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EM (effective micro-organisms)

Effective microorganisms in action – photo by Nadia Lawton of the permaculture research institute. This is a must use resource! See their work here.

EM is special

Imagine having a secret army of tiny superheroes that help your garden grow better and healthier. Well, that’s what Effective Microorganisms, or EM, are in organic gardening! EM is a special mixture of beneficial microorganisms, like bacteria and yeast, that work together to improve the soil and plants in your garden.

Here’s how it works: EM is made by combining different types of helpful microorganisms that are naturally found in healthy soils and fermented together. These little heroes have special powers. Some break down organic matter, turning it into nutrients that plants love. Others fight harmful microorganisms that can make plants sick. And guess what? They even help improve soil structure, making it easier for plants to get water and nutrients.

So, when you use EM in your garden, it’s like adding a team of super friends to help your plants grow strong and happy. You can use EM in a few different ways. One common way is to mix it with water and spray it on the soil or directly on the plants. This helps the beneficial microorganisms spread and do their magic. Another way is to add EM to your compost pile, where they’ll speed up the composting process, turning kitchen scraps and yard waste into rich, nutritious compost for your plants.

The best part is that EM is safe and natural, without any harmful chemicals. It’s like having an eco-friendly gardening sidekick that brings out the best in your plants while being kind to the environment. So, if you want to have a garden that’s full of life and bursting with fruits and veggies, give EM a try, and let these tiny superheroes work their wonders!

Using EM in the garden

Using Effective Microorganisms (EM) in the garden is quite simple and can bring many benefits to your plants and soil. Here are some ways to use EM in your garden:

  1. Soil Drench: Dilute EM with water according to the instructions on the EM product you have or follow the general guideline of 1 part EM to 20 parts water. Use this solution to water the soil around the base of your plants. The beneficial microorganisms in EM will help improve soil structure, break down organic matter, and make nutrients more available to the plants.
  2. Foliar Spray: Dilute EM with water at a ratio of 1 part EM to 100 parts water. Spray this mixture directly on the leaves of your plants. The microorganisms will help protect the plants from harmful pathogens and pests while promoting healthier growth.
  3. Compost Accelerator: Add EM to your compost pile or bin to speed up the decomposition process. The microorganisms in EM will help break down the organic matter faster, resulting in nutrient-rich compost for your garden.
  4. Seed Treatment: Before planting, you can soak your seeds in a diluted EM solution for a few minutes. This helps protect the seeds from disease-causing organisms and gives them a better chance of germination.
  5. Transplanting: When transplanting seedlings, you can water them with a diluted EM solution to reduce transplant shock and encourage root development.
  6. Livestock Manure Treatment: If you have access to animal manure, you can mix EM with water and apply it to the manure before adding it to your compost pile. This helps to reduce odors and improve the composting process.
  7. Cleaning Garden Tools: After using garden tools, you can clean them with a diluted EM solution to prevent the buildup of harmful pathogens and keep the tools in better condition.

Remember to follow the specific instructions provided with your EM product, as the dilution ratios and application methods may vary depending on the brand or type of EM you are using.

It’s essential to apply EM regularly to see its full benefits in your garden. The consistent use of EM will help establish a healthy and diverse microbial community in your soil, leading to stronger, more resilient plants and a flourishing garden.

Make your own EM

Making Effective Microorganisms (EM) at home is a straightforward process, and it involves using simple, natural ingredients. Here’s a step-by-step guide to making EM:


  • Organic brown sugar or molasses
  • Water
  • Rice wash or cooked rice
  • EM starter culture (can be purchased or obtained from a trusted source)


  • A large, clean container with a lid (plastic or glass)
  • A cloth or paper towel
  • Rubber band or string
  • Wooden or plastic spoon
  • Measuring cup

Step-by-Step Guide:

  1. Prepare the Container: Clean the container thoroughly with hot water and let it dry. Make sure there is no residue of soap or chemicals left in the container, as it can harm the microorganisms.
  2. Prepare the EM Starter: If you have an EM starter culture, follow the instructions on the package for the recommended amount. If not, you can obtain a small amount of EM from a trusted source, like a friend or a local organic farmer. This will serve as your initial EM culture.
  3. Prepare the Sugar-Water Solution: In a separate container, mix one liter of water with one tablespoon of organic brown sugar or molasses. Stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved.
  4. Add Rice Wash or Cooked Rice: If you have rice wash (the water left after rinsing rice), add it to the sugar-water solution. Alternatively, you can add a small handful of cooked rice. Rice acts as a source of nutrients for the microorganisms.
  5. Combine the EM Starter and Sugar-Water Mixture: Pour the EM starter (or the small amount of EM obtained from a trusted source) into the sugar-water mixture. Mix it well using a wooden or plastic spoon.
  6. Cover and Ferment: Cover the container with a cloth or paper towel and secure it with a rubber band or string. This allows air to flow while keeping insects out. Place the container in a warm and dark place with a stable temperature between 25-35°C (77-95°F).
  7. Fermentation Period: Let the mixture ferment for about 7 to 10 days. During this time, beneficial microorganisms will multiply and create EM.
  8. Check for a Sweet-Sour Smell: After the fermentation period, check the EM. It should have a pleasant, sweet-sour smell. If it smells bad or rotten, something might have gone wrong, and it’s best not to use it.
  9. Storage: Once the fermentation is complete, you can store the EM in airtight containers in a cool and dark place. It can remain viable for several months.

Now you have your homemade Effective Microorganisms (EM) ready to use in your organic gardening adventures. You can dilute the EM with water and use it as a soil drench or foliar spray to enhance plant growth, improve soil health, and increase the productivity of your garden.

As you can see, making EM is quite a process and there are some things to consider. Maybe it is better to purchase from a professional:

Potential Issues with Making Your Own EM

  1. Contamination: When creating EM at home, there’s a risk of contamination by undesirable microorganisms. Contaminants can harm your garden and reduce the effectiveness of the EM.
  2. Imbalance: Achieving the right balance of beneficial microorganisms in EM requires careful monitoring and expertise. Without proper knowledge, you might create an imbalance that negatively impacts your garden soil.
  3. Inconsistent Results: Homemade EM might yield inconsistent results due to variations in the microbial composition. Commercially produced EM undergoes rigorous quality control for consistent effectiveness.
  4. Lack of Diversity: Creating a diverse microbial community in EM is crucial. Inexperienced individuals might unintentionally limit the variety of beneficial microorganisms in their homemade EM.
  5. Nutrient Imbalance: The nutrient content in homemade EM can be unpredictable, affecting its nutritional value for your plants.
  6. Time and Effort: Developing effective EM requires time and dedication to ensure optimal growth and vitality of beneficial microorganisms. This might not be feasible for everyone.
  7. Health and Safety Concerns: Handling microorganisms without proper precautions can pose health risks. Professionals are equipped to handle these substances safely.

Buying EM

Reasons to Consider Buying EM from a Professional Locally:

  1. Expertise: Professionals have experience and knowledge in creating balanced, effective EM that promotes plant health and growth.
  2. Quality Control: Commercially produced EM undergoes quality control measures, ensuring consistency and reliability in its performance.
  3. Diverse Microbial Community: Professionals ensure a diverse and well-balanced microbial community in their EM, which is vital for soil health.
  4. Time-Saving: Purchasing EM saves you the time and effort required to create and maintain your own batch.
  5. Predictable Results: Professionally made EM is more likely to deliver predictable and positive results for your garden.
  6. Safety: Buying from professionals reduces the risks associated with handling microorganisms and ensures proper safety standards are followed.
  7. Support and Guidance: Local professionals can offer advice and guidance on using the EM effectively in your specific gardening environment.
  8. Convenience: Purchasing locally produced EM is convenient and supports local businesses and experts.

In conclusion, while making your own effective micro-organisms for your organic garden is possible, there are several potential pitfalls that could affect the success of your gardening efforts. Considering the expertise, quality control, and safety offered by professionals who produce EM locally, buying from them might be a more reliable and efficient option for achieving optimal results in your garden.

Namibian EM producers:

Contact Christie at +264 81 260 2977. Nationwide delivery can be arranged for up to 20L containers. Christie can also prepare large tanks of EM at your property for up to 1000 L. Please call Christie to discuss your requirements and/or a quotation.

Videos and links:

A must read is the detailed well referenced article by Gideon Towett of the Permaculture Research Institute, now run by Geoff Lawton – one of the leaders in the permaculture world. Access the article here.

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