The Hunt for Bradyrhizobium japonicum (Bray-dee-rye-ZO-bee-um jah-PON-ick-come) or How to Make Your Soybeans Really Happy!

I know. You’re probably saying bradyrhizo…what???? Here’s a real vegetable gardener’s detective story, a refreshing break from the usual mysteries like, hey, is this a marmorated stink bug?

While reading up on precisely the best way to plant my 4 test packages of soybean seeds, I learned that like peas, beans and limas (legumes), soybeans also benefit from an inoculant. An inoculant is a (good) bacteria that works with a plant’s roots and allows the plant to make use of nitrogen in the air to help it grow better. In agspeak that’s called nitrogen fixing. Dampen your seeds, shake them in a bag with the inoculant, pop them in the ground and wala, pretty soon, stronger and sturdier legumes.

Inoculant is usually available at your better nursery supply stores. So I bought a bag labeled ‘Garden Inoculant’, a rather modest-sized bag weighing 42 grams (why they can’t tell me that’s 1.5 ounces I don’t know, perhaps something valuable enough to be weighed in grams justifies a fancier price) which is enough for 5 pounds of seeds. It’s only good for about a year so don’t go buying it in bulk. I mean, really, are you going to be planting 5 pounds of seeds of anything? And if you said yes, you are probably in the wrong blog…. and want to be in the next one over, like Future Farmers of America maybe.

Warning – more Latin ahead!! But! it’s useful to know and no more demanding than reading food labels in the grocery store. So. Peas, beans and limas benefit from inoculant including a mix of Rhizobium leguminosarum biovar viceae, Rhizobium leguminosarum bovar phaseoli and Bradyrhizobium sp. (Phaseolus). I was feeling quite happy and not a little smug for tapping into this helpful addition to my crop until I read the fine print for soybeans and discovered that NONE of these work. Soybeans, the little rascals, hail from Asia and insist on their very own variety of bacteria, specifically, bradyrhizobium japonicum. Back to Valley View where they did not really understand why Garden Inoculant would not work but did offer to order whatever I needed if I could find a supplier.

So I hopped on the internet and started searching and found….nothing, meaning if I wanted ‘bj’ I would have to order a trainload which is just about enough to treat the entire soybean seed crop of Nebraska and North Dakota combined.

By now I am running out of resources and decide to knuckle under and call the HGIC – Home and Garden Information Center and turns out THEY don’t know of a source either and refer me to the Anne Arundel Farmer’s Co-op and ask for Cory.

I call. Cory is busy can I help you instead? Uh…sure, I’m looking for some bradyrhizobium japonicum. Short pause. Hold on, let me get Cory for you.

Hi Cory, I’m looking for some bradyrhizobium japonicum. Another, longer pause. I know he’s deciding if this is a prank call. It’s for soybeans specifically I add, trying to bridge to reality.

Well, I’ve been farming for 25 years and never heard of such a thing. By now I’m wishing the U of Illinois had not sent me 4 packages of free test seeds to grow edamame. But, says Cory, I’ll call a few farmers, ask and get back to you in a few days. Now it was my turn to be skeptical and I wasn’t sure if this was a polite brush off or if he really would take the time.

Cory called back in a few days, no good news yet but one more call was expected. And that call said he had two small bags of, yes, bradyrhizobium japonicum and they were set aside with my name on them! And that is only ONE reason the Anne Arundel Farmer’s Co-op rates high with me now. (Glen Burnie, MD)

When the weather warms up a bit more I’ll treat my seeds and blog the next installment of the bradyrhizobium japonicum story.

One Comment on “The Hunt for Bradyrhizobium japonicum (Bray-dee-rye-ZO-bee-um jah-PON-ick-come) or How to Make Your Soybeans Really Happy!

  1. My husband works for a grain elevator and brought home some bags of out dated (Dec, 2013) bradyrhizobium japonicum. He thinks I can use it as planting soil in my raised bed vegetable garden. Is that true? Do you still want some?

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