The Science Behind EnSoil Algae
Chlorella vulgaris : a Humble Green Algae
that Happens to be a Powerful Bio-stimulant
Although EnSoil Algae may be used as a replacement for NPK fertilizers, it's important to understand that EnSoil, unlike NPK, does not provide nutrients directly to soil and plants. Rather, EnSoil Algae is a bio-stimulant. As defined by the US Farm Bill of 2018, it is “a substance or micro-organism that when applied to seeds, plants, or the rhizosphere, stimulates natural processes to enhance or benefit nutrient uptake, nutrient efficiency, tolerance to abiotic stress (drought or salinity), or crop quality and yield."
Published international research and our experience confirm that the bio-stimulant, live Chlorella vulgaris—EnSoil Algae—promotes plant growth and health. Soil testing has shown a positive effect on fertility. Furthermore, it is a green product, a culture of the single-cell green algae, C. vulgaris. Using sterile water, light and air, it is grown in bioreactors—200-liter vertical tanks—in clean laboratory conditions. There is minimal energy input.
This is how we make EnSoil Algae:
Algae Starter + Water + Light + CO2 More Algae + O2
When algae grows, carbon is removed from the atmosphere,
and the only byproduct of production is oxygen!
EnSoil is Nontoxic
While EnSoil Algae is prepared only for agricultural use, Chlorella vulgaris is nontoxic, and has been used for human and animal consumption. This means that it is safe for pets or children to play on grass immediately after application. A client with a horse farm moved horses from the pasture before applying synthetic chemical fertilizer (NPK), but with EnSoil Algae that isn’t necessary.
Let's Take a Deeper Dive into the Science:
Nature's Way vs. Commercial Agriculture's
How Nature Creates Healthy Soil
It is well known that the microbial makeup in your digestive system, the biome, has a direct effect on health, and that dietary habits and supplements can affect your biome. The well-being and growth of plants depend on an similar process. Like humans, plants live in a symbiotic (cooperative) arrangement with microbes. The soil around the roots, known as the rhizosphere, is essentially the plant’s biome. The rich mixture of microorganisms living there performs a number of tasks critical to plant growth and health.
Soil bacteria “fix nitrogen”; that is, they convert atmospheric nitrogen into compounds that are absorbed by plant roots and used for photosynthesis and the production of organic compounds like amino acids and proteins. That’s right—plants themselves don’t fix nitrogen. It is a function of soil bacteria. For example, we plant legumes, like peanuts or chickpeas, to enrich soil, to raise the level of nitrogen. However, it is bacteria in the root nodules of legumes that actually process atmospheric nitrogen.
Here is an Amazing fact: there are up to 10 billion bacteria per gram of soil in the rhizosphere, so this metabolic factory is well staffed.
Impact of Commercial Agriculture
& NPK Dependency
With the advent of the "Green Revolution" in the 1960s, commercial agriculture in the western world has largely relied upon continuous soil tilling, mono-cropping, and fertilizing with synthetic-chemical NPK. While the increase in food production was critical, over time these practices have led not only to detrimental decreases in microbial soil health, but nutrient-based, water contamination, as well.
The problem is that synthetic-chemical fertilizers bypass natural processes. Synthetic formulations of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (NPK) are applied in forms that can be directly absorbed by plant roots to enhance growth. NPK works as a fertilizer and plant growth, but it does nothing for soil health. Over time soil fertility diminishes, meaning natural bacterial and fungal life diminishes, since there is degradation of bacterial and fungal life. This leads to a cycle of dependency on NPK.
To further illustrate, we've heard from an Illinois corn farmer who claims that 60 years of chemical fertilizers has stripped his yard-deep topsoil of its natural fertility. He considers it an inert growth medium, like vermiculite, and he measures out and applies NPK to achieve a desired level of production.
Moving to Regenerative Agriculture
with Plant Bio-stimulants (PBS)
This is a third way to promote growth and yield, apart from the direct application of nutrients. The federal government first defined plant bio-stimulants in the 2018 Farm bill. The USDA provided these two alternative definitions in a 2019 report
“A plant bio-stimulant is a naturally occurring substance… or a microbe that is used for the purpose of stimulating natural processes in plants or in the soil in order to, among other things, improve nutrient and/or water use efficiency by plants, help plants tolerate abiotic stress, or improve characteristics of the soil as a medium for plant growth. The characteristics may be physical, chemical, and/or biological. The PBS may be used either by itself or in combination with other substances or microbes for this purpose.”
“A PBS is a substance or microorganism, that, when applied to seeds, plants, the rhizosphere, soil or other growth media, acts to support a plant’s natural nutrition processes independent of the biostimulant’s nutrient content.” That is to say, a PBS does not have enough nutritional content to be a fertilizer.
Micro Application of EnSoil Algae
Micro Application of EnSoil Algae
Micro-application of live Chlorella vulgaris has been studied as a PBS for the last 50 years. These are the claims we make for EnSoil Algae (ESA), a culture of Chlorella vulgaris, based on a large body of research:
When live Chlorella vulgaris is applied to soil, foliage or both, there is an increase in plant mass.
When applied to soil it helps condition the soil for improved plant performance and vigor, resulting in greater shoot and root mass. This is due to its effects on the soil’s microbial community. Measures of microbial mass and activity such as soil respiration or cation exchange capacity are enhanced. Soil organic matter rises. In broad terms, there is enhanced fertility.
A more active soil microbial community improves nutrient uptake: soil bacteria fix nitrogen (converting atmospheric nitrogen to compounds that can be absorbed by plant roots), and they solubilize soil-bound nutrients including phosphorous.
Chlorella vulgaris optimizes conditions for tolerance of abiotic stress, such as drought or irrigation water salinity. Abiotic stress leads to the accumulation of destructive oxidative compounds in the plant, and when chlorella vulgaris is applied the plant mounts a more robust antioxidant response.
Photosynthesis & Chlorophyll Effects
Photosynthesis & Chlorophyll Effects
Photosynthesis is the foundation of life as we know it. Plants and algae are able to convert the sun’s energy into carbohydrates. We are beginning to understand the role of microalgae in the process.When EnSoil Algae is applied to plants and soil, it signals to microbes in the biome, stimulating activity. This is measurable through Haney Testing. The resulting increase in microbial activity results in improved nitrogen fixation and nutrient solubilization, providing more nutrients to plants.
Plants benefit from foliar application of EnSoil Algae. It enhances chlorophyll directly, helping plants capture the sun’s energy more efficiently. Plants treated with EnSoil Algae respond positively. Farmers, ranchers, gardeners, and lawn care specialists all report deeper green colors and improved growth from use of EnSoil Algae. This is photosynthesis at work. Plants experiencing enhanced photosynthesis put more carbon in the soil to feed the microbial community. Which leads to greater nutrient uptake for the plant!
Multiple studies of the effect of Chlorella vulgaris as a bio-stimulant also measured and found an increase in leaf chlorophyll content. Chlorophyll is the connection between light and photosynthesis; it absorbs light and transfers its energy to other parts of the photosystem. Of course, chlorophyll is also responsible for plant color.
Water Holding Capacity
EnSoil Algae can help reverse the catastrophic consequences of soil compaction and water runoff from decades of chemical fertilization. Fertilizers have destroyed soil biology and consequently soil structure. The outcome is a devastating reduction in water infiltration and soil's water holding capacity.
However, just a 1% gain in soil organic matter (SOM) can represent as much 20,000 gallons of additional water holding capacity per acre. Application of EnSoil Algae--especially when paired with regenerative farming practices like no till and cover cropping--can dramatically improve SOM, improving soil structure. The better the soil structure, the better water holding capacity in the soil, and the easier for plants to utilize the water.
As drought conditions lead to more strict water usage regulation, it is critical that our soils capture and hold as much rain and irrigation as possible. There is a direct return on investment in soil structure improvement!
Water Holding Capacity
EnSoil Algae applications have proven beneficial in tuning plant responses to several types of abiotic stress. Abiotic stress is usually oxidative stress, and plants have natural defenses when exposed to stressors such as drought or salt. They produce antioxidant enzymes that detoxify reactive oxygen species (ROS). Treatment with EnSoil Algae boosts plants' natural antioxidant production, and thus mitigates the effects of drought or salt. A practical corollary is that algae treated plants require less irrigation!
Watershed Safety & Preventing Algal Bloom
It seems paradoxical that replacing NPK with EnSoil Algae could lower the risk of algae bloom. The reason is pretty simple.
NPK is a nutrient that goes into solution when mixed with water. Because NPK dissolves, it travels with water wherever it goes. If you live in the Mississippi River Basin, some of the NPK fertilizer you apply to your lawn reaches ground water that eventually makes it to the river, and then to the Gulf of Mexico. All along the way, the NPK nutrients are "feeding" wild algae and aquatic plant life, creating massive algae blooms that are harmful to ecosystems and devastating to coastal economies.
On the other hand, C. vulgaris do not go into solution. They are living cells, a suspension of particles in water. After sitting for a few hours, the cells fall to the bottom of the bottle and only disperse uniformly with mild agitation. Because they are particulate, they do not penetrate far into the soil. In addition, migration through soil is hindered by algae’s positive charge. Soil is negatively charged, so the algae stick in place. Finally the number of algae cells applied is relatively small. Fifty-thousand cells per square foot sounds like a lot of algae, but it's actually a miniscule amount when we remember that there are many billions of bacteria per gram of soil.
Annotated Bibliography of International C. vulgaris Studies
The use of C. vulgaris as a soil amendment is not new. The benefits of its effect on soil biome activation have been studied and documented since the 1970s. Check out this bibliography of peer-reviewed research from around the world, documenting the effectiveness of live algae as an agricultural bio-stimulant.
Our Procedure for Verifying EnSoil Algae's Guaranteed Analysis of 10 million CFU/mL
Enlightened Soil Corp conducts cell counts using the industry standard methods outlined by Andersen and Throndsen (2003; Manual on Harmful Marine Algae; Eds Hallegraeff, Anderson and Cembella.) Click image for the full methodology.
EnSoil's Ongoing Research Trials and Soil Testing
Enlightened Soil Corp understands that we are only beginning to understand the full benefits of C. vulgaris as an agricultural bio-stimulant. There is so much more to discover about this miraculous, single-cell algae and how it may be applied to soil and plant health. That's why we stay engaged in our ongoing research. We want to share not only what we are learning, but our excitement, as well!