the foliar application to provide immediate nutrition. Yet I have no idea if dormant microbes have a day or two (or even three) lag time. Maybe not, maybe so. Certainly as the barrel starts to turn we have full activation ... but does it matter if "our competitive crowd" starts off asleep?

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire
Re: activating effective microbes in big batches
March 31, 2015 01:31AM
OK, now I've added EM to my Spring sprays and I only have one drum heater belt and I need help switching the belt around. I've been doing compost tea for years and using Aquaeon 300 watt Aquarium heaters (3 of them) to get my 240 gals of tea to 70+ degrees F. They are around 25.00 ea. from Amazon. Well, right now we are in the heat of the season with Neem and EM needed at the same time. It takes four 300 gallon tanks of spray mix to do my 15+ acres. I always keep an extra Aquaeon around in case of a failure and needed Tea, Good EM and Neem simutaneously. Well once the EM is activated and only needs to be in the 75 degree zone the extra Aquaeon does the job. Oh yeah these are 40-44 gal EM batches. Much easier to manage. I will look into Mr. Maxwell's STC 1000 thing soon, sounds very interesting. I guess I'm a year behind on this. Also newer idea on Neem heat up is to put the belt way down at the bottom and crank it up to it's highest setting (10) and it is fluid in 15-20 mins. We used to heat it up all night at setting 5 or 6 with belt near, not at bottom...but because neccesity is the Mothers of Invention...we forgot to put it on one night...so we had to try it out! Now we're thinking this is a better way to keep higher level of Neemishness by not heating and cooling the whole enchilada over and over again. From Michael editors's note above I'd love exploring EM rates and frequency and add efficacy to that in another thread. Maybe it already started---better get looking.

The Apple Farm
Zone 8b in California
Re: activating effective microbes in big batches
March 31, 2015 03:43PM
The activation phase lasts 7 to 10 days with heat as described above. This process happens at lower temperatures -- as a result of providing food (molasses) to the microbes -- but then activation can take weeks until the "pH drop-off" is observed. Increasing acidity indicates the select strains of microbes have fully populated the larger volume of brew, and in fact, turned towards dormancy until such time as we introduce the gang to the spray tank. It strikes me that keeping the barrel warm beyond the activation phase may not be necessary. On the other hand, Tim may be on to something good with respect to taking these facultative organisms from the brew drum "rarin' to go" out onto the plant surface. The mixing time in the spray tank, with the microbes now introduced to new foods in the form of seaweed and fatty acids, certainly plays a role here as well.

Now let's add a controversial element ... Elaine Ingham has stated (and I wish I could find her exact words here) that upon checking species diversity in effective microbes following activation ... only once has she found the acclaimed photosynthetic bacteria under a light microscope. And that one time corresponded with a grower who introduced aeration to the em activation process. No surprises here, coming from Elaine. Lines are clearly drawn in the sand between the aerated microbe camp and the unique ability of facultative species to thrive under both anaerobic and aerobic conditions. I've alluded to this when I talk about "lag time" for the em to "wake up" on the surface of the leaf and fruit when coming out of dormancy. Maybe the way to go in your case, Tim, is to add the activated em to the tea brewing process. You are already mixing the aerobic microbes of compost tea with the facultative forces of effective microbes in the spray tank ... this just introduces the two 24 hours earlier. And who the hell knows what happens from there!

That said, the TeraGanix folks recommend adding EM•1® Microbial Inoculant to the tea after the aeration cycle. The idea here is to increase the biodiversity of the tea, that adding in facultative microbes will extend the field life of the tea to about 10 days. Once again we're on the cusp of a new thread to take us out to the trees.

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire
Re: activating effective microbes in big batches
April 01, 2015 08:34PM
Well, Michael, that's a lot of stuff to chew on. My mind bogles. Ummm...We are about to FINALLY get a real rain in 4 days. Degree days are at 550+(could be 75%release) with no spore release yet and mostly in full bloom---a good time to test out Competitive Colonization Boost (CCcool smiley. See Michael's Holistic Spray Plan. I'm already brewing tea and using it with EM this year with Neem, Fish, Seaweed etc. I already have a sulphur area in place (4 acres) did once already but the rain did not come. Roughly 12 more acres to decide what to do with. Shall I do SOME more sufuring or duke it out with CCB. I can add EM to the Tea while brewing for one tank (4 acres worth) and regular CCB tank for a comparison and maybe a tank of sulfur on varieties that have the most leaf showing. Especially intrigued that EM can give 10 days of efficacy to tea...would love some "proof"....Elaine?? Fingers crossed. This will be an acid test. Will report in in a week. Yes time for a new thread on this.

The Apple Farm
Zone 8b in California
Re: activating effective microbes in big batches
May 15, 2016 08:19PM
Edited for brevity

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 09/30/2022 05:45PM by Chris Vlitas.
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