Probiotics for Insects, Soil and Self

For many people, the idea of dousing their veggie gardens with chemical pesticides or fertilizers is akin to dousing their nightly salad, children playing nearby and their companion animals with toxic sludge. Other individuals practicing organic gardening/farming may be looking for a compassionate way to deal with insects interested in their crops. So what do you do when the white flies take up camp in your kale patch?

Keeping bugs out of your garden begins from the ground up. Soil is a living substance and, like all living substances, needs to be respected and nourished. Strong soil equals strong plants, and strong plants are better able to protect themselves against insects. Just as we are what we eat, so are plants. When we cultivate the soil year after year, it can become depleted and the malnourished plants grown in this soil not only fail to wow at the county fair, they attract bugs.

There are a myriad of natural ways to revive depleted soil and deter insects, but the garden supplement Iím discussing today is so simple and miraculous it is too small to be seen by the naked eye: Effective Microorganisms.

Effective Microorganisms (EM), is a trademarked term for a specific blend of naturally-occurring beneficial microorganisms discovered by Professor Teruo Higa around 1980 at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan.

EM is easiest to describe as a probiotic for your soil. The mixture sold today usually consists of a blend of lactic acid bacteria, photorophic bacteria and yeast. These beneficial bacteria work in harmony to crowd out bad bacteria and bugs by creating a barrier around the plant along with improving the soil quality and nutrients available to your plants. Itís a composting catalyst, an insect deterrent and a natural fertilizer all in one.

NB: Lactic acid bacteria in EM is not dairy-derived. Itís a naturally-occurring bacteria, and is vegan in origin. To be sure that your EM supplier isnít adding non-vegan ingredients, read the label thoroughly and call the company if needed. When researching this article, I called the company EM Hawaii, who verified that their EM is a vegan product. EM Hawaii also informed me that not only is EM beneficial in the garden, but can be used as a probiotic for both humans and companion animals.

The most impressive outcome from EM use Iíve seen demonstrated was in Gentle Worldís veganic garden beds. Before incorporating EM into our crop of kale, chard and lettuce, the greens were looking a bit lackluster, and were struggling to fend off bugs due to soil depletion after years of use; after adding EM to our garden, the kale leaves jumped to arm length, the lettuce turned lush, and the chard leaves became broad, beautiful and practically insect-free.

Gentle World has been using a Bokashi starter (usually consisting of wheatgerm hulls, EM and molasses) instead of using EM activated in water.

The Bokashi is sprinkled lightly around the base of young plants, especially after transplanting.

Followed by two handfuls of compost dirt and then a good watering over everything.

This is repeated once or twice over a course of the first three weeks of plant growth, depending on the species of plants and the conditions of the soil at the time. After that, veganic fertilizers are used as needed, with and without the aid of the EM-inoculated Bokashi, depending on weather, compost availability and the seasonís insect activity.

Bokashi does not like being left out in the air, so covering it in compost dirt and watering after treatment is very important. Covering the Bokashi in compost also gives the EM more nutrients to break down and make available to your plants. Many organic gardeners and farmers use EM sprays directly on foliage, mixed into the watering supply or weekly in the compost pile to jump-start decomposition. You can experiment to see which method is most cost and crop effective for you.

However you choose to use this piece of knowledge, I wish you success in your gentle gardeningÖ But you need not take my word for it; the proof is in the kale!


Alisa Rutherford-Fortunati is a Veganic Gardener and Educator for Gentle World Ė a non-profit educational organization whose core purpose is to help build a more peaceful society, by educating the public about the reasons for being vegan, the benefits of vegan living, and how to go about making the transition.


Jennifer E.
Jennifer E6 years ago

I want to start growing a bigger range of vegetables - you always feel better when you pick things out of your garden to eat! Psychological or physical - it doesn't really matter. If it calms and comforts you it's worth it!

Jennifer E.
Jennifer E6 years ago

Does seaweed fertiliser do the same thing for new plantings?

Vicky Pitchford
Vicky P7 years ago


Suzanne Loewen
Suzanne L7 years ago

Thank you. I had not heard of these products before.

paula eaton
paula eaton7 years ago

Thank ypu. We take the soil for granted.

Melinda K.
Past Member 7 years ago

I recommend the Biodynamic preparations too to encourage soil bacteria

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener7 years ago

Yes it is all about soil... and a bit of common sense!

Chris Ray
Chris R7 years ago

Thanks Alisa!~

Alisa Rutherford-Fortunat

@ Leny B: Thank you for an informative post. I am growing organic tomatoes, cucumbers and peepers in containers on my small deck. As I live in zone five, the plants are just beginning to produce. Is EM-1 safe for container gardening? If so, can it be purchased in small quantities?

Yes EM-1 is safe for container gardening and in my opinion would be a great addition, as you are unlikely to have a good amount of worm activity in your containers. I've seen EM sold in containers anywhere from 12 oz to 1 gallon so you should be able to find what you're looking for.

Roxana J.
Roxana J7 years ago

thanks for the info..