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The Living Soil


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This introductory presentation explains the partnership between soil microbes and plants. It dives into the carbon economy that runs the world!

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The Living Soil

  1. 1. The Living Soil Presented by Kassie Brown Renaissance Soil May 19th 2018
  2. 2. Renaissance Soil’s mission is to promote soil regeneration through education, outreach, and action opportunities. Soil is not dirt. It’s dirt plus a whole ecosystem of living creatures that make above ground life possible.
  3. 3. Soil VS Dirt - Dirt = the parent material (sand, silt, clay, rocks…) Soil = dirt plus microbes, organic matter, and abiotic factors (wind, water…)
  4. 4. Creating Dirt: The Chemical Approach to Food
  5. 5. Building Soil: The Biological Approach to Food Healthy soil is built by a thriving ecosystem of extremely diverse organisms known collectively as a soil foodweb. - An intact soil foodweb will: ○ Make nutrients available to plants ○ Suppress disease ○ Increase water retention ○ Decompose toxins, ETC…
  6. 6. The Power of Soil Microbes - Building healthy soil (structure, water…) Growing strong plants (disease resistance, nutrition…) Sequestering Carbon But who are these microbes?
  7. 7. One Teaspoon of Healthy Soil - 75,000 Bacterial Species Yards of fungal hyphae Thousands of Protozoa Hundreds of Nematodes A Few Micro-Arthropods Billions of Living Creatures!
  8. 8. Sugars = Energy = CARBON ● Carbon is the currency of life ● Carbon bonds are stored sunlight energy ● Plants are primary producers; everything else follows: ○ Root exudates are carbon-based molecules of varying complexity ○ Different “recipes” for different microbes ○ Symbiosis = microbes get carbon energy in exchange for other nutrients and water
  9. 9. Summary: Putting Plants Back In Control - Land plants evolved with the soil food web… Plants use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into sugars and oxygen… They use those sugars for energy, And they also pump out a lot of those sugars into the soil to feed microbes. In exchange for delicious energy-rich sugars (carbon), microbes supply other nutrients (and water) to the plant. The rhizosphere (root-zone) is therefore crowded with beneficial microbes, protecting plant roots from pests and pathogens
  10. 10. Image Courtesy of
  11. 11. How NOT to Care for your Microbes: ● Disturbance ● Pesticides ○ Insecticides ○ Fungicides ○ Herbicides ● Synthetic fertilizers (salts) ● Leaving the soil bare ● Compaction
  12. 12. The Importance of Fungi - ● Bacteria consume simple sugars (green material, food waste…) ● Fungi consume complex sugars (lignin, cellulose = brown material) ● “Wood chip mulch ties up nutrients” ○ Only true when fungi + soil food web are diminished ○ Healthy fungal populations keep ammonium in the soil ● Enzymes to break down rocks and minerals ● Hyphae = Carbon Storage
  13. 13. The Importance of Fungi Cont’d - ● Soil fungi hold particles of organic matter and mineral matter together, creating structure and passageways for air and water ● When present in a healthy soil foodweb, fungal-feeding nematodes liberate nutrients from fungal cytoplasm - cycling vital plant foods throughout the soil
  14. 14. Beneficial Fungal Hyphae
  15. 15. Mycorrhizal Fungi - ● Mycorrhizal fungi form symbiotic relationships with about 90% of terrestrial plants ● Endo (Vesicular-Arbuscular Mycorrhiza) - fungi forms arbuscles inside plant roots; expands root system up to 6 inches in all directions ● Ecto - forms Hartig Net around the outside of plant roots; common in perennial and conifer systems - can expand root system’s reach many yards!
  16. 16. ● Carbon Sequestration ○ Glomalin production - sticky substance that doesn’t break down easily, almost pure carbon! ● Nutrient availability ○ Phosphorus mining by fungi - critical in age of peak P ● Drought Protection ○ Mycorrhizal fungi store water and readily share with plant partners in scarcity ● Castle wall effect ○ Protects roots from pathogens and also supplies nutrients and other compounds to build plant health Mycorrhizal Fungi -
  17. 17. - How TO Care for your Microbes! ● Ensure Diverse Living Roots ● Reduce Disturbance ● Inoculate with spores of mycorrhizal fungi ● Plant Cover Crops ● Mulch, leave OM ● Integrate Livestock ● Apply Bio-Diverse Aerobically Produced COMPOST Microbe Food!
  18. 18. Making Good Compost - Three types: 1. Thermophilic - Uses heat-loving microbes to decompose organic matter 2. Static - Doesn’t requiring turning; oxygen and carbon are key! 3. Worms! - Sometimes combined with thermal; harnesses worm power to produce super bio-diverse compost
  19. 19. Worm Composting - ● Excellent microbial biodiversity ● Humus - nutrient retention ● Enzymes and plant growth hormones ● Water retention - Easy to DIY - Can be done indoors - Recomposes food waste - Recomposes old newspapers, cardboard - Livestock for the urban dweller
  20. 20. Setting up a Vermicomposting Bin - ● Worms do best in shallow bins with lots of surface area (air flow, leaf litter conditions) ● Bedding: ○ Shredded newspaper mixed with cardboard ○ Coconut coir ○ Leaf litter, woodchips ○ Composted manure ○ Wood shavings (rabbit bedding) ● Additions: ○ Grit (handful of soil, rockdust) ○ Calcium (crushed eggshells, oyster shells)
  21. 21. Using Worm Castings - ● Most worms are not native to North America ● Many species are great in gardens, but do extreme harm in native forest systems ● Most worms used for composting can’t survive our winters, but release should be minimized ● Recommendation: Make Compost Extract ○ Harvest castings by the handful and remove any tag-along worms ○ Place in a clean 5 gallon bucket with some sea kelp, biochar, small amount of fish hydrolysate, etc ○ Fill with good quality water ○ Stir into a vortex for a couple of minutes and then apply liberally
  22. 22. Biological Soil Testing - ● We can see soil foodweb microorganisms at 400X total magnification - anyone can do it! ● In order to get the benefits of the soil food web, all organisms must be present and in the proper balance ● Light microscope method used for completing bio-assays
  23. 23. Healthy Soil = Diversity of life Rule: there are more good guys than bad guys (1400 human pathogens, Millions of beneficial or neutral microbes) Therefore: Treat your soil well (and your gut too!), you will not need bio-icides
  24. 24. Upcoming Events - June 2nd - Composting with EarthWorms Co-Hosted with Giving Tree Gardens 10-11am @ Gandhi Mahal Restaurant June TBD - Thermal Compost Making Demonstration July 20th - Soil Life at The Tiny Diner 2-4pm
  25. 25. Thank you! Questions? Kassie Brown >