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Al Zylstra

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Bacteria are nature's housekeepers and have been around 3.5 billion years.  They are truly amazing, not only are they willing workers who are inexpensive, but they are able to subsist and even thrive on organic compounds that we find repugnant, dangerous and troublesome.  It's particularly incredible that their evolvement has been so effective against an array of new chemical compounds that have been introduced into the environment through paints, solvents, food additives, drugs, pesticides and herbicides, lubricants, etc.

Microbes vary in shape and size but are so small as to be seen only by a high powered microscope.  A cubic inch box can contain 9 trillion organisms.  There are 100,000 microbes to every square centimeter of your skin.  Each of us has more microorganisms on and in us than there are human beings on the face of the earth.  Those inside of us are the ones that become upset when we drink the water in Mexico;  nothing wrong with the water - the Mexican people drink it and don't get sick - their microbes are more conditioned to it than ours.  Every tablespoon of soil contains billions of microorganisms and it is estimated that the combined weight of all microbial cells is 25x that of the Earth's animal life, and we've only identified about 5% of them.  Textbooks refer to them as "lower life forms", but indeed in many ways they are superior.  Talk about versatility!  They've been found in boiling springs in New Zealand and Iceland.  They've been found at the site of volcanic eruptions on the floor of the Pacific Ocean.  They live in the Dead Sea containing more than 25% salt.  They have been found in pools of water in the High Andes that freeze at night and thaw out during the day.  The bacteria apparently produce their own antifreeze.  Some are believed to have withstood 100 pounds per square inch of pressure while forming petroleum deposits.  Some can be freeze dried or have an electic current passed through them in a water suspension and not be harmed.  Every year approximately 40,000 female Mexican bats fly into a cave in San Antonio and Austin to have one offspring each.  Mother and baby hang from the ceiling with 15' of guano on the floor producing levels of ammonia requiring oxygen masks by humans.  The bats are unharmed.  It seems that bacteria in the bats' respiratory systems filter out the deleterious effects of the ammonia.  In your fish pond some can move at an equivalent rate of 60 MPH.  These capabilities are truly amazing for lower life forms!

In your pond some bacteria may be aerobic - use oxygen to degrade waste;  some may be anaerobic - do not operate in the presence of oxygen;  some may even be faculative - work with or without atmospheric oxygen.  Some reproduce every 10 minutes;  some every 20 minutes and some reproduce every 24 hours.

If this growth phase could be maintained a day's worth of culture would weigh more than the mass of the Earth, but when their food supply is gone they stop reproducing and eventually go into a death phase.  Initially they go through a lag phase wherein they are adjusting to their environment, repairing membranes and replenishing their supply of enzymes.  Following this they go through a logarithmic growth phase (reproduce dramatically) followed by a stationary phase (no reproduction) and finally alogarithmic death phase (progressively die off).

In your pond these beneficial microbes are primarily involved with the degradation of organic materials that may include leaves, dead plant matter, grass clippings, dead algae, bird droppings and food and fish waste.  They also convert ammonia into nitrates, a form used by your water plants for growth.  Microbes make up a "workforce" in your pond in an effort to maintain a clean environment, i.e., a balanced ecosystem.

If the workforce fails to perform satisfactorily - the results may include discoloration and murky water, clogged filters, odors, suspended matter in the water, prolific algae growth and a layer of unsightly sludge on the bottom as well as excess levels of nitrite, hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide.  Their inability to perform may be traced to lack of oxygen, pH change, overfeeding, overstocking, poor maintenance as well as poor design and inadequate equipment, such as pumps, filters, etc.  To help combat some of these problems without costly capital outlays the biological additives industry has emerged to improve the ability of the biological workforce through the addition of supplemental bacterial cultures.

The addition of specific cultures to a process is a commonly used procedure in many industries including brewing, cheese-making, yogurt, wineries, dairy products and pharaceuticals to mention a few.  The majority of fields dependent upon biological procedures rely upon this technique.  It is quite old.  Louis Pasteur introduced bio-augmentation into the brewing industry in the 1800's.  Its practical use in the waste treatment field in America was made possible by Geo Jefferies, who began commercial production of bacterial cultures in 1951.  Many firms use his techniques today.

Original bacterial formulations were crude.  Today it's a completely different ballgame.  Significant advances have been made in formulations and application techniques.  There has been controversy and confusion in regard to these products, primarily for two reasons:

1)  Firms with little or no techincal know-how - who have offered all sorts of products, some good, some bad, with exaggerated claims that cannot possibly be fulfilled.  These are what we call "foo foo dust salesmen".

2)  A tendency of the literature on the subject to lump all of these products into one category - "Enzymes" - with an attitude that there is no difference in their ability to perform;  if one doesn't work then none will.

Enzymes are high molecular weight proteins secreted by bacteria to break down organic compounds.  They are bio-catalysts.  Enzyme products evolved from the school of thought that indigenous or naturally-occurring bacteria in a system could be induced to perform through bio-stimulation by adding enzymes to the system.  Unlike bacteria, enzyme solutions do not reproduce and attempts to find proper enzymes in sufficient amounts with varied and complex substrates has not proven as successful and cost-effective as having the proper bacterial population.  In effect the dosage required would not be cost-effective.  On the other hand, colonies of bacteria are literally factories for the production of enzymes.  Bacteria produce the appropriate enzymes to break down substrates present in the water.  In effect, the bacteria determine what substrates are present and under what environmental conditions and then generate the appropriate enzymes.  You have automatic production of the correct enzymes provided you have the correct bacteria to start with.

Lack of confidence by the purchaser due to overzealous claims by the supplier has been the biggest weakness in the biological industry.  This can be blamed on poor performance by enzyme products as well as over-promotion by firms who are not soundly based in the area.  Purchasers should be cautious about dealing with firms having limited case histories and no referrals from satisfied clients.

Bioaugmentation with bona-fide formulations offers an effective means of controlling the nature of the biological workforce in a pond.  Through bioaugmentation we are substituting more desirable microorganisms for less capable ones, not replacing the entire biological workforce but creating population shifts to a more capable workforce and maintaining it.  This is accomplished by giving higher initial dosages, which gives a competitive advantage to the bacteria being added over those already in the system.  A lower maintenance dosage is then followed up to keep other bacteria, which are constantly entering the system, from gaining dominance over those being added.  Without dominance of the added bacteria, results are negligible.  The various types of bacteria incorporated in most bona-fide formulations differ from those which find a natural dominance through natural selection processes within a typical pond.  One is not simply adding numbers of bacteria, rather, one is changing the characteristics of the existing biomass.  We are changing the quality not the quantity of the microflora.  Effective commercial formulations are based on selected species and strains which have an ability to break down a wider array of organic substances than those in a natural system.  Organisms are generally not specific toward breaking down one particular organic composition, rather, they have preferences for certain food sources ahead of others.  In general, they prefer carbohydrates ahead of proteins;  proteins ahead of fats, etc.  Natural selection processes provide those organisms which can out-proliferate all others under the environmental conditions present.  This may not be desirable.  Natural selection processes will provude a workforce that can readily handle the easily broken down compositions but may not handle the more difficult ones.  Programmed additions of organisms capable of extending themselves beyond the easily broken down compositions to the tougher ones can fill the gap left by natural selection.  Once again the supplemental organisms have to be dominant (a major percentage of the population).

Bioaugmentation is a means of maintaining the dominance of desirable microbes to remove tough compounds (including sludge) in the biological waste treatment process of your pond, thus allowing you to maintain a balanced ecosystem in your pond.

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Al Zylstra
azylstra@dramm.com
(425) 379-2480
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