Sunday, May 17, 2009

North Country Gardening: Innoculations for Vegetables?

Believe it or not, some of your vegetables will benefit from the application of an innoculant. We’re not talking vine flu here, or spinach pox, but the addition of a few beneficial bacteria to give your veg an extra boost. And not just any veg: legumes.

Legumes are those vegetables that have nitrogen-fixing nodules on their roots, which enable them to access naturally occurring nitrogen much more readily than plants that don’t have them. Your basic legumes are peas, beans, peanuts, and fava beans. And with the probable exception of the peanuts, all can be grown here in the North Country.

The bacteria in question is Rhizobia. It is a naturally occurring bacterium, but apparently it isn’t terribly active. In order for it to be of tremendous benefit to your plants, you need lots of it! This is where the innoculant comes in. Innoculant can be ordered from almost any seed catalogue. It does have an expiration date, so you should check to be sure that what you purchase is good for the year you want to use it. I bought some last year but never used it. I found it in a drawer of my fridge this spring and decided to see if it was still viable. I’ll let you know.

So, you get this little packet of Rhizobia (millions and millions of them in one tiny packet). How you apply it is up to you. You can shake it onto your seeds after you plant them, you can shake your seeds in a bag with it, or you can mix it up as a slurry and soak your seeds in it. I did the latter: 4.5 oz water and the bacteria. It was like mixing up mushroom spoors in water: a very fine black powder. If you go the water route, you must be sure to not let it dry out – use within 24 hours. Don’t let the wind dry your seeds, either. If the innoculant dries, the bacteria are dead.

The only real downside that I discovered in doing the slurry method is that my fingers and hand ended up coated with the black slurry of bacteria as well. Hm – I wonder if I’ll absorb more nitrogen this summer as well.

Do you have to use innoculant? Of course not. I never have before now, my parents never did, and I doubt my grandparents did either. But sources claim that you can have up to 77% more peas/beans/peanuts if you do use it! Hm. I picked an awful lot of peas last year. I planted even more this year, and I used the innoculant. I may be overrun with peas. Wouldn’t that be a shame?

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