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Anton Lo
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Odo, Itoman, Okinawa, Japan
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The Soil Foodweb

Posted by Anton Lo over 13 years ago

Starting to study the soil, in depth...

I found this soil foodweb link on Doug Weatherbee's profile @ soildoctor.org, it's a very nice primer on understanding the conditions we want to create in the soil.  Creating the soil foodweb is totally in line with permaculture thinking in terms of "letting the life do the work"- we encourage soil microbes to proliferate as opposed to engaging in the tedious and ultimately destructive work of adding synthetic fertilizers and biocides, tilling, etc. 

This is a summary of what I learned today:

1. Microbes are important because they engage in nutrient cycling, which converts raw materials into forms that are usable by plants.

2. The main microbes are bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes.

3. Microbe interaction is actually key, as protozoa must eat the bacteria and fungi in order for nutrients to be released to plants in a usable form. So in order for a healthy population of protozoa to flourish, it is necessary to have enough food for them in the form of bacteria and fungi.

4. Fungi and bacteria are both necessary but one may desired in larger numbers than the other due to the different functions that each performs (Geoff Lawton summarized this by saying that herbaceous plants generally prefer a bacterially dominated soil as compared to woody plants, which prefer a fungal dominated soil).

5. You can analyze the soil for deficiencies in any of the organisms.

6.There are ways to balance the populations of microbes, which mainly involves feeding the bacteria and fungi the materials that they prefer to eat.

7. The goal is to create a food web, or chain, if you will, in the soil that is just as complicated and important to health as those food webs we learned in school with a lion and/or man perched at the top as top predator.


In the original post on my website, I also wonder if a microscope is an essential piece of equipment in understanding your soil...  any thoughts?



Image of fungal feeding nematode from soilfoodweb.com

06 b fung feed nm

Comments (4)

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Doug Weatherbee
Doug Weatherbee : Hi Anton,

This is Doug Weatherbee. Doing your own microscope work is particularly useful in assessing the quality of aerated compost teas and extracts. During your tea brew process and especially at the end, you can take a look at what's going on in the tea. If you see a lot of ciliates and very little or no fungi chances are great that you went anaerobic during the brew cycle. So for serious compost tea brewing a microscope is very helpful. Looking at soils and compost with your own microscope is a diferent thing. Even though lots of people use their microscopes to look at soil and compost its much more difficult to figure out what's going on with them versus teas and extracts. Matt Slaughter of the Oregon Soil Foodweb Lab did an experiment were samples of soil and compost sent in by various clients and SFI Advisors who had analyzed their soils/composts with their microscopes was compared to the more quantitative analysis of the Soil Foodweb Lab. So the levels of bacteria, fungi, flagellates, amoebae, ciliates, nematodes, etc of the "at home" and "at Lab" soils/composts were compared. The baseline here would be the Lab results. The differences in numbers were very wide. Some "at home" people were within 10% of the "at Lab" numbers. However, most "at home" differences were much higher, sometimes as high as a 90% difference from the Lab. Soils and composts are a lot more dense than a tea or extract so its sometimes a lot harder to tell what's going on in the soil or compost. If you have a microscope, by all mneans, use it to look at your soils and Composts but recognize that your accuracy is a lot less than when you're looking at teas or extracts. Hope this is helpful.

Posted over 13 years ago

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Mark Brown
Mark Brown : Hello Anton You could do worse than to follow the advice of wonder boy aka Doug. Remember also to use you intuition and observation in dealing with the soil food web.
Posted over 13 years ago

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Anton Lo
Anton Lo : Hi Doug and Mark,

Thanks for your replies, unfortunately I just saw that there were comments on this post- it would be nice if the system notified us when people comment.

Doug- thanks for taking the time to go into detail about using microscopes to analyze soil. I get what you're saying about the difference with looking at soil vs. teas- I couldn't imagine how one would be able to get a representative sample of soil since it seems you would have to go through lots of samples to get a fair assessment. Now to make some compost tea...
Posted over 13 years ago

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Deaf Monche
Deaf Monche : This is some reason why western cultures are enormous styles and deep weight qualities. It is beautiful though. I love to read this series of blog. félicitations à vous
Posted about 1 month ago

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Type: Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course
Teacher: Geoff Lawton
Location: Hong Kong
Date: Dec 2010

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