Month: April 2016

What You Need to Know About Buffering Agents

download (12)A buffering agent helps prevent a rapid change in pH of a solution when other substances are added or mixed with the solution. For example, most shampoos are buffered so that they are slightly acidic. The buffer counteracts the alkalinity of soap. If either of these substances become too acidic or too alkaline, they could damage your skin and hair.

Human blood pH should be slightly alkaline (7.35 – 7.45). Below or above this range would cause symptoms and disease. If blood pH moves below 6.8 or above 7.8, cells stop functioning and the body dies. The body, therefore, continually strives to balance pH. Many forms of life will survive only within a relatively small pH range so they utilize a buffer to maintain a constant pH.

Another example of how a buffering agent is commonly used is in aspirin. Without buffering, aspirin can irritate the lining of the stomach and lead to serious medical conditions such as bleeding and ulcers. The antacid properties of buffering agents are thought to help maintain the pH balance and and may help prevent side effects. Whether aspirin buffers actually work is still controversial.

The most common problem with aquarium water chemistry is pH. Although most fish will thrive in a wide range of pH, rapid changes may cause stress leading to disease or death. Though some exotic fish such as Discus are more particular about pH, even most of these fish are only particular about pH when they are breeding. The fish will not spawn if the proper pH is not maintained. There is a growing trend to believe that the pH in a fish tank needs to be around 7.0 which in most cases in simply not true for fish. However, in aquaponics, we also have to consider the pH requirements of the plants. Plants, in general, in water that has a lower pH than ordinary tap water.

If your tap water contains buffers, and almost all tap water does, it probably keeps the pH around 8.0 or slightly alkaline. This can make it difficult to lower the pH in your tank. The water will maintain a high pH because of the buffers. You will need to add enough acid to neutralize the buffer. However, by the time you have added enough acid to overcome the buffer, you will have enough acid in the water to cause a precipitous drop in pH.

Water has a pH of 7 naturally, but the water you are using in your tank may be different because of the chemicals that are suspended or dissolved in the water. These chemicals fall into three categories: acids, bases, and buffers. Acids are chemicals that lower the pH, or make the water more acidic. Bases are chemicals that raise the pH of the water, or make it more basic (or alkaline). Buffers are chemicals that can prevent changes and keep the water at a specific pH. Different buffers will keep the pH at different values.

If you need to lower pH, you could add some type of acid. Muriatic acid is commonly used to lower the pH of swimming pools. If you need to raise pH, you could add a product that is alkaline such as sodium carbonate commonly know as soda ash.

In simplistic terms, a buffer would be something that has both acid and alkaline properties. When pH starts to rise, the buffer would release acid to reduce pH. If the pH begins to decrease, the alkaline agent would be released to increase the pH.

If you are Walter White (Breaking Bad), you will probably mix you own buffers. However, most of us will be better off buying a commercial product that is formulated to keep pH at a certain level. Seachem, for example, is one company that makes buffers that will work for most aquaponic applications.

 

Gardening Without Pesticides Is Practical

download (11)I have made it my determination never to use pesticides. This was not a decision that I made based on philosophy or even environmental consciousness. On the contrary, I bore witness to the extraordinary ease and effectiveness by which natural predators dispose of the most pernicious and damaging of garden pests.

In the mid-2000s, I began my first serious attempt at a large garden. I did the research about how to do as little work as possible. In the early fall, I put materials over the lawn to kill it. I dumped leaves into my beds instead of tilling. Allowing the biological process of decay do the work would invite a sturdy network of fungi to help bring nutrients to the plants. Finally, I used a technique called wintersowing to sow my seeds outside during the winter. I only planted native varieties, the idea being that they would be a boon to natural pollinators. Native plants would be able to care for themselves once established.

The real work came in the spring. Planting, watering new plants, only to plant and water more new plants, was a daily routine. I was sore in places I didn’t know had muscles, but the garden was doing very well. It was green, perfect, and all native.

The bees and butterflies came, but so did everything I had failed to anticipate. My new ‘serious’ garden began to be eaten before my eyes. There were all sorts of native leaf chewers: Aphids, slugs, and caterpillars to name a few. Leaves were mined and skeletonized and fell off. Flowers and buds were being sucked into oblivion.

However, the damage that really hurt my feelings was to the roses. When the Japanese beetles arrived, my roses were denuded of both foliage and flower. That was when I first felt the desperate fury that comes when a gardener is faced with crop failure. Up until now, I wanted nature to do the work. This time I felt like I had to do something.

However, the idea of spraying the roses still repelled me. I simply did not want to have roses that you had to keep out of the reach of children for fear they would ingest them. Therefore, I turned away from that idea and began looking for organic ways to help. There was not much I could do. Picking the beetles off the bushes with my hands and putting them in a bucket of soapy water was the best most had to offer. I got to work.

It did not help. I did not get a single rose that year. At the end of the season, I read that Fall and Winter would be a good time to solicit natural help in the form of birds. I put up a wren house, I put out the bird seed, and I put out water all winter long.

The fate of the Japanese beetles – and every other garden pest – was sealed the day I decided not to spray the roses. Predators had already moved in in numbers! But they weren’t at the right life stage to help. Syrphid flies, many wasps, and other insects are only predators as larva. However, because I didn’t spray, they laid eggs all over the garden.

I got an avian resident. A male house wren stuffed sticks in the wren house and sang until he attracted a female. The females are the ones who choose the nest site, and she chose my garden. In a few weeks, when the days were warming and I was fearing another attack by the pests, she laid seven eggs.

I am no expert on bird fertility, but it wouldn’t make much survival sense for her to be so fertile in the presence of little to no food. It was likely that both these wrens were already present in the garden and their bodies knew how many babies they could afford. Because I didn’t spray, I got to see them diving from the house, straight down into the leaves and running around like little feathery wolves and returning with all manner of caterpillars. They did this every day, all day long, the entire season. The wrens had to have devoured thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of insects.

The syrphid fly larva got to work on the aphids that were attacking my new growth. Centipedes got to work on the snails and slugs, as did the firefly larva who are surprisingly voracious and active hunters for worms. The snails and slugs would later attract garter snakes and a mole and a toad. Robins nested and had three chicks on the curve of my downspout. The wasps returned for the flowers and stayed for the hunting. They made off with plenty of insects, bringing them back to larva to eat. Spiders moved in. There were so many green crab spiders that I called the zinnia flowerbed the “Spider Condominiums”. Every zinnia flower and a spider in it.

There were so many predators that my pest problems vanished. I concluded that my ‘Garden Salad’ had turned into the ‘Garden of Death’. Pests who managed to survive long enough to chew and lay eggs would only have their eggs and larva eaten by something else. The lucky few who did manage to breed were inconsequential.

Gardening without pesticides takes time and, in my case, a crop failure, but I put away the mask and the gloves and the sprayer. Using them would have made things harder for myself, and easier on the pests. I learned that gardens need time to get established to thrive. Pesticides delay or prevent the garden from ever moving on from the “Garden Salad” stage to a healthy population of predator and prey. They are an expensive hindrance and can kill or discourage natural resources that help the garden be self-sustaining.

A pesticide-free garden continued to grow in variety of species of insect and served as a wonderful classroom for young children and adults who wanted to learn from what the plants attracted. Once a gardener experiences the joy of a garden free of pesticides, he will never be able to return to using them.

 

Grow Bigger, Healthier, Plants and Vegetables

download (10)Grow Bigger, Healthier Crops and Vegetables

The goal of every farmer and every gardener is to grow bigger, healthier, more productive crops and vegetables. Whether the crop is 1000 acres of beans or a backyard with herbs, spices and tomatoes, healthier plants are the desired outcome. The health of all plants starts with the root system.

Nutrient Absorption by Plants

The root system has a number of important functions, but for our purposes the absorption of nutrients is the topic we’ll discuss. Of particular interest is the rhizosphere, The rhizospere is generally defined as the region of soil around the root influenced by root secretions and the microorganisms present.

Beneficial Microorganisms in the Root Zone

It’s these microorganisms in the rhizosphere, or root zone, that can have a large impact on root development and ultimately plant growth.

The plant and the microorganisms form a symbiotic, mutually beneficial, relationship. The plant secretes many compounds into the rhizosphere. These secretions attract microorganisms including mychorrhizae, Trichoderma, and bacteria. These microorganisms, in turn, secrete a number of growth factors and hormones that help the plants grow to their fullest potential. Here’s a few benefits from beneficial microorganisms:

  1. Plant Growth Promotion – production of plant growth hormones including auxins.
  2. Nitrogen Fixation
  3. Enhanced root growth
  4. Increase supply of nutrients including Phosphorus solubilization
  5. Increase the efficiency of traditional fertilizers such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium.

Each of these benefits could be a topic to itself, but for today let’s just note that microorganisms provide the plant with any number of benefits.

One of the keys, then, to growing bigger, healthier plants is to make sure the soils contain adequate amounts of beneficial microorganisms. In fact, hundreds of scientific research studies have shown that the use of beneficial microorganisms helps grow bigger, healthier plants and crops.

Biofertilizers

How can farmers and gardeners take advantage of the power of beneficial microorganisms? They can use biofertilizers. Very simply, Biofertilizers are fertilizers that contain living microorganisms. The use of biofertilizers, sometimes called soil probiotics or soil amendments, will increase the amount of beneficial soil microorganisms in the root zone.

Biofertilizers can be applied to crops in a number of ways. They can be applied as a seed treatment, as a root drench or as a foliar application. The key is to make sure that the biofertilizer gets to the root zone in the most efficient manner.

The use of beneficial microorganisms can have a great benefit for the farmer and gardener. The key to growing bigger, heathier plants is to use biofertilizers.

Custom Biologicals manufactures a number of biofertilizers and beneficial microorganisms for use by farmers and gardeners.

Biota Max is a revolutionary, biofertilizer containing 10 species of beneficial microorganisms. Biota Max is an effervescent tablet containing billions of beneficial bacteria and Trichoderma. Each tablet contains enough beneficial microorganisms to treat 1/4 acre.

 

Trichoderma Species As Biofertilizers

download (9)There are several species of Trichoderma fungi that are used as biofertilizers. In this post, we’ll talk about the most commonly used Trichoderma. We’ll also talk about the benefits of using Trichoderma for farming, agriculture and home gardening.

Trichoderma Fungi

First, some background on Trichoderma fungi. Trichoderma species are the most prevalent type of fungi in soils and they are present worldwide in almost all soil types. They are microscopic and are generally considered avirulent plant symbionts. In other words, they form a symbiotic, or mutually beneficial, relationship with plants.

It’s this symbiotic relationship that biofertilizers try to exploit. The idea is simple, by adding more Trichoderma the plant receives more benefit.

Benefits of Trichoderma

I’ve discussed the benefits to the plant of Trichoderma in another post, so I’ll just summarize the highlights here.

  • Trichoderma generally increase both root and shoot growth.
  • Improves the nutrient status of the plant
  • Production of growth promoting hormones
  • Phosphate solubilization
  • Increased uptake of minerals such as Cu (copper), Fe(Iron), Zn (Zinc), and Na (Sodium).

Trichoderma Species Used as Biofertilizers

Most of the Trichoderma species listed here provide the benefits from above. I’ll talk a bit about the additional benefits of some of the fungi. It’s important to note that Trichoderma applications can be made as seed treatment, as a foliar treatment, or as a drench treatment.

Trichoderma harzianum increases plant tolerance to environmental factors like drought and high soil salinity. T. harzianum increases mineral absorption.

Trichoderma viride, when used as a seed treatment, increases the germination rate in a number of crops.

Trichoderma reesi has the ability to secrete large amounts of cellulolytic enzymes and has a number of uses in biotechnology. In fact, it is used to create stone washed jeans because of this ability.

Trichoderma koningii is known to increase the growth of seedlings and secretes seed germination factors.

Trichoderma polysporum is normally found in cooler climates and conveys all of the benefits associated with the other Trichoderma fungi.

It’s the versatility of Trichoderma that increases its value as a biofertilizer. The fungi are found in all types of soils and seem to survive and grow in almost any soil conditions. Further, Trichoderma have important uses as biofungicides. Although it’s beyond the scope of this article, this biofungicial activity is why Trichoderma were generally studied in the first place.

As you can see there are a number of species of Trichoderma fungi that are used as biofertilizers. These uses are surely to be explored and exploited in the years to come.

Custom Biologicals manufactures a number of Trichoderma based products, including Custom GP. Custom GP is a concentrated liquid biofertilizer containing 4 species of beneficial Trichoderma fungi.