Biodiversity and Habitat


biological activity in soil

Soil supports the growth of a variety of unstressed plants, animals, and soil microorganisms, usually by providing a diverse physical, chemical, and biological habitat.

The ability of soil to support plant and animal life can be assessed by measuring the following indicators:

Biological Activity Indicators including active fungi, earthworms, microbial biomass, potentially mineralizable nitrogen, respiration, soil enzymes.

Biological Diversity Indicators including habitat diversity and diversity indices for organisms such as bacteria, macro and microarthropods, nematodes, and plants.

What do plants, animals, and microbes need from soil?

Microbes need soil for:

  • Food. Most microbes need regular inputs of organic matter (e.g. plant residue) into the soil.
  • Space. Larger soil organisms such as nematodes and insects need enough space to move through soil.
  • Air. Most soil organisms require air, though some require a lack of oxygen. They live in low-oxygen micro-sites such as within soil aggregates. Generally, soil biological activity is enhanced by an increase in soil aeration.

Plants need soil for:

  • Support of the microbiological activity necessary for plant growth.
  • Support for, and minimum resistance to, root penetration.
  • Intake and retention of water in soil, while maintaining adequate aeration.
  • Exchange of soil air with the atmosphere.
  • Resistance to erosion.
  • Mineral and organic sources of nutrients.
  • In addition, farmers need adequate traction for farm implements to grow crops.

Animals and people need soil for:

  • Healthy plant growth.
  • Availability of nutrients essential for animal health. These are absorbed by plants, but are not necessarily essential for plant health.

All organisms need:

  • Low levels of toxic compounds.
  • Filtering of water and air.

At a landscape scale, a variety of soil environments are needed to support a variety of plants, animals, and microorganisms. (Lists adapted from Yoder, 1937, and Cihacek, 1996.

Diversity of soil and soil organisms

Each animal, plant, and microbe species requires a slightly different habitat. Thus, a wide variety of habitats are required to support the tremendous biodiversity on earth. At the microbial level, diversity is beneficial for several reasons. Many different organisms are required in the multi-step process of decomposition and nutrient cycling. A complex set of soil organisms can compete with disease-causing organisms, and prevent a problem-causing species from becoming dominant. Many types of organisms are involved in creating and maintaining the soil structure that is important to water dynamics in soil. Many antibiotics and other drugs and compounds used by humans come from soil organisms. Most soil organisms cannot grow outside of soil, so it is necessary to preserve healthy and diverse soil ecosystems if we want to preserve beneficial microorganisms. Estimated numbers of soil species include 30,000 bacteria; 1,500,000 fungi; 60,000 algae; 10,000 protozoa; 500,000 nematodes; and 3,000 earthworms (Pankhurst, 1997).

Cihacek, L.J., W.L. Anderson and P.W. Barak. 1996. Linkages between soil quality and plant, animal, and human health. In: Methods for Assessing Soil Quality, SSSA Special Publication 49.

Pankhurst,C.E. 1997. Biodiversity of soil organisms as an indicator of soil health. In: Biological Indicators of Soil Health. CAB International.

Yoder, R.E. 1937. The significance of soil structure in relation to the tilth problem. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. Proc. 2:21-33.

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Healthy Soil Microbes, Healthy People


Source:   http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/06/healthy-soil-microbes-healthy-people/276710/

The microbial community in the ground is as important as the one in our guts.

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A small pine tree grown in a glass box reveals the level of white, finely branched mycorrhizal threads or “mycelium” that attach to roots and feed the plant. (David Read)

We have been hearing a lot recently about a revolution in the way we think about human health — how it is inextricably linked to the health of microbes in our gut, mouth, nasal passages, and other “habitats” in and on us. With the release last summer of the results of the five-year National Institutes of Health’s Human Microbiome Project, we are told we should think of ourselves as a “superorganism,” a residence for microbes with whom we have coevolved, who perform critical functions and provide services to us, and who outnumber our own human cells ten to one. For the first time, thanks to our ability to conduct highly efficient and low cost genetic sequencing, we now have a map of the normal microbial make-up of a healthy human, a collection of bacteria, fungi, one-celled archaea, and viruses. Collectively they weigh about three pounds — the same as our brain.

Now that we have this map of what microorganisms are vital to our health, many believe that the future of healthcare will focus less on traditional illnesses and more on treating disorders of the human microbiome by introducing targeted microbial species (a “probiotic”) and therapeutic foods (a “prebiotic” — food for microbes) into the gut “community.” Scientists in the Human Microbiome Project set as a core outcome the development of “a twenty-first century pharmacopoeia that includes members of the human microbiota and the chemical messengers they produce.” In short, the drugs of the future that we ingest will be full of friendly germs and the food they like to eat.

But there is another major revolution in human health also just beginning based on an understanding of tiny organisms. It is driven by the same technological advances and allows us to understand and restore our collaborative relationship with microbiota not in the human gut but in another dark place: the soil.

Just as we have unwittingly destroyed vital microbes in the human gut through overuse of antibiotics and highly processed foods, we have recklessly devastated soil microbiota essential to plant health through overuse of certain chemical fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, failure to add sufficient organic matter (upon which they feed), and heavy tillage. These soil microorganisms — particularly bacteria and fungi — cycle nutrients and water to plants, to our crops, the source of our food, and ultimately our health. Soil bacteria and fungi serve as the “stomachs” of plants. They form symbiotic relationships with plant roots and “digest” nutrients, providing nitrogen, phosphorus, and many other nutrients in a form that plant cells can assimilate. Reintroducing the right bacteria and fungi to facilitate the dark fermentation process in depleted and sterile soils is analogous to eating yogurt (or taking those targeted probiotic “drugs of the future”) to restore the right microbiota deep in your digestive tract.

The good news is that the same technological advances that allow us to map the human microbiome now enable us to understand, isolate, and reintroduce microbial species into the soil to repair the damage and restore healthy microbial communities that sustain our crops and provide nutritious food. It is now much easier for us to map genetic sequences of soil microorganisms, understand what they actually do and how to grow them, and reintroduce them back to the soil.

Since the 1970s, there have been soil microbes for sale in garden shops, but most products were hit-or-miss in terms of actual effectiveness, were expensive, and were largely limited to horticulture and hydroponics. Due to new genetic sequencing and production technologies, we have now come to a point where we can effectively and at low cost identify and grow key bacteria and the right species of fungi and apply them in large-scale agriculture. We can produce these “bio fertilizers” and add them to soybean, corn, vegetables, or other crop seeds to grow with and nourish the plant. We can sow the “seeds” of microorganisms with our crop seeds and, as hundreds of independent studies confirm, increase our crop yields and reduce the need for irrigation and chemical fertilizers.

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A mycorrhiza or fungus root in cross section. The stained-blue tissue is fungal.

These soil microorganisms do much more than nourish plants. Just as the microbes in the human body both aid digestion and maintain our immune system, soil microorganisms both digest nutrients and protect plants against pathogens and other threats. For over four hundred million years, plants have been forming a symbiotic association with fungi that colonize their roots, creating mycorrhizae (my-cor-rhi-zee), literally “fungus roots,” which extend the reach of plant roots a hundred-fold. These fungal filaments not only channel nutrients and water back to the plant cells, they connect plants and actually enable them to communicate with one another and set up defense systems. A recent experiment in the U.K. showed that mycorrhizal filaments act as a conduit for signaling between plants, strengthening their natural defenses against pests. When attacked by aphids, a broad bean plant transmitted a signal through the mycorrhizal filaments to other bean plants nearby, acting as an early warning system, enabling those plants to begin to produce their defensive chemical that repels aphids and attracts wasps, a natural aphid predator. Another study showed that diseased tomato plants also use the underground network of mycorrhizal filaments to warn healthy tomato plants, which then activate their defenses before being attacked themselves.

Thus the microbial community in the soil, like in the human biome, provides “invasion resistance” services to its symbiotic partner. We disturb this association at our peril. As Michael Pollan recently noted, “Some researchers believe that the alarming increase in autoimmune diseases in the West may owe to a disruption in the ancient relationship between our bodies and their ‘old friends’ — the microbial symbionts with whom we coevolved.”

Not only do soil microorganisms nourish and protect plants, they play a crucial role in providing many “ecosystem services” that are absolutely critical to human survival. By many calculations, the living soil is the Earth’s most valuable ecosystem, providing ecological services such as climate regulation, mitigation of drought and floods, soil erosion prevention, and water filtration, worth trillions of dollars each year. Those who study the human microbiome have now begun to borrow the term “ecosystem services” to describe critical functions played by microorganisms in human health.

With regard to stabilizing our increasingly unruly climate, soil microorganisms have been sequestering carbon for hundreds of millions of years through the mycorrizal filaments, which are coated in a sticky protein called “glomalin.” Microbiologists are now working to gain a fuller understanding of its chemical nature and mapping its gene sequence. As much as 30 to 40 percent of the glomalin molecule is carbon. Glomalin may account for as much as one-third of the world’s soil carbon — and the soil contains more carbon than all plants and the atmosphere combined.

We are now at a point where microbes that thrive in healthy soil have been largely rendered inactive or eliminated in most commercial agricultural lands; they are unable to do what they have done for hundreds of millions of years, to access, conserve, and cycle nutrients and water for plants and regulate the climate. Half of the earth’s habitable lands are farmed and we are losing soil and organic matter at an alarming rate. Studies show steady global soil depletion over time, and a serious stagnation in crop yields.

So, not only have we hindered natural processes that nourish crops and sequester carbon in cultivated land, but modern agriculture has become one of the biggest causes of climate instability. Our current global food system, from clearing forests to growing food, to fertilizer manufacturing, to food storage and packaging, is responsible for up to one-third of all human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions. This is more than all the cars and trucks in the transportation sector, which accounts for about one-fifth of all green house gases globally.

The single greatest leverage point for a sustainable and healthy future for the seven billion people on the planet is thus arguably immediately underfoot: the living soil, where we grow our food. Overall soil ecology still holds many mysteries. What Leonardo Da Vinci said five hundred years ago is probably still true today: “We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot.” Though you never see them, ninety percent of all organisms on the seven continents live underground. In addition to bacteria and fungi, the soil is also filled with protozoa, nematodes, mites, and microarthropods. There can be 10,000 to 50,000 species in less than a teaspoon of soil. In that same teaspoon of soil, there are more microbes than there are people on the earth. In a handful of healthy soil, there is more biodiversity in just the bacterial community than you will find in all the animals of the Amazon basin.

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An electron micrograph of a mycorrhiza with radiating mycorrhizal fungal filaments

We hear about many endangered animals in the Amazon and now all around the world. We all know about the chainsaw-wielding workers cutting trees in the rainforest. But we hear relatively little about the destruction of the habitat of kingdoms of life beyond plant and animal — that of bacteria and fungi. Some microbiologists are now warning us that we must stop the destruction of the human microbiome, and that important species of microorganisms may have already gone extinct, some which might possibly play a key role in our health.

We are making good progress in mapping the soil microbiome, hopefully in time to identify those species vital to soil and plant health, so they can be reintroduced as necessary. There is now an Earth Microbiome Project dedicated to analyzing and mapping microbial communities in soils and waters across the globe. We do not want to find ourselves in the position we have been with regard to many animal species that have gone extinct. We have already decimated or eliminated known vital soil microorganisms in certain soils and now need to reintroduce them. But it is very different from an effort, let us say, to reintroduce the once massive herds of buffalo to the American plains. We need these tiny partners to help build a sustainable agricultural system, to stabilize our climate in an era of increasing drought and severe weather, and to maintain our very health and well-being.

The mass destruction of soil microorganisms began with technological advances in the early twentieth century. The number of tractors in the U.S. went from zero to three million by 1950. Farmers increased the size of their fields and made cropping more specialized. Advances in the manufacture of nitrogen fertilizers made them abundant and affordable. Ammonium nitrate produced in WWII for munitions was then used for agriculture (we recently saw the explosive power contained in one such fertilizer factory in the town of West Texas). The “Green Revolution” was driven by a fear of how to feed massive population growth. It did produce more food, but it was at the cost of the long-term health of the soil. And many would argue that the food it did produce was progressively less nutritious as the soil became depleted of organic matter, minerals, and microorganisms. Arden Andersen, a soil scientist and agricultural consultant turned physician, has long argued that human health is directly correlated to soil health.

During this same period, we saw the rise of the “biological agriculture” movement, largely in reaction to these technological developments and the mechanization of agriculture. In the first part of the twentieth century, the British botanist Sir Albert Howard and his wife Gabrielle documented traditional Indian farming practices, the beginning of the biological farming movement in the West. Austrian writer, educator, and activist Rudolf Steiner advanced a concept of “biodynamic” agriculture. In 1930, the Soil Society was established in London. Shortly thereafter, Masanobu Fukuoka, a Japanese microbiologist working in soil science and plant pathology, developed a radical no-till organic method for growing grain and other crops that has been practiced effectively on a small scale.

Fortunately, there is now a strong business case for the reintroduction of soil microorganisms in both small farms and large-scale agribusiness. Scientific advances have now allowed us to take soil organisms from an eco-farming niche to mainstream agribusiness. We can replenish the soil and save billions of dollars. Many field tests, including a recent one at the University of North Dakota, show that application of a commercial mycorrhizal fungi product to the soybean root or seeds increased soybean yields from 5 to 15 percent. The U.S. market for soybeans is currently worth about $43 billion annually, so adding healthy microbes to the crop will save billions (the value of increased yields is three to five times greater than the cost of application at current prices). Studies show that there will also be major savings from reduced need for chemical fertilizers and irrigation due to more efficient up-take of minerals and water. This also means fewer toxins and pollutants, particularly nitrogen fertilizers, leaching from agricultural lands into our public water system and rivers, which has contributed to massive “dead zones” like that in the Mississippi Delta.

For all these reasons, bio fertility products are now a $500 million industry and growing fast. The major agricultural chemical companies, like Bayer, BASF, Novozymes, Pioneer, and Syngenta are now actively selling, acquiring or developing these products.

Reintroducing microorganisms into the soil, together with the organic matter they feed upon, has the potential to be a key part of the next big revolution in human health — the development of sustainable agriculture and food security based on restored soil health. Just as in the case of the human microbiome, the soil drugs of the future are ones full of friendly germs, and the foods they like to eat.

The Importance of Micro-Organisms in the Soil


Here is an extract from an article from a wonderful site for beginners in soil microbiology   http://www.artemisthai.com


Before reading this article, here’s two short paragraphs of the needs of soil.

a very effecient explanation, not too much, not too little iof the requirements of soil.

Soil microorganisms (Flora & Fauna), just like higher plants depends entirely on soil for their nutrition, growth and activity. The major soil factors which influence the microbial population, distribution and their activity in the soil are

1. Soil fertility 2. Cultural practices 3. Soil moisture 4. Soil temperature
5. Soil aeration 6. Light 7. Soil PH (H-ion Concentration) 8. Organic matter 9. Food and energy supply 10. Nature of soil and 11. Microbial associations.


microbes

Why Do We Need Soil Bacteria?

Soil bacteria are the primary digestive system of the soil. Their activity is responsible for almost 90% of all biological and chemical actions. For instance, key macronutrients such as nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus all require microbial transformation in the root zone to make them more available to the plant. Soil bacteria transform nutrients from “forms not usable by the plant” to “forms usable by the plant”. Again, soil microbes improve aeration by loosening dense and compacted soils. Water is then able to better infiltrate and percolate. Most important, soil bacteria decompose organic waste materials such as leaves and manure into organic humus, which stores both moisture and nutrients. Further, microbes can balance soil acidity and alkalinity, create the carbon dioxide plants need, as well as produce vitamins, toxins, and hormones that both feed and protect the plant system.

 

What Do Bacteria Do In the Soil?

Soil micro-organisms are living, breathing organisms and, therefore, need to eat. They compete with plants for nutrients including Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium and micronutrients as well. They also consume amino acids, vitamins, and other soil compounds. Their nutrients are primarily derived from the organic matter they feed upon. The benefit is that they also give back or perform other functions that benefit higher plant life.

Bacteria are able to perform an extremely wide range of chemical transformations, including degradation of organic matter, disease suppression, disease, and nutrient transformations inside roots (e.g. reducing bacteria in roots, bacteria cause nitrogen fixation).

Azobacter, for example, is a genus of free-living bacteria that converts atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium, making it available for plant use. This process may only take place, however, if the following conditions are met:

  • An easily degradable carbon source is available.
  • Any nitrogen compounds such as ammonium or nitrate, are not already in present in substantial concentrations.
  • Soil pH levels are between 6 and 9.
  • High levels of phosphorus are present.
  • Very low levels of oxygen are present.
  • Azobacter is inhibited by a large range of toxic mineral and organic compounds, but may tolerate relatively high salinity and their activities are enhanced in the presence of clays.

In general, bacteria are the organisms in soil that are mainly responsible for transforming inorganic constituents from one chemical form to another. Their system of external digestion means that some of the metabolites released by the use of extracellular enzymes may be used by other organisms, such as plants. The bacteria gain nutrients and energy from these processes and provide other organisms with suitable forms of chemicals they require for their own processes, for example, in the conversions of nitrate to nitrite, sulphate to sulphide and ammonium to nitrite.

Where Do Bacteria Live In Soil?

Bacteria are aquatic organisms that live in the water-filled pore spaces within and between soil aggregates. As such, their activities are directly dependent on relatively high soil water contents.

Bacteria are normally found on the surfaces of mineral or organic particles or congregate around particles of decaying plant and animal debris. Most are unable to move and hence, their dispersion is dependent on water movement, root growth or the activity of soil and other organisms.

What Are Rhizobia?

Rhizobia are one of the groups of micro-organisms living in soil. They are single celled bacteria, approximately one thousandth of a millimetre in length. Rhizobia belong to a family of bacteria called Rhizobiaceae. There are a number of groups (genera and species) of bacteria in this family.

Rhizobia belong to a specific group of bacteria that form a mutually beneficial association, or symbiosis, with legume plants. These bacteria take nitrogen from the air (which plants cannot use) and convert it into a form of nitrogen called ammonium (NH4+), which plants can use. The nitrogenase enzyme controls the process, called nitrogen fixation, and these bacteria are often called “nitrogen fixers”.

Rhizobia are found in soils of many natural ecosystems. They may also be present in agricultural areas where they are associated with both crop legumes (like soybean) and pasture legumes (like clover). Usually, the rhizobia in agricultural areas have been introduced at sowing by applying an innoculum to the exterior of the seeds as liquid formations or pellets.

How Are Nodules Formed On The Roots Of Legumes?

The nodulation process is a series of events in which rhizobia interact with the roots of legume plants to form a specialised structure called a root nodule. These are visible, ball-like structures that are formed by the plant in response to the presence of the bacteria.

The process involves complicated signals between the bacteria and the host roots. In the first stages, the bacteria multiply near the root and then adhere to it. The small hairs on the root’s surface curl around the bacteria and they enter the root. Alternatively, the bacteria may enter directly through points on the root surface. The method of entry of the bacteria into the root depends on the type of plant. Once inside the root, the bacteria multiply within thin threads. Signals stimulate cell multiplication of both the plant’s cells and the bacteria and this repeated division results in a mass of root cells containing many bacterial cells. Some of these bacteria then change into a form that is able to convert gaseous nitrogen into ammonium nitrogen (that is, they can “fix” nitrogen). These bacteria are then called bacteroids.

The shape of the nodules is controlled by the plant and nodules can vary considerably – both in size and shape.

Most plants need specific kinds of rhizobia to form nodules. The rhizobia that form nodules on peas, for example, cannot form nodules on clover.

Nodulation can be impeded by low pH, Al toxicity, nutrient deficiencies, salinity, water logging, and the presence of root parasites such as nematodes or genetic incompatibility with the plant host.

Affects of Soil Micro-organisms on Plant Health and Nutrition

Soil micro-organisms, sometimes spelled as soil micro-organisms, are a very important element of healthy soil. Knowing what microbes in soil eat, the conditions they thrive in and the temperatures that they are most active in is important in organic gardening and organic lawn care. From a practical standpoint, it boils down to organic matter, but not just any organic matter. These facts below will help you plan your activities around the time they are most beneficial. Below is a partial list of important functions they perform.

Soil Micro-Organisms Are Responsible For:

  • Transforming raw elements from one chemical form to another. Important nutrients in the soil are released by microbial activity are Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Sulphur, Iron and others.
  • Breaking down soil organic matter into a form useful to plants. This increases soil fertility by making nutrients available and raising CEC levels.
  • Degradation of pesticides and other chemicals found in the soil.
  • Suppression of pathogenic micro-organisms that cause diseases. The pathogens themselves are part of this group, but are highly outnumbered by beneficial microbes.

Types of Micro-organisms in Soil

There are several types of micro-organisms in soil that benefit plants. Together they make up an immense population of living organisms. One teaspoon of soil may contain millions of various types. Below is a list of common soil micro-organisms found throughout the world.

Bacteria  
These are small, single cell organisms that make up the single most abundant type of microbe. They have a very wide range of conditions that they live in from the Arctic wastelands to the steaming waters of volcanic hot springs. In soils, they multiply rapidly under the proper conditions. When conditions are wrong for one species, it is right for another. This is not always a good thing since a balance is what is required.

Fungi
The largest microbe group in terms of mass. Some fungi are beneficial, called mycorrhiza, that form a symbiotic relationship with plant roots, either externally or internally. Within the fungi group are pathogen fungi. These are disease causing fungi, some of which can be quite devastating to plants.

Protozoas
Small single cell microbes that feed on bacteria.

Actinomycetes
Necessary for the breakdown of certain components in organic matter.

Algae
Beneficial groups such as blue-green algae, yellow-green algae and diatoms. Some of these can produce their own energy through photosynthesis.

What is Organic Matter?

It is a variety of natural substances including decomposed leaves, grass clipping, shed roots, wood chips, etc. Humus (well decomposed organic matter) is the richest source for plant growth. Organic matter comes in many different nutrient levels, especially Nitrogen. While soil microbes need carbon (C) to live, they also need the nitrogen contained in organic matter. Therefore, the Carbon to Nitrogen ratio (C:N) is very important.

Problems with Low Nitrogen Organic Matter

Organic matter low in Nitrogen will also have a slower breakdown rate than organic matter with higher nitrogen levels. The microbes will consume the Nitrogen element first and the grass will get what is left over. So, organic matter high in carbon and low in Nitrogen will provide little nitrogen to the grass. However, if another N source is applied over the organic matter, it will speed up the decomposition.

Therefore, the rule of thumb is to choose an organic matter with higher levels of nitrogen. Anything lower than four percent (4%) Nitrogen with high Carbon content should be considered a soil amendment and not a fertilizer.

How Temperature Affects Soil Microbe Activity

Soil Microbe activity is dependent on soil temperatures. For simplicity, all essential soil microbes are classified into the three different temperature ranges they are most active in.

Psychrophiles: Active in temperatures less than 68 degrees.
Mesophiles: Active in temperatures between 77 degrees and 95 degrees. This makes up the largest group of soil microbes and the range most activity charts  are based on.
Thermopholes: Active in temperatures from 115degrees to 150 degrees. From a plant  and landscape view, this group will rarely apply.

Since the primary group contains Mesophiles, this has a great influence on the degree of soil microbe activity. Areas where the temperatures are warm most of the year, organic matter can be consumed very quickly. Tropical rainforests are so lush in part because of consistently warm temperatures, which promote fast breakdown of organic matter and the release of nutrients into the soil.

Cooler areas, such as Canada and parts of Europe, that have extended periods of cool weather below 77 degrees will benefit far less from the additions of organic matter. This is because far fewer microbes are active in that temperature range. It is possible to build unhealthy levels of organic matter if you follow the example of those in warmer climates.

The scientific rule is this: With every 18 degree rise in temperature, from 32 degrees to 95 degrees, there is a 1.5 to 3.0 % increase in microbial activity.

Remember, the food availability to microbes, the quality of organic matter, soil types, pH level, percent of Nitrogen, etc. will also have an effect on microbial activity level.

Soil pH Factor

Most soil micro-organisms can tolerate a wide range of soil levels. However, bacteria favours a neutral to slightly alkaline soil up to 8.0. When pH drops below 6, fungi begin to dominate as bacteria finds it less favourable.

Soil Moisture

Just as temperature levels stimulate different soil microbes, so does soil moisture. Some are obvious. Persistent, damp conditions with heavy shade will promote the growth of algae while hindering microbes that thrive in sunny locations. Proper lawn watering requires deep watering so that the soil is wet 4 inches deep. Shallow watering means only the surface is wet. It dries out quickly and can greatly hinder soil microbes.

Oxygen Levels Necessary for Healthy Microbes

There is a balance to everything, including oxygen in soil. Compacted soil will have less oxygen and less water holding capacity. Clay soil consists of extremely tiny particles, even smaller than silt. Clay with proper structure can have sufficient oxygen, but it can also compact easily. Since soil micro-organisms consume oxygen, but low oxygen soils will quickly deplete what oxygen it has and lower the soil microorganism levels. In lawns, deeply water to a level of 4 inches deep and allow it to dry before watering again. The deeper soil will remain moist at sufficient levels. Shallow watering means when the surface moisture is gone there is no moisture deeper to support a healthy microbe population.

What are Fungi?

Fungi are primarily organisms that cannot synthesise their own food and are dependent on complex organic substances for carbon. Specialized fungi can be pathogenic on the tissues of plants, while others form mutually beneficial relationships with plants and assist in direct nutrient supply to the plants (e.g. mycorrhizal associations).

Many fungi play a very important role in the recycling of important chemical elements that would otherwise remain locked up in dead plants and animals. In the decomposition of plant debris, certain fungi are particularly important because of their ability to derive their carbon and energy requirements from the break down of dead and decaying plant cell walls, cellulose and lignin. They are much less dependent on water than other micro-organisms, but interactions with other microbes, temperature and nutrient availability will have an effect on their activity. Fungal activity is greatest in decomposing leaves and wood, and tends to diminish in the later stages of decomposition when bacteria become more dominant.

Fungi vs Bacteria: Their Different Roles in the Decomposition of Organic Matter

Even though a high proportion of both fungi and bacteria are decomposers in the soil, they degrade plant residues differently and have different roles in the recycling of nutrients. This is partly due to their different choice of habitats within the soil and the different types of organic matter they consume.

Fungi are generally much more efficient at assimilating and storing nutrients than bacteria. One reason for this higher carbon (C) storage by fungi lies in the chemical composition of their cell walls. They are composed of polymers of chitin and melanin, making them very resistant to degradation. Bacterial membranes, in comparison, are phospholipids, which are energy-rich. They degrade easily and quickly and function as a food source for a wide range of micro-organisms.

The different proportions of C and N (i.e. different C:N ratios) of bacteria and fungi might also play a role in the mineralisation and immobilisation processes of nutrients in the soil. Due to their structure and C:N ratio between 7:1 and 25:1, fungi need a greater amount of carbon to grow and reproduce and will therefore ‘collect’ the required amount of carbon available for this from the soil organic matter. Bacteria, however, have a lower C:N ratio (between 5:1 and 7:1) and a higher nitrogen requirement and take more nitrogen from the soil for their own requirements.

Enlivening Soil (extract) by Carl Rosato – Soil Consultant


Source:   http://woodleaffarm.com/enlivening-soil/

Enlivening Soil (extract) by Carl Rosato – Soil Consultant

Fertile soil is a mixture of well-balanced minerals, high organic matter, humus, humic, fulvic and carbonic acids, good aeration and bountiful soil life. The biology or life in the soil is at its healthiest when the nutrients are plentiful and balanced, and there is sufficient oxygen and water. The top few inches of soil is the most vital, holding about 70% of the life and 70% of the organic matter. Below 6 inches the roots are feeding on mostly soluble nutrients since the micro-organisms are not able to thrive without sufficient oxygen. It is possible to create biological activity deeper with deep double dug or mechanical disturbance like spading. It is crucial to leave the soil as undisturbed as possible, although nontillage is very difficult in organic annual crops.
Increasing the quantity of earthworms and planting deep-rooted plants will let air into lower levels of the soil. Micro-organisms like bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, algae, nematodes and protozoa, need oxygen to contribute directly to the release of nutrients to the plant. Some species of mycorrhizae tolerate very low oxygen levels, and infest roots much deeper than other species of beneficial microbes, providing nutrients and root protection. There are many symbiotic relationships going on between roots, organic matter, clay and micro-organisms to support the plant. Soil that is worked too wet annihilates air and water space, destroying the environment that microbes need. Soil that is worked too dry creates similar problems.

Robert R Riley: Turf, Trees, Shrubs, Gardens, Agriculture


This article by Robert R Riley is excellent. Lawn care is still all about the soil. See the full and original article here.

before reading the article, here is a short humorous excerpt from a newspaper text.

org lwn care

Plantain, a perennial weed, has colonised the bare spots on my lawn with rosettes of leaves the size of cocktail napkins. Crab grass waves its crooked arms in the breeze. There is moss in the damp spots. The maples have converted the lawn beneath them to bare dirt. As for the ground near the fir trees, forget it! I was about ready to fall upon my rake. Or worse. A couple of years ago, I actually called a lawn company to come kill the old lawn and start a new one and dose it with plenty of high-nitrogen fertiliser and weed killers.

But I got the eco-jitters, an increasingly common ailment caused by the gap between ecological principles and actual practice. It is worsened by offspring who have been trained to be aware of every ecological nuance. So I called off the assault and decided to call a few organic lawn specialists to see if I could Do the Right Thing, yet recover my ideally, soil aerated, rich matter and pH.

In such grass roots 6 inches proponents say, is that they are low in salts that stunt root growth and high in the humic acids that promote easier uptake of nutrients. Organic matter makes it easier for water and air to get into the soil and also provides a source of food for a healthy population of microbes, which stimulate humus formation and devour thatch. In a healthy lawn, there is seldom a buildup of thatch. But microbes hate acidic soils. So lawn owners usually have to add calcium carbonate lime to the soil to raise the pH to near neutral. But what about the weeds? And what about the bare areas in the shade? Soil improvement alone will not help these conditions. It’s tough to get rid of weeds such as plantain with- . out using poison. When such weeds are hand picked, some part of the taproot usually remains in the ground, so the weeds come right back. An What about and the bare shade? Soil improvement not help conditions. Cinque told me, is to heal the soil .

Robert Riley, owner of Green Pro, a trainer of lawn-care workers in Hempstead, N.Y., agreed. “Soil is paramount,” he said. “And it’s almost always forgotten.” Ideally, soil is well aerated, rich in organic matter and neutral in pH. In such conditions, grass roots will extend 6 inches deep, sometimes more than twice that. What is the usual situation? Slablike soil with a build-up of thatch (a layer of dead grass clippings), lacking organic matter and having a pH just this side of lemon juice. The roots peter out at 2 inches. Sometimes, the weeds that invade a lawn can indicate just how unhealthy the soil is.

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Turf

Nationally, organic lawn care is a “hot” topic. As if it were something new! It certainly is not. Organic lawn care was exclusively practiced before WWII. After the war, the chemical procedures took over.

There are many misconceptions, myths and outright lies, which have made the subject of organic lawn care almost indefinable.

Chemical lawn care companies claim to offer an “organic” lawn care program, yet often just eliminate pesticides.

Chemical companies hire universities to test their products, making it seem like universities only support chemical programs. In addition, college textbooks for green industry professionals became manuals for chemical product use, totally ignoring the “old way” of maintaining healthy lawns, trees and gardens.

Strong marketing efforts by chemical companies promoting the ease and low cost of “miracle” products, push other options out of consumer consciousness.

Professionals think that using waste products, sewage sludge, manure’s, feathers, dried blood, and machines to punch holes in the ground, constitute an organic lawn care program.

It has only been more recently that the public has become aware of all of the negative side effects of chemical programs.

Until recently, the average homeowner was unaware that truly “organic” programs were available.

No wonder the public is confused. People don’t appreciate what a true organic-based, or organic approach lawn care program is or what it can be. And, sadly there are only a few professionals who understand natural systems well enough, and have available the necessary products and procedures to bring organic lawn care into the twenty-first century by cooperating with natural systems that are immutable.

Organic lawn care is, first and foremost, a methodology, a process, a way of thinking…not just the substitution of “organic-type” products for standard fertilizer formulations, and the automatic elimination of pesticide use because of some “magic.”

Organic lawn care is based upon solid science. First, one must find out what is needed. Then, according to what is needed, specialized organic materials are chosen, applied at the proper time and in the correct quantities. Going organic takes a little more research, however it is practical and cost effective. The end result is a dramatic minimization of chemical usage, and in many cases even elimination. For the practitioner who embraces these practical principles, a healthier, safer environment is the product delivered to their customers.

Organic lawn care can be practiced by the average homeowner using Nature’s Pro® products. Or, if you want your lawn care professional to practice an organic lawn care program for you, he/she can be educated and provided with proven programs by Nature’s Pro®.

What is the basis of an organic approach lawn care program? The soil. WHY?

By Robert R. Riley, Pioneer since 1957 in the Organic Approach for Sustainable Turf & Ornamental Care

What grows in the soil can be no healthier than the soil in which it grows!

The “challenge” then must be obvious. One homeowner has inherited a deep, rich soil; another a measly coating of soil over hard-pan clay, or a sandy soil that simply doesn’t work.

Often, what should be done is to add truckloads of well-rotted compost to the surface and then rototill everything, the grass included, down 6-8 inches. Other materials, amendments recommended by a comprehensive soil analysis, could be incorporated at the same time.

That’s what organic farmers have to do. They plow organic material into their fields every year.

Do you want to rototill up your entire yard? Probably not. It’s unsightly, time consuming, and pretty expensive. Plus, what do you do to keep it healthy after you rebuild your lawn? So the challenge remains.

The solution lies in understanding how to “nurture” the plant AND the soil at the same time.

The secret is oxygen. Oxygen is needed in the root zone of all green plants. Roots cannot grow without oxygen. In addition, oxygen is needed in the soil by a host of hard workers- earthworms, microbes, insects, algae, protozoa, etc., etc. When, and only when, oxygen can freely enter and sustain the LIFE within the soil, can your lawn have the foundation to undertake an organic approach lawn care program. And, no, you CANNOT cause this to happen by poking holes into the soil with a machine or spikes on your shoes. Why, because in 30-60 days the impact is over. Besides, it aerates such a small percentage of the soil, usually less than 5%. Mechanical aeration is not the answer.

After oxygen has been helped to enter the soil, then you have to provide fuel energy for the many life forms within the soil so they can flourish to make the soil truly healthy.

The fuel energy that your soil needs is provided by a product that nature has made for our use. Humates – carbon-rich, mineral-rich, enzyme-rich, with latent microbial life…provides the energy to “feed” the small microbes which then “feed” the larger life within the soil. These hardworking life forms orchestrate a soil-health-sustainable-system which is the foundation for your turf’s health!

Now, you can begin to practice an organic approach! Now, the soil is being “fixed” to promote the growth of turf grass more than weeds. Now, the grass plant is healthy and tough and can withstand diseases. Now, insect pest damage is probably within tolerable limits. Implementing organic programs will continue to improve the quality of any soil, making it more productive and life-sustaining. In the process of improving the soil, all plants, from turf grass to giant redwoods, will be growing in a more supportive, productive, and less stressful (disease-laden) environment.

Just as nature had intended… in order to have healthy plants of all kinds.

Trees and Shrubs

The problem with having healthy trees and shrubs in most residential environments is the environment. Most trees and shrubs prefer to live in the forest, where they can live for many decades without any assistance at all, thank you very much.

Residential environments, on the other hand, make it hard for trees and shrubs to survive for a number of reasons:

  • Inappropriate soil structure
  • Wrong amount of water, poor drainage
  • Wrong amount of sunlight
  • Damage from mowing and trimming equipment
  • Compacted soils
  • Toxicity from products applied to turf, i.e. Turf vs. Trees.

Trees and shrubs can do very well in urban environments and not even require much supporting maintenance if the location can be as similar to the forest as possible. It does not require other trees. It requires the right soil and protection of the root zone.

Things That Trees & Shrubs Hate:

  1. Heavy objects driving over their roots, particularly close to the trunk. Root zones can extend out 2-3 times larger than the crown, the leafy diameter of the tree.
  2. Lawn sprinklers that are constantly making the lower trunk and root flare wet.
  3. Transplanting too low.
  4. Regrading that buries the root flare and part of the trunk. Death may result.
  5. Herbicides
  6. Bark injury due to string trimmers or lawn mowers
  7. Permanently tying wires around trees that limits the flow of nutrients as they grow
  8. Leaving certain types of baskets, cages and balling products on when transplanting
  9. Killing off the microbes in the soil.
  10. Compacted soil.
  11. Too much compost piled up around the truck.
  12. Digging in the root zone, particularly close to the trunk. Cutting off or damaging a large support root may be equivalent to removing an arm or leg from a human being
  13. Excessive pruning – no more than 1/3 of the crown.

 

Gardens

How do you “re-create” the forest?

You begin with a comprehensive soil test (not an ag test), similar to the test offered by Prescription Soil Analysis, that looks at 19 different data-points. The Recommendations provide an easy-to-follow program of restoration. Nature’s Pro has a range of products available; liquids, granulars and biologicals, that support optimization of plant health using ingredients that are especially supportive of trees and shrubs.

There are all types of gardens and special plant needs within gardens:

Ground Covers, Shrubs, Flowers, annuals and perennials, Moss, Vegetable Gardens

The list goes on…

Some plants require acid soil, others want less water. Some plants want lots of sunlight and others very little. Most plants need good soil.

We’ll have to leave picking the right plant for the right amount of sunlight up to you, but we can help you with pretty much everything else. We have products that can add lots of organic material or micronutrients. We can add to the life of your soil with live microbes, the result of using compost tea. Some products are liquid and some are granular. Nature’s Pro even has products that can aerate your soil without the use of a machine. So there are many ways we can help.

We suggest you begin at the beginning. It’s important to get a picture of where you are starting. For your body, that is a doctor’s examination. For your plants, you begin with a comprehensive, nutrient-availability soil test, not an agriculture test.

The Prescription Soil Analysis (more about Prescription Analysis – see below) examines many items that a standard test does not, 19 different data points to be exact. Armed with the Recommendations that result from the test(s), you will have a step-by-step plan, not just for the property in general, but each individual bed, or plant type, or vegetable, or individual tree or shrub if you like.

The best way to maintain your gardens is the way that is most natural to them, without a lot of chemicals and control products. By in large, healthy plants do not get sick. Planting quality plants in Healthy Soil, and then managing them, supporting them with balanced food-grade nutrients, conditioning the soil, and providing food sources for the beneficial microbes in the soil, this is what the plants in your gardens prefer.

Nature’s Pro, with 50 years of experience in creating plant-sourced humate products (ideal for plants, soil and soil biology), not animal-sourced products (which are not as compatible to plants), knows what your plants need. We even have food-grade foliar fertilizers with micronutrients that are easy and cost-effective to apply.

To Summarize:

  1. Healthy plants want to grow in as natural environment as possible.
  2. They want an environment that matches their specific pH and nutrient needs.
  3. Healthy plants want to grow in Healthy Soil.
  4. The Prescription Soil Analysis makes specific recommendations to correct poor soil as well as specie-specific nutrient and pH Recommendations for the plant.
  5. Nature’s Pro products are based on plant-sourced ingredients favored by plants.
  6. Nature’s Pro products support all aspects of Healthy Soil including nutrients for plants, food for the soil’s biology, and conditioners to build quality soil structure.

 

Agriculture

Agriculture today is filled with challenges:

  • The spiraling upward cost of fertilizer, with further increases expected in the future.
  • Increased soil compaction issues.
  • Larger PTO tractors are required to work the compacted soils
  • More expensive seeds with special features, like “Round-up Ready”.
  • Governmental regulations that restrict nutrient application programs.
  • Shrinking yields, in spite of applying more nutrients.
  • Shrinking profit margins, increasing costs with flat or decreasing income.

 

Are There Options?

Yes. But first, let’s look at some basic principles. The most productive soils:

  • Include at least 5% organic matter.
  • Are teeming with all sorts of biology, including millions of microbes per teaspoon of soil.
  • Are loose, enabling air to penetrate a foot or more into the soil.
  • Drain easily with no pools or puddles after rains.
  • Can store more available water during periods of drought.
  • Work up more easily.
  • Are more productive in both quantity and quality.

 

Healthy Soils support healthy crops. Healthy soils and the crops they produce require three essential types of inputs:

  1. Nutrients to grow crops
  2. Food sources to feed soil biology
  3. Soil Condioners to maintain proper soil structure and appropriate conditions to support crop production and biological activity, which also supports crop production.

Nature’s Pro products and programs are designed to support these three types of necessary inputs. A simple diagnostic process provides a path to soil health recovery.

 

Another Option

Where soils are really bad, or as a boost to current nutrient application programs, or as a potential cost savings to current nutrient programs, NP Foliars are what the doctor ordered. These time tested products (over 50 years) absorb directly into the plant membranes (up to 94%), are translocated throughout the plant immediately, and have no negative environmental impact. They are also very cost effective. Click here for more information.

If the birds don’t follow your field equipment looking for earthworms, your soil and your crops are in trouble…

 

What Chemical-Based Lawn, Tree & Shrub Care Practitioners Do Not Want You To Know!

Side By Side Comparison

Healthy soils, nurtured with specific organic materials – ABSOLUTELY do not need to have holes poked in them with a machine to effect an “aeration.”

A healthy growing environment for turf … absolutely will not cause that turf to develop a destructive layer of dead roots and stems … which is called thatch.

Chemically-dependent plants are weak plants.

Weak plants (turf, trees and shrubs) ATTRACT disease and insect problems.

Improperly nurtured and balanced soils CAUSE “weeds” to grow.

Reacting to all these “problems” with mechanical devices (aerating and de-thatcing), and multitudinous sprays of this and that chemical … earn millions of dollars each week during the season.

Obviously, keeping these facts from the public is a prime concern of many.

Exposing these facts, and then offering materials, programs and procedures to address these moneymaking “problems,” has been the intent of Nature’s Pro®, and many other pioneers, during the last twenty-five years.

It is the public – who is demanding less chemical usage … that is forcing professionals to take another look … a very hard look, at what Nature’s Pro® and others have been doing for decades. It is public opinion that is forcing this revolution … which isn’t a revolution at all, because the organic-approach to landscape care was well entrenched prior to WW II.

However, now the public’s demand for better-looking landscapes, better than what we expected sixty years ago, and maintained at a reasonable cost, has required Nature’s Pro® to develop advanced procedures to meet the public’s demand. This we have done, and continue to improve as we learn and discover more about Natural Systems and our proper role as caretakers.

If this interests you, then maybe you will join us as we “convert” one landscape at a time from chemical-based programs to more natural, organic-based programs of care.

 

 

Soil Analysis


soil_compositionOnce you know your soil, analysis and tests  become unnecessary. Until then, they can be your best friend. See the original and full article here.

All Soil Tests are Not Created Equal. Getting the Right Test is Critical!

The health and beauty of a plant or the productivity of a crop is directly related to the health and vitality of the soil in which it grows.

  • When the pH is wrong, nothing works right – not fertilizers, not weed killers, and especially not the biological components within the soil.
  • When the Organic Matter content is low…the soil is unproductive, and crops, trees or turf lack the energy sources to help them grow.
  • When soluble salts and chlorides are too high, the microbes that live in the soil and help aerate and digest dead plant material (turning them into organic material) are killed, thereby increasing soil compaction.
  • When the soil is compacted, not enough air, water or nutrients can enter the root zone, so the plants suffer greatly.
  • When the soluble salts and chlorides are too high, the roots gets burned, significantly
  • reducing the amount of water and nutrients the plant can absorb.
  • When nutrients are out of balance with each other, in either short or excessive supply, or not available for the plant’s use, the plant is not as healthy and therefore more susceptible to disease and insect attacks.
  • When secondary & micro nutrients are lacking, plants are weak and damaged more easily by wear & tear, drought conditions and insect/disease problems.

These conditions cannot be determined accurately unless a comprehensive soil test is taken.

The soil test will determine what unhealthy conditions exist and what corrective actions are required. If corrections are not made:

For Turf – thatch, weed, insect and disease problems will inevitably develop resulting in additional chemical usage, mechanical intervention and unnecessary costs.

For Trees & Shrubs – fewer/smaller blossoms, reduced leaf size and vigor, slower growth and greater likelihood for disease.

For Agriculture – lower yields, increased N-P-K requirements (more expense) reduced nutrient levels, and less drought and disease tolerance.

For Gardens – Whether flowers or vegetables, quantity, quality, shelf life and, in the case of food crops, nutritional content are all impacted by poor soil quality and nutrient imbalance.

When the soil is healthy, all plant life is healthier and more productive, better withstanding climatic and environmental stresses, and insect/disease attacks.

 

Soil Biology


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This is an extract of a beautifully written piece for all we citizen soil scientists. It makes sense. For the full and original article, go here.

Soil Biology is the study of the living component of soils – the bacteria, fungi, and soil animals which all have particular soil processing roles. It is distinct from, but linked to the processes involved in Soil Chemistry (nutrient processes) and Soil Physics (soil structure, texture, stability, water movement in soil).

Why is soil biology important?

The activities of the wide range of organisms in soil play a pivotal role in both natural and managed ecosystems. Their processes of organic matter breakdown contribute to the soil’s health – its stability, permeability, ability to retain nutrients and make them available for plant uptake.

Soil biological, physical and chemical processes are interrelated and all contribute to plant productivity. The level of soil biological activity is therefore affected by the soil type, but it also depends on the management practices used, particularly the management of organic matter, especially carbon. Changes that are made to the chemical and physical environment in soil will therefore influence the biological processes and subsequently the contribution they make to the soil’s fertility overall.

What are the issues associated with soil biology?

Knowledge of soil biological processes can support decision making aimed at achieving sustainable use of agricultural land. Soil biology is a complex field, however, and research continues to uncover new facts concerning the organisms themselves, their processes and factors that affect them. Additionally, management of soil biological processes is difficult to do precisely due to the differing parameters of each individual situation, such as soil type and land use. A certain land management practice may also affect one group of organisms, but not others. Consideration of the mass of microorganisms as a whole (microbial biomass) is therefore not sufficient for a complete interpretation of the effects of land management on soil biological fertility.

Measurement of soil health in terms of biological fertility is also a complex and at present, relatively expensive process. More attention has been usually given to the management of the soil chemical and physical environments. As a result, a host of inexpensive and simple tests are available to land managers. Incorporating soil biological processes into farming systems will require a more holistic and longer term approach to agricultural land management.

What are the benefits of understanding and managing soil biology?

Agricultural land management practices alter aspects of soil chemical and physical fertility with consequences for soil biological processes and vice versa. Both fauna and microorganisms contribute significantly to chemical transformations in the soil and influence their physical surroundings to various degrees. Organisms on and around plant roots have major influences on plant nutrient availability and some form specific associations with legumes, which greatly influence the C:N ratio of plant residues in soil. Associations between agricultural plants and fungi known as arbuscular mycorrhizas have the potential to increase the efficiency of use of phosphorus in agricultural ecosystems as well as improve soil structure.

Current research includes understanding some of the undesirable members of the biological population, such as root pathogens. The role of mycorrhizal fungi in preventing and reducing the effects of salinity is also being investigated. Stubble management is another area of research.