The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Types of legume inoculants

Comparison of a field with and without inoculant.Scientists have discovered that inoculating legumes with nitrogen-fixing bacteria can increase crop yields.  The theory is simple --- if your plants lack the proper bacteria to team up with, they're stuck begging ammonia out of the soil rather than producing their own.

But you can't just inoculate your entire garden with one kind of bacterium and be done with it.  Most plants that team up with nitrogen-fixing bacteria are picky about the bacteria species they move in with.  Clovers share one set of bacteria species, garden and soup beans another, and alfalfa, soybeans, peanuts, clover, and peas each have their own.  You can often buy seeds already coated in the proper inoculant, or can even transplant a bit of soil from your previous pea patch to your new one to get the useful bacteria started.

As a side note, I was intrigued to learn that legumes aren't the only plants that team up with nitrogen-fixers.  The other common, nitrogen-fixing plant in our area is the shrub alder (Alnus sp.)  I've been keeping an eye out for some wild alders to transplant into my forest garden as a method of naturally boosting the area's fertility.

Don't miss our series on making your own chicken feed this month on our chicken blog.

This post is part of our Nitrogen Fixing lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Question: Is the benefit of the starter culture from the previous year's pea patch worth the risk of bringing over disease that you tried to avoid by rotating your crops in the first place? After all, if the good bacteria can come over in a small bit of dirt, couldn't the bad stuff too?
Comment by Everett Wed Feb 10 15:57:41 2010
As I recall from my readings before you were born, redbud also fixes nitrogen.
Comment by Errol Wed Feb 10 16:10:02 2010
Daddy --- you're totally right because redbud is a legume. (Look at the open flowers and see how much they look like a pea or bean flower in shape.)
Comment by anna Wed Feb 10 16:35:37 2010
Everett --- that's a really good point! I read an article in Mother Earth News once suggesting the "take a bit of soil for your next bed" trick, but I've actually been too lazy to try it. On the other hand, when I left my peas in the same spot for two years in a row, they really suffered. So you're probably right that the negative effects due to disease probably trump the positives from inoculating.
Comment by anna Wed Feb 10 16:37:21 2010

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