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This cool video illustrates what makes a good microbe tea good

Today we have a cool video from Eli Bajalia, permaculture expert and soil foodweb consultant in Jacksonville, Florida.

Back in February, Eli was brewing an aerated tea to treat a young food forest, looking to ensure disease protection with an eye to the pathogens that have for years afflicted Florida’s orchards. Eli captured the video while checking his tea for quality.

As it turned out, the quality was pretty darn good. In a single visual field we see a large fungal hypha (not so easy to cultivate in tea), along with two amoebae (the egg-shaped things).

And then, about five seconds in (see video below), there’s the part that made us do a double-take. That’s when a hyperactive flagellate swims in from the right-hand side, straight for our amoebae.

The amoebae are in testate form, having squeezed themselves and some food stores into a protective covering, or test, in response to disturbance. Once things settle down, they’ll emerge and continue about their business.

When the flagellate shows up, it jostles one amoeba a bit. Then, as it turns upward, the amoeba seems to get annoyed and lunge after it, Pac-Man-style.

Previously, it had been our understanding that testate amoebae are totally immobile. Until they decide to emerge, they are just hunkered down, waiting out the ruckus inside their little armored shells. We also knew that, even when not testate (or “naked”), they certainly don’t move quite so quickly.

But still, this one had that uncanny appearance of moving under its own power. So, just to be sure, we asked an authority – the esteemed microbiologist Dr. Elaine Ingham, educator and founder of Soil Food Web, Inc. (and whose certification we are completing here at Foothill Biological). Dr. Ingham confirmed that, indeed, it is not possible for any known amoeba to move under its own power while testate.

So what moved the amoeba? The answer goes back to the quality of the tea, and also illustrates why teas are especially suited to foliar application. When fungi and bacteria encounter the right combination of moisture, oxygen and food in an environment like an aerated tea, they begin reproducing quickly and secreting lots of slimy, glue-like substances.

It’s these glues that allow microbes to stick to surfaces – like plant stems and leaves -- and begin growing into more complex communities.

As the flagellate jostled about, it picked up a bit of that gluey slime. This caused it to stick to the amoeba as it squirmed past, pulling it along for a brief second before breaking free.

So there you have it – in just a few seconds, an illustrated lesson on what makes good tea good.

Thanks everyone for geeking out with us, and thanks Eli for sharing the video!

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