Brewing tea: An Introduction to the Microbe Army

“Left to their own devices, then, plants produce exudates that attract fungi and bacteria (and, ultimately, nematodes and protozoa); their survival depends on the interplay between these microbes” (Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis, 22).

Before we can fix a tall glass (or bucket) of brewed compost tea, we must figure out to whom exactly we are catering to. Is it our medicinal cannabis plants or the microbes recycling life in the soil/soilless media? Once this is decided we can properly choose which ingredients to infuse in our teas. Contrary to popular assumption, the plant doesn’t eagerly absorb what we feed our media. In fact it is the life within the soil that helps prevent nutrients from washing away and makes it so that crucial nutrients are converted from their available form into a “plant friendly” form. This conversion ensures your plants can actually use the food you give them during waterings and feedings. Let’s introduce the key players here, or as I like to think of them, the microbe ARMY.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and boy is it! If you’re not at the top of the food chain and munching on everything around you then you most definitely are getting dipped in zesty salsa. More than a straight-linked chain the soil food pyramids resemble a web.

The Soil Food Web
Click HERE for image source and more information on the soil food web

With that in mind, let’s take a trip down into our soil/soilless media and explore the web within.

The soil food web has a microbe ARMY of bacteria and fungi which transport nutrients and gives life to your plant. However, it’s the plants that are controlling this symbiotic environment by secreting exudates (carbohydrates and proteins) that initially attract the microbes. The overseeing, all-powerful plant controls how much of and how many different kinds of fungi and bacteria surround the rhizosphere. The rhizosphere is a region of soil directly influenced by the relationship between root secretions and the microorganisms it attracts.

Plants kick-start the food web for their own benefit by attracting fungi and bacteria closer to their roots, the microbes then serve as bait for bigger predators such as nematodes and protozoa who feed on them. So how does this affect us directly? The best example is taken from Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis’ Teaming with Microbes, where they say, “soil bacteria and fungi are like small bags of fertilizer… soil protozoa and nematodes act as ‘fertilizer spreaders.’” Fungi and bacteria help retain and recycle nutrients in the soil by immobilizing and mineralizing nutrients. Once eaten by protozoa and nematodes these organic forms of nutrients (i.e. Carbon and a “plant friendly” version of Nitrogen) are released into the soil community. So what has ignited a chain effect has simultaneously tapped into stored, plant-accessible nutrients!

What are Mineralization and Immobilization?
Click HERE for image source and more information on the soil food web


If you are able to maintain a symbiotic relationship between your medicinal garden and the microbial life in its soil/soilless medias, then what you feed your soil will eventually be fed to your plants. How so?

Plants are unable to utilize atmospheric Nitrogen (NΞN). Why? Let’s just say the two nitrogen in the compound N2 are happy and it would be difficult to ply them apart from the marathon bear hug they have going on with their triple bonds; this antisocial form of Nitrogen is useless to your cannabis plant’s needs. For plants to be able to actually use nitrogen, it has to be “fixed” or combined with Oxygen or Hydrogen, creating ammonium NH4+, nitrate NO3-, or nitrite NO2- ions in a process termed nitrogen fixation. Plants can take up nitrogen in two forms, either as ammonium ions (NH4+) or as nitrate ions (NO3-). Fungi convert atmospheric Nitrogen (N2; NOT plant friendly form) into a plant friendly ammonium form (NH4+). Bacterium converts N2 into nitrate (NO3- IS plant friendly form).

The soil food web cycles down nutrients by temporarily retaining them inside fungi and bacteria, eventually releasing them once the fungi and bacteria are either eaten or perish. Plants feed off of these “plantfriendly” nutrients and the beautiful cycle continues.

Now that we have met some key players in the microbe ARMY and have a better understanding of whom/what we are brewing tea for, we can explore what ingredients you’ll want to use, but you’ll have to wait for Part II! Next week we’ll also try to answer which form, between ammonium NH4+ or nitrate NO3-, cannabis prefers and thus which fungi or bacteria to incorporate more of in your teas.