The chickens experienced their first snow last month. It was very amusing to watch them traipsing through the white stuff and trying to eat some. I made sure that they had warm water to drink, plenty to eat, and extra thick bedding during the cold weather, and amazingly they are continuing to lay eggs too!

I am adding a few new items to the Pantry this spring, starting with Nitrogen-Fixing Bacteria. This is a common microbial inoculant that you may have already heard about.

Inoculating seeds with nitrogen-fixing bacteria is an easy and economical way to increase the yield and overall health of legumes. Legumes are members of the pea family or Fabaceae (formerly named Leguminosae). Besides all garden peas (snap, snow, chick, shelling etc.) and sweet peas, this family includes all beans (bush, pole, broad, soy etc.), also lentils, and even peanuts.

The product is simply added to seed when planting. As the seeds germinate and grow into pea and bean plants, the Rhizobium bacteria form nodules in the roots of their hosts where they gather nitrogen gas from the air. The bacteria then convert atmospheric nitrogen into solid compounds (= nitrogen fixation), and provide this valuable protein building block to the plants in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Far from being a problem for the plant, the bacteria are true symbionts. In exchange for supplying nitrogen to their host, they receive carbon compounds that they cannot make themselves. We gardeners reap the rewards of this unique trade agreement in the form of a great nutritious harvest!

Scientists call these processes the Carbon and Nitrogen Cycles. It amazes me time and again how all the food on our table ultimately comes down to this partnership of plants and bacteria, with their unique abilities to respectively capture carbon and nitrogen gas from thin air, and then trading and turning these elements into carbohydrates and proteins – so that all creatures may have food to eat.

Interestingly, some common herbs, vines, shrubs and trees are also known to partner with nitrogen fixing bacteria (although these bacteria are usually different from the inoculant used for legumes). Usually we call them “nitrogen-fixing plants” even though technically it is the bacteria who do the job. These plants include clover, vetch, alfalfa, and lupins, all of which are often used as “green manure” cover crops; and pioneer species such as broom (Cytisus), kudzu (Pueraria), alder (Alnus), buffaloberry (Shepherdia), sea buckthorn (Hippophae), silverberry (Eleagnus), pea shrub (Caragana), and California lilac (Ceanothus).

Some of the latter are recognized by humans for their useful role in land reclamation, while others are regarded as invasive species. Their common ecological role however is simply to improve overall soil fertility in young developing ecosystems. Problems arise when human activity introduces vigorous foreign growers like kudzu or broom into plant communities where there are no mechanisms to keep them in check. Not yet, anyway – over time, their job finished, they will retreat and make room for successive species.

Anyway, back to the legume inoculant! You can find application rates and further product information on my web page. And, for some truly yummy recipes and tips on healthy vegan cooking with peas and beans, check out Heather’s fabulous site, Healthy Eating Starts Here.

One more thing: Due to popular demand, I am now accepting orders and credit card payments over the phone as well as on-line. Ordering made easy!

I look forward to seeing you visiting the Pantry for some spring shopping.