The term “Effective Microorganisms” (EM) is inseparably linked with the name Teruo Higa. The Japanese horticulture professor and agricultural expert specialising in sustainability is the discoverer or inventor of the EM concept.
EM is a liquid or pelletised mixture of various microorganisms used in the food industry. These mixtures can be added to the soil substrate or used for domestic composting by means of so-called Bokashi buckets. In doing so, they offer a number of benefits, including reduced odour and the production of natural agents for cleaning pipes.
Teruo Higa’s regenerative microbes: What are effective microorganisms?
It is no secret that industrial agriculture comes with massive disadvantages for humans and the environment. Agricultural soils today contain fewer and fewer healthy organic components. Artificial fertilisers and artificial pesticides lead to the destruction of plant and animal diversity, make the soil poorer, pollute the water and at the same time have dramatic effects on consumers and also on the farms themselves.
This problem has long since reached global proportions. Thus, in the 1980s, a Japanese professor of horticulture also investigated natural and holistic ways of caring for and protecting the soil. His name: Teruo Higa. Professor Higa found that certain mixtures of microorganisms could promote a fertile and living soil. This mixture was given the name Effective Microorganisms (EM).
How do Effective Microorganisms affect the soil?
Professor Higa divides the microorganisms active in the soil into three categories:
positive or regenerative microbes - promote soil health negative or degenerative microbes - promote decay processes opportunistic or neutral microbes - behave in a supportive way
According to Professor Higa, depending on the balance, these microorganisms influence soil health, with the opportunistic ones always supporting the dominant regenerative or degenerative microorganisms.
Micro is the keyword
The importance of a healthy microbiome – a flora made up of microorganisms – has recently become apparent in many fields. Soils, too, naturally have a certain milieu to which diverse microorganisms belong. The microorganisms are not visible to the naked eye, but to a large extent they determine the health of their respective environments.
In conventional or industrial agriculture, the soil milieu is defined primarily by degenerative microorganisms. Such weak soils cannot keep up with the yield of healthier soils. Consequently, they demand even more artificial fertilisers and even more artificial insecticides as well as pesticides. With dramatic consequences such as increasing soil erosion, rising food shortages and ever more intensive environmental pollution. Teruo Higa’s thesis: If regenerative EM is added to the weakening soils, it shifts the balance favourably and strengthens the soil environment.
For the EM solutions, Professor Higa created appropriate mixtures of different regenerative microorganisms. Their use was intended to promote soil health by supporting the “good” microbes already present in the soil – for an improvement in soil quality and plant health.
Today, many amateur gardeners also swear by Teruo Higa’s development.
What are Effective Microorganisms used for?
Effective Microorganisms are seen as a sustainable, holistic plant protection and fertiliser substitute. Soils strengthened by EM are said to produce healthier, stronger and more resistant plants. Those who rely on EM also report tastier herbs, more bountiful harvests and even brighter flowers.
Insects such as bees, bumblebees or butterflies also thank EM-treated soils – after all, by using Effective Microorganisms, you can abandon or at least reduce the use of artificial insecticides.
Soils treated with EM also show positive changes. Professor Higa explains this effect, among other things, with the increased metabolisation, which leads to the soil becoming livelier and looser, absorbing water better and thus gradually becoming more fertile.
EM solutions contain lactic acid bacteria, yeast fungi and photosynthetic bacteria. The lactic acid bacteria provide fermentation processes, while the yeast fungi transform carbohydrates and oxygen into valuable vitamins, enzymes and acids. The bacteria capable of photosynthesis can break down toxins, among other things.
So anyone who has always wanted to do without artificial fertilisers can try out Effective Microorganisms as a fertiliser and practice sustainable gardening.
Which plants can I water with Effective Microorganisms?
In short, whether it’s a vegetable patch or a home lawn, a flower meadow or a balcony jungle, houseplants or an orchard – EM can help everywhere. There are farms that use EM to clean stable floors and wineries that use EM for their vineyards.
A wide range of EM products are available on the market, so that the right one can be found for every plant. But EM can do even more, which will especially delight those readers who already compost enthusiastically – or are considering it.
Clever alternative to the “aromatic” compost heap: the Bokashi bucket
What is a Bokashi bucket? And what does it have to do with Effective Microorganisms?
The Bokashi bucket is a practical and convenient alternative to the compost heap or home kitchen composter.
Bokashi is a Japanese method of fermenting organic waste with the help of EM. This is a simple way to obtain organic plant fertiliser and pipe cleaner. The best thing about Bokashi is that it hardly develops an odour. The fermentation of garden and kitchen waste in the Bokashi bucket triggered by EM gives the compost a mildly acidic smell – similar to fermented food, such as sauerkraut.