Bacteria: A Friend to the Gut and the Garden
If you’re trying to stop the spread of a virus, washing your hands helps. But if you want to really protect your health, you may want to think twice about soap labeled antibacterial.
Recently, the FDA pulled some antibacterial soaps from store shelves, because it wasn’t even safe for daily use.
You read that right: Killing bacteria isn’t good for your health. Your bacteria need protecting. Despite common misconceptions, bacteria are good for you — and for growing things you may consume in your garden, too.
And that’s a good thing because bacteria are everywhere. Unless you’ve been chugging antibacterial soap (that’s also not recommended by the FDA, by the way), you and everything you see around you are basically covered in bacteria.
Yet so many people have been tricked by chemical companies into believing that flourishing bacteria colonies aren’t vital for human health. Supplementing good bacteria into both the body and the gardens that grow our food helps strengthen and nourish humans in important ways.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a huge, commercial farm or a tiny dooryard herb garden. Bacteria matter.
If you were only a single-cell organism, like a bacterium, you may be used to the misunderstanding. But if you’re a gardener looking to improve your crops and your health, you’d benefit by gaining a strong respect for these little bacteria that work furiously on a microscopic level.
Microbiome: A Closer Look
Lean in if you want to understand the value of tiny bacteria. They are found in countless numbers in our oceans, soil, and all around us in the air. There’s an entire environment of trillions of bacteria, called microbiota, that live on the human skin and inside the gastrointestinal tract.
For being something you can’t see with the naked eye, the microbiome is so important that doctors, nutritionists, and researchers alike consider it a supporting organ. For humans, the bacteria in the gut and on the skin play an invaluable role in assisting the digestive process by breaking down toxic foods and supporting the immune response.
Interestingly, the microbiome is just as individualistic as our fingerprints. Your genetics, everything you’ve ever eaten or drank, everything that your mother has ever eaten or drank (if you were breastfed), and all kinds of environmental exposure determine your microbiome.
It can be filled with good bacteria that work effectively to help you feel wonderful, or, well, you can feel like you’ve just eaten takeaway from a dirty food vendor downtown. Your body’s bacteria can fight off illness, or it can give you pink eye.
When you contract certain infectious diseases, follow unhealthy diets, or use antibiotics or antibacterial soaps, you risk killing off your good bacteria. Then, the bad bacteria (hello pink eye) can take over and wreak havoc.
You risk more than a simple bacterial infection, too. Everything in the human body is connected, including the gut and your brain via the vagus nerve. When the microbiome is out of balance, your mental health can suffer, too.
How Probiotics and Prebiotics Help
Chemical companies may have been making soap to kill bacteria, but health-focused companies make products to support and enhance your body’s bacteria.
You’ve likely heard of probiotics. While they come in over-the-counter supplements that are often stored in the refrigerator, probiotics can also be found naturally in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and tempeh.
Probiotics are live bacteria, usually strains called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Doctors recommend people take probiotics to replenish the microbiome after a round of antibiotics and as we age as a regular supplement to strengthen our resilience to irritable bowel syndrome, some skin conditions, common colds, and allergies.
Probiotics have been shown to support urinary, vaginal, and oral health, too.
Then there’s prebiotics, which is also used as a supplement to support healthy bacteria in the human body. This is a kind of dietary fiber that feeds the good bacteria to maintain balance in your digestive tract.
Some foods that are excellent prebiotics include bitter greens like dandelion, garlic, bananas, oats, and flaxseeds. And cocoa — yes, chocolate contains naturally occurring chemicals called flavanols, which are prebiotics!
Macrobiom: Looking Outward
Just as bacteria are vitally important to the human body, they also are a lifeline to the environment around us. Often, this concept is known as the macrobiome, although there’s some debate as to whether it’s just another version of microbiome that just happens to be located away from our bodies.
Researchers are actively working to better understand how bacteria works on Earth, expanding the grouping of bacteria from just a dozen 30 years ago to around 120 different groups now known to science.
Many scientists are collaborating to create a sample catalog called the Earth Microbiome Project. A few years ago, they logged 100,000 samples from the bottom of the ocean to 220 miles from Earth on the International Space Station.
You can find bacteria in the depths of the jungle and in the soils right in your backyard. There, they help to regulate the climate’s temperature and allow plants to grow stronger and fruit more abundantly.
For both your body and your garden, adding the right bacteria protects against the bad while supporting the good.
Inoculates for the Garden
The analogy is clear: the soil of the Earth is akin to the gastrointestinal tract of the human body. The more we can support bacterial health, the healthier everything will be. Just as we can supplement our diets with the right foods, we can supplement our garden, too.
This is where inoculates come in. By adding products that include good strains of bacteria to the soil, gardeners are able to improve the growth cycle of the plants, improve soil composition, help plants retain more water, and even offer a simulation of nutrient uptake so the plant can be more productive.
Impello offers three variations of inoculates that have been used by commercial hemp and cannabis farmers with measurable success for years, and recently backyard hobbyist growers are taking note.
The flagship Tribus Original is a highly concentrated blend of three rhizobacteria, which can be applied before the seed is sown, while the plant is sprouting, and as the flowers and fruits blossom. It’s been shown to improve growth for all kinds of plants, including fruits and vegetables, berries, and coffee.
The other inoculates include Tribus Grow, which is used to enhance vegetative growth and development of the root system. It is especially effective in protecting plants from high-salt environments, which can stress out delicate root structures. Tribus Bloom, the third inoculate, is used during the flowering stages to maximize nutrient availability and provide a greater harvest.
Caring for Our Health with Bacteria
It’s hard to overestimate how important these microorganisms are for human health, both for the plants we consume and for everyday living. The human body even contains 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells!
So why are both humans and gardeners alike just starting to understand the value of supplementing our internal and external environments with healthy bacteria? Scientifically, bacteria were discovered more than three centuries ago — but the focus was always on those pesky strains that caused serious health risks like cholera, typhoid, and tuberculosis.
As more stressors are added into our daily regimes and we seek to maximize the value of our land through gardening and agriculture, humans are turning to introduce good bacteria to counter the negative impacts of bad bacteria.
You can’t argue with results, either. It’s easy to find stories from people who integrated goat’s yogurt, for example, into their diets and eradicated skin conditions, or those drinking kombucha reducing blood pressure. The same can be found for growers who add inoculants to their agricultural regimes.
Peer-reviewed studies published in the journal Microbiological Research (yes, there’s a journal for everything these days) showed that adding in mixtures of bacteria helps improve the fertile qualities of soil — regardless of whether or not a grower adds organic fertilizer.
Simply put, inoculants help plants soak up more nutrients in basically the same way that probiotics and prebiotics help humans process and digest nutrients in their bodies. Bacteria help gardeners keep their plants strong and resilient, just as these micro-organisms help protect us against sickness.
The challenge isn’t so much how to tell the difference between good bacteria and bad bacteria, but how to increase good bacteria in both soils and the gastrointestinal tract. In the last few decades, the science has become clearer.
Probiotics were once considered snake oil, and today they are part of a multi-million-dollar industry. While inoculates for gardening are less well-known, the interest of both commercial farmers and residential gardeners is growing.
Thanks to research, we know the importance and power that healthy bacteria levels can offer our environments. Humans are no longer at the mercy of the countless microscopic organisms that completely surround us. Instead of killing everything with chemical-laden soaps, more people are recognizing their ability to improve resilience to disease while increasing strength and productivity.
To a bacterium, it’s the same in the gut as it is in the garden.