Lactobacillus is a genus of beneficial bacteria. They are found pretty much everywhere and there are even some inside your digestive system right now! In fact, Lactobacillus bacteria are in many probiotic supplements and Lactobacillus species play an important role in the production of many common foods. In the garden, Lactobacillus serum can be used as a digester, helping break down organic matter and turn it into a form that is available to your plants. Since Lactobacillus bacteria are everywhere, its easy to make a concentrated culture you can use around your home and garden, and all you need is a few basic ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen. I originally saw this recipe at www.theunconventionalfarmer.com and have since come across a few similar recipes on other sites.
Its good stuff and its easy to make!
lets do it!
Things you will need:
- Rice (any kind will do)
- Sugar or molasses (most varieties seem to work fine)
- Milk (any kind except lactose free)
- Some glass jars or storage containers
Optional but helpful:
- Turkey baster
- Airlock or 1-way venting lid for your container
Step 1: Gather wild bacteria-
Rinse a cup or so of rice in a few cups of water. The water will get cloudy as it picks up starches from the rice. Remove the rice and cook it for dinner or throw it into your compost pile. What we are after is the starchy water.
Take your dish of starchy water and find a safe place you can leave it for 3-7 days. I suggest somewhere warm and out of the way so it doesn’t get spilled or disturbed. I usually keep mine in the kitchen on top of the fridge, since its slightly warm and will stay undisturbed. Bacteria from the environment will be attracted to the starchy water and will colonize the liquid in your dish.
Loosely covered rice wash collecting bacteria on my dirty counter.
After a few days, the liquid will start to separate into three distinct layers:
- Top- floating solids and maybe a little mold or funky stuff growing.
- Middle- Cloudy liquid full of native bacteria, including Lactobacillus
- Bottom- Sinking solids, rice bits, etc.
The middle layer is what we are after, so separate it from the rest and move it to a larger jar or container. The easiest way is to use your turkey baster to suck it up and transfer it to a jar. If you don’t have a baster, you can skim the top layer off and carefully pour the middle layer into a new container. However you do it, try to isolate the middle layer. It doesn’t have to be perfect, so just do your best to separate the middle layer without taking too much of the top or bottom layers.
Step 2: Add milk so the Lactobacillus takes over the culture-
Native Bacteria cultures ready to add milk.
So now that we have our culture containing a diverse group of native bacteria, its time to separate out the Lactobacillius. As you may have guessed, Lactobacillus LOVE milk, specifically the sugar lactose. By adding lots of milk to our collection of wild bacteria, we will encourage the Lactobacillus to take over and dominate the culture. Before long they will take it over completely, and we will be left with only the Lactobacillus we are after.
In a large jar or container, combine about 10 parts milk to 1 part of your native bacteria culture from step one.
So for every 100 mL of culture from step one, you will need about one liter of milk.
Measurements don’t need to be exact, but make sure to leave a few inches of room at the top of your container. Loosely cover it, but don’t seal it completely air tight. We are trying to keep outside air from getting in, but still want the container to be able to vent excess gas if it needs to. You could also use an airlock lid on your container like I am doing.
Leave it undisturbed for 5-10 days at room temperature.
After a few days, the bacteria + milk mixture will start to separate into layers.
At the top, a cheesy layer will form, and the bottom will be a cloudy liquid, usually cloudy white with a little yellow tint to it.
It will also start to smell like stinky cheese. Usually the smell stays mostly in the container, but be aware this process does create some cheesy odor that you may find unpleasant.
We are after the liquid layer, but the cheese layer is full of beneficial bacteria as well. It makes a great addition to your compost pile or soil. I’ve read you could also probably eat it or feed it to your animals, (its basically cheese and beneficial bacteria) but it smells pretty weird so I have yet to try it myself. It usually goes in my compost pile.
After about 5-10 days, the mix should be completely separated into a solid layer and a liquid layer. Use your turkey baster, strainer, or careful pouring to separate the liquid into a different jar or container. This liquid layer is full of the Lactobacillus we are after.
Day 1- Milk and native bacteria culture combined. The purple and blue thingies are “Pickle Pipe” one way valves that allow the jars to vent air out but not in. They are nice tools to have when making this sort of thing, but not required.
Day 2- starting to separate
Day 5- Mostly separated.
Day 7- Separation Complete
Strainer lid- very useful but optional. Available most places that sell canning jars.
Cheese chunk and lacto culture after separating with strainer lid
Step 3: Add sugar to the lactobacillus culture to preserve and stabilize it. Mix your lacto culture with a roughly equal amount of sugar or molasses.
So if you have 1 liter of lacto culture, add about 1 liter of molasses or 1 kilogram (about 2.2lbs) of sugar.
In order to stay alive and happy in their jar, your Lactobacilli need a long term food source. Adding a bunch of sugar or molasses gives them something to snack on and will preserve your Lacto culture for a year or more. The type of sugar doesn’t seem to matter too much, but I prefer organic cane sugar as its not bleached or as heavily processed as other varieties. The type of sugar you use may effect the color of your final product, but I’ve made many batches with several different types of sugar and they all seemed to work fine. The finished liquid is ready to use and stable to store at room temp for at least a year, and probably much longer.
Finished Lacto cultures. Color may vary based on the type of sugar you use.
How to use your finished Lacto culture
In the garden-
Water it in- 15 to 30 mL per gal –Helps break down organic mater and fertilizers into plant available forms. Helps with nutrient uptake and availability. Its pretty much just beneficial bacteria and some residual sugar, so its compatible to mix in with whatever else you are watering.
Foliar- 15 mL per gal –Natural antifungal, Helps prevent powdery mildew. Populates plant surfaces with beneficial lactobacillus which outcompete other harmful microorganisms. Use it alone or as part of your regular IPM spray.
Make fertilizer with it- Lactobacillus will attempt to break down any organic composting material it comes into contact with. You can make “fermented plant extract” by mixing nutrient rich plant mater with lactobacillus and allowing it to break down and ferment for a few weeks. After the mix is fermented, the chunks are strained out and the remaining liquid is a very effective fertilizer containing lots of nutrients and beneficial lacto bacteria. This is a bigger topic I will cover in detail another time, but if you are interested in learning more, search the internet for “fermented plant extracts” and “dynamic accumulators” for tons more info.
Use to aid in composting or make bokashi– Water it into your compost pile. Helps break down organic matter and accelerate the composting process. Also helps reduce compost related odors. Can be used to make bokashi bran or used in anaerobic composting methods. Also seems to speed up the “cooking” process when preparing freshly mixed soil for use.
Around the house-
Drain digester/deodorizer- Helps break down organic sludge stuck in your plumbing. Works well to help unclog slow drains. Pour a little bit of undiluted lacto down your drain to help break up a clog or use it diluted to help deodorize a smelly drain. Works best when you pour a little in and let it sit over night before using the drain again.
Deodorizer/cleaner- Dilute to around 15 mL per liter of water to make a deodorizing spray. Use to get rid of bad odors around the house. Very useful if you have pets or other animal related odors to deal with. Very effective deodorizer, even when heavily diluted. Effective for use on animal bedding, livestock areas etc.
Its useful pretty much anytime you’ve got something organic you need to break down or deodorize!
If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments. I’ll do my best to check in and answer what I can.
I leave you with a few fun lacto pics from times I’ve used it in my garden. I will cover using lacto to make fermented plant extract (FPE) in a future article. Hopefully this serves to show you the possibilities or gets you thinking of ways you could put lacto to work in your own garden.
Thanks for reading! I hope you learned something!
Sources and Recommended Reading:
A different batch of lacto. Cheesing up nicely
Nettle and Comfrey fermented plant extracts
Fermenting fan leaf FPE. Day 1
Fermenting fan leaf FPE. 4 weeks later. Lacto is breaking them down. The liquid will be strained out and fed to plants.
I water my soil with lacto and recharge before while its cooking. Its ALIVE!!!! 😛