This is one of my go-to foliar sprays for those stressful times in a plant’s life due to the weather or if the biology needs a boost. Most of the ingredients are readily available and making your own compost tea at home is a fantastic habit to develop. Let’s dive in!
DIY Foliar Booster Spray Recipe
- ⅓ cup EM
- 1 cup sea mineral liquid (not the same as sea salt) or 1 cup fish hydrolysate
- 4 tsp liquid kelp
- ⅓ cup molasses
- 1 pint compost tea
- 4-5 gallons of water
- ½ tsp humic acids
- ½ to 1 mg vitamin B complex
- ⅔ cups liquid calcium
- Specific micronutrients as needed
I really like this recipe and have had amazing results with using it in my regular garden nutritional maintenance plan. It is great to use it between macro/micronutrient spray blend applications. If you are interested in learning how to make your own compost tea at home, check out my Nourishing Backyard Garden Formula for a step-by-step tutorial!
They do exactly that, they stimulate the biology on the plant or in the soil. Why do I even want to stimulate my soil biology?
There is something called nutrient cycling that should be taking place in your soil. Nutrient cycling put simply, is when something eats something else and poops. Very similar to the microbes in our own gut, or the probiotics that predigest fermented foods, these tiny soil organisms provide the plants with a “bio-available” source of nutrients, which means they are easy for the plant to absorb and utilize. Essentially, biostimulants are prebiotics feeding the probiotics added from the compost tea and EM and native microbes already present. In the area around the plant’s roots, the rhizosphere, you want lots of nutrient cycling so that your plant can become fat and happy.
Plants, as we learned in high school, photosynthesize, which means they take carbon from the air, turn it into sugar, and release oxygen. But, what we don’t hear much about, is that healthy plants will pump anywhere from 50% – 70% of that sugar with other beneficial exudates into the soil! Why would they dump all that hard-earned energy into the ground?
Because the microbes love sugar and exudates and the plants know that. What happens is that the microbes get excited and are attracted to the rhizosphere. Then they take residence and start families with all that food abundance. The microbes cannot just live off of cakes and cookies, so they seek out and chomp on some minerals and since they are so tiny, they can really get in there and break them down to absorb and build their own bodies – just like we want healthy bones.
But then with all these tiny families in the area, bigger microbes come in to crash the party and eat everyone – like a Godzilla movie. Then those attract other microbes to eat them and so on. So there is a whole soil food web happening to spoon-feed your plant microbial metabolites and keep it strong and healthy! But sometimes you are not dealing with a super robust and healthy soil or plants. No worries, this is where biostimulants (in combination with good practices) come into play.
Molasses is rich in minerals and nutrients and is used often in my gardens. It is high in calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium. In addition to those, it also contains sulfur and micronutrients. The mineral component is great, but it also provides plants with a quick source of energy and encourages the growth of beneficial microorganisms.
Fish Hydrolysate (Fish Emulsion)
Fish hydrolysate contains trace elements, nitrogen, amino acids, vitamins, hormones, and enzymes. It is basically blended up fish remains that have been cold fermented and processed with enzymes. It contains more complex compounds that encourage beneficial fungi. Fish emulsion is made by using a heat process that denatures the proteins. Since the compounds are broken down smaller, it acts as a bacterial food source. I like to use fish hydrolysate from Neptune’s Harvest as they have good practices.
Where did all the nutrients in our soil end up? Yes, the ocean. Sea salt, whether from a current-day ocean or mined from deposits of ancient oceans, is a source of trace elements all plants need. Some good options include Real Salt, Sea-90, Pink Himalayan Salt, Celtic Sea Salt, etc. Try to avoid cheap refined sea salts. You can also bring back some ocean water from your next vacation, dilute it, and spray your garden for a boost!
Neptune’s Harvest also makes a great liquid Seaweed product that I add to my garden concoctions. Kelp contains over 70 minerals, vitamins, chelating agents and amino acids. It also has growth hormones called cytokinins and auxins.
Cytokinins improve soil tilth, regulate cell division and cell wall formation, increase photosynthesis and chlorophyll production, improve root and shoot growth, and extend the growing season in the fall. Auxins regulate cell elongation, stimulate rooting, and promote fruit development. Seaweed also helps reinforces cell walls for frost hardiness. You can also responsibly harvest seaweed from the beach to mulch your garden or add it to your compost pile for a nutrition boost! Have a backup mulch plan though because it breaks down fast.
There are also other products out there already made you can use.
So, if you are stimulating the biology and increasing nutrient cycling, this is also a good time to add slower releasing minerals for the surge in microbes to munch on and provide to your plants! Check out my post on amending the soil.
Effective Microorganisms, EM-1, was developed by Japanese scientist Dr. Teruo Higa. It is a liquid bacterial product comprised of mainly the photosynthesizing bacteria, lactic acid bacteria, yeasts, actinomycetes, and fermenting fungi. It is a combination of specific beneficial microbial species that fill different niches and can live harmoniously with each other to provide tremendous benefits for soil and plants. They provide many awesome services to plants including suppressing soil-borne pathogens, increasing the decomposition of organic materials and consequently the availability of mineral nutrients and important organic compounds to plants, enhance the activities of beneficial indigenous microorganisms, improve soil fertility, and boost plant growth, flowering, fruit development and ripening in crops. It is a great microbial product that you can spread further by culturing your own. As opposed to aerobically brewed compost tea, EM is a ferment, which means it is anaerobic (lacking oxygen). In this controlled fashion, this is great to add diversity and extra digestion power for your plant.
Indigenous Microorganisms. A low-cost addition everyone should try. This is a great way to harvest and spread the intelligence of the native land in your area to your garden. There are so many ways to introduce IMOs into your system. You can inoculate your compost pile by collecting samples from around your area and inserting a little pocket of them into your finished compost pile or wood chip pile. You can also find healthy wild plants, their leaves will be robust and shiny (fat and happy), and collect a soil sample from around its base, mix it in a bucket of water and apply it to your garden. Or you can get more serious and go the Korean Natural Farming Method route and make your own fermentations to harvest the local strains of microbes indigenous to your area.
So, it gets really cool now because you can play with all kinds of concoctions to treat your garden! One of my favorite garden elixirs is compost tea. No, not that stuff that comes out of your worm bin. I mean good aerobically brewed tea! There are many 5-30 gallon systems on the market, or you can make your own with modified PVC pipe, a pond pump, and a 5-gallon bucket. Take your good compost and add it to a paint strainer bag. Add some supporting ingredients and brew on! I usually brew for 16-24 hours. Then I spray it on my plants or water it into my soil. It is simple and super beneficial!
Not all compost is created equal though. The best compost is teeming with a diversity of life and materials. I like to make my own so I know it is good. If you buy compost from a store or garden center, BE CAREFUL! I highly suggest avoiding “compost” from big box stores and opting for smaller, local garden centers. Compost bags do and should have an ingredient label or at least some kind of description as to the materials used to make it. Try to avoid commercial composts that contain manures, as these can contain many chemicals from CAFOs and other nasty things. Look for ingredients such as mushroom compost, composted leaves, and vegetable waste. Be aware of added fertilizers.
One of my favorite parts of boosting soil biology is that it attracts hordes of incredible earthworms! These are your soil building buddies! They take care of creating that beautiful soil structure I cannot create with any tool myself. They are fast and will work for food. What more could you ask for?! Again, our job in the garden is to support. Once we have done our initial input of work to get the garden going, it is just support – and harvesting! This strategy makes gardening easy for everyone. If you want to dive even deeper and get step-by-step walkthroughs of my favorite way to garden, check out a course I designed called The Nourishing Backyard Garden Formula! I wanted to make this available to as many people as possible because I know how overwhelming it can be to try to do this on your own and get lost in all the conflicting information on the web. Go check out this incredible course and grow some amazing food!