Let’s have a look at micro life in substrates. Though soilless substrates originating from carefully selected natural sources are free of plant pathogens, it is in fact full of life. This bio-stimulating microbial life can, in combination with a suitable growing environment, help your plants thrive. In other words, the microbes within the substrate can positively influence overall crop performance and plant health.
Micro life is omnipresent in several raw materials that are used to create high-performance substrate solutions. Materials like peat, coir, and sphagnum moss naturally contain beneficial microbes. Selected strains of proven beneficial microbes can also be used as additives during the production process.
Why micro life matters
The main effects of this active life in substrates reflect in:
- increased availability of confined nutrients in the substrate or the rhizosphere,
- improved nutrient efficiency by the crops;
- symbiosis with the plants due to physical and chemical interactions with the root system,
- the decomposition of organic matter.
In short, this means that micro life actually influences various processes within the substrate. This doesn’t mean that all effects are to be considered specifically positive. The influence micro life has on the decomposition of organic matter for example is neither to be considered positive, nor negative. It’s just an important effect to take into account.
What can however be seen as a positive impact that improves the plant’s resilience is the way it impacts the availability of important chemical components like oxygen, nitrogen, and phosphorus.
Due to the presence of beneficial microbes, pathogens get less chance to gain a foothold within the root zone. The symbiosis created between the microbial life and the crops helps boost the plant’s resilience and resistance to biotic agents and environmental stress.
A clear example of this defense mechanism boost is the synthesis of secondary metabolites, hormones, cell-wall-degrading enzymes, and antioxidants that assist the plant in its defense against pathogens like Bacillus sp. An example of an indirect defense mechanism boost is the way the beneficial microbes stimulate plant growth and development. Healthy and strong plants are of course less susceptible to pathogens.
Microbial processes in substrates
So, how do these microbes actually help your crops thrive? In short, they do so by forming a symbiosis with the plants. Micro-life, such as bacteria, fungi, and mycorrhizae, are constantly searching for metabolites needed for their own life cycles. These activities influence the processes and properties of the substrate.
When we take a close look at natural soilless substrates, we can see that there are multiple chemical and physical processes ongoing within the root zones at any given time. Microbial life is involved in all of these processes, influencing the interaction between plant roots and solid matter.
Other relevant mechanisms include:
- hormone-like activity
- increased rooting, shoot growth, and improved root/shoot ratio
- increased chlorophyll content (plant greenness)
- an increase in nutrient availability and assimilation
- a boost in nutrient uptake
- boosted yield
- activation of the antioxidant defense system
- activation of secondary metabolisms
- an accumulation of osm0-protectants
As you can see, microbial life in natural, soilless substrates offers many benefits to your crops that inorganic growing media can not offer.
Adding micro life
Kekkilä-BVB solutions are effective in reducing plant stress and improving natural resistance. By improving nutrient availability and uptake, micro-life solutions can lead to a reduced need for synthetic and mineral components. It also minimizes the need for protective agents.
During the production process of our substrates, we not only create suitable environments for naturally occurring microbial life, but we can also add specific microbial life and bio-stimulants to the products. As natural substrate solutions already offer a very advanced root zone environment (physical and chemical), the addition of bio-stimulants is used to finetune the mixes.
In addition, we can also use non-microbial biostimulants. This type of additive is not boosting micro life in particular, but it helps reduce plant stress and improve root growth. So, this means the effect of this type of additive resembles the effect caused by microbial life, but the benefits are coming from a non-microbial range.
Some examples of non-microbial biostimulants that can be used in BVB Substrates products are:
- Seaweeds extracts
- Plant extracts
- Hemic and fulvic acids
- Hydrolyzed proteins and amino acids
- Digestate and by-products of the food industry
- Nutrient polymers
Micro life after shipping and storing
After reading all this, you’ve likely concluded that the micro life in substrates is something that should be cherished and taken advantage of in your growing site too. Since our products sometimes need to travel or wait in stock quite a bit before they are actually taken into use, you might worry if it’s still as lively as it was immediately after production.
For starters, our raw materials are kept under such conditions that the activity of micro life is kept at a minimum. This way we preserve the good properties until we actually produce the substrate. So, that’s basically when we boost microbial activity.
Within the growing media industry, we use a specific type and method of packaging our products to optimize transport and maintain quality. These packages create a specific environment in which the microbial life adjusts. By creating a low-oxygen environment we preserve quality and the processes of the micro-organisms slow down. When the products are unpacked, these parameters are refreshed and processes can start again.
Preparing for use
By adequately preparing your substrate for use after unpacking it, you make sure that the product is of optimum quality, even after long storage. Make sure to fluff and mix the substrate, and allow it to aerate and oxygenate before potting. Also, make sure to properly introduce the nutrient program for your crop.
Have a look at one of our animation videos to learn more about adequate storage of your substrate stock. This also benefits the micro life in substrates.
Are you eager to read more about soilless natural substrates? Have a look at the previous articles in this series:
- Physical performance of soilless substrate solutions
- Best soilless substrate performance for leafy greens in hydroponic systems