1) What is necessary for beneficial microbes to keep their numbers high and thriving?
Beneficial microbes come in all sizes shapes and configurations: fungi, bacteria, protozoa, ciliates, nematodes, etc. Each of these microbes has a different food source and conditions that allow them to thrive. Some eat simple sugars such as glucose and maltose while others feed on more complex carbs or polysaccharides. Some types of microbes feed on an assortment of humic substances as well as sugars and stranger still to conceptualize; many microbes feed on other microbes – producing chelated minerals as a byproduct. In general a sugar source such as molasses will suffice. Since we are trying to grow aerobic (oxygen loving microbes) we will want to provide great aeration as well as cooler water temps (below 68 degrees).
2) Can you actually help them multiply somehow or when you inoculate is the population pre-determined and it only goes down from there with time?
You can help them multiply by providing aeration, cool water temps (below 68 deg.) and a food source of humic acid, simple sugars and more complex carbs.
3) What are definite no no’s for the health of your beneficials?
Aside from adding oxidizing agents such as h2o2, chlorine and chloramines, or more caustic ones such as bleach, warm water temps, or lack of o2 will be catastrophic to most aerobic microbes and will most likely allow the pathogenic (anaerobic ones) to out compete the “good” aerobic ones.
4) How often to inoculate? Are using beneficial microbes with rockwool useless?
This depends on the media used. Coco and soil are both great for colonizing and growing microbes. With these mediums you do not have to inoculate as consistently. You can use them every other week in vegetative growth and into early bloom (week 2) and then let them grow on their own.
For rockwool – colonization is a little more difficult. You will need to be more consistent with inoculation and it is recommended every week in vegetative growth up until week 4 of bloom. This is because humic material exists in soil already, binds well to coco but flushes out very easily in rockwool.
Hydroton is the most difficult for many organisms to colonize in. Most bacteria and some fungi will still colonize in hydroton without any problems, but mychorizzae will have problems taking hold to the root zone and living in this medium. More constant inoculation will be needed in hydroton.
Lastly, it should be noted that if you are trying to maintain a balance of microbes within a medium and you do not want certain microbes to greatly out-compete others a more consistent inoculation schedule may be necessary. Products such as Vermi-t that contain 30,000+ microbes will loose their diversity unless weekly or at the very least bi-weekly inoculations are introduced.
5) What are some specific differences when inoculating an aqueous environment like hydro (ebb/flow, drip, drain to waste, nft) or container (soil, soiless, peat, coco)?
Some environments are much better than others. A drip system or hand watering is going to produce better results than an organic medium such as coco or soil because it will have the greatest amount of aeration available to the root zone. Drip systems pull air down with the water into the medium. They trickle water and air to the root zone. This is in sharp contrast to ebb / flow systems that completely submerge the root system in water for extended periods of time. Even if the water is “aerated” it is still at best approximately 2% which is extremely poor compared to a soft trickling of air and water slowly saturating the medium within.
The grow medium should be well aerated as well using perlite, coco, pumice, rocks, etc. Nft and aero systems have tons of aeration but again will have trouble growing a variety of microbes because the medium (if there is any at all) is inert. A medium that is inert will not hold organic food sources such as sugars or humic acids. Bacillus subtilis, a champion in the bacterial kingdom for example will do just fine in an aero or nft environment, but others will not!
6) What are Biofilters and are they important?
The aquarium/fish industry has known about biofilters for a long time. They come in many shapes and sizes each touting its own specific benefits. Most will use “bioballs” or other such mediums which are held within the biofilter itself to allow for the growth of bacteria as well as some protozoa, and ciliates. As water tumbles down through the biofilter, it is aerated across the media within and allows for the rapid growth and spread of the beneficial microbes within. This will not work for many of the beneficials that “plants” want but works great for nitrifying bacteria that aquarium owners love.
That being said, the combined use of a biofilter and an actively aerated reservoir filled with ro water, complete with carbs, and humics that is sufficiently cooled to 66-68 deg. F. Cannot be beat!!
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