Community gardening with microBIOMETER®

Informal science education is a key for community engagement and healthy gardening. Community gardening  brings numerous benefits such as fresh produce, therapy, physical exercise, reduction in grocery bills, improvement of mood among many others.

“Last weekend I had the privilege to teach community gardeners on the importance of soil testing side by side with my very first student at NYBG Adult Education program (class 2015). Dr. Joan Basile is a clinical psychologist who has developed her own horticulture therapy program incorporating soil knowledge brining therapy & soil science & gardening together.” – Dr. Anna Paltseva,  soil_expert.

“While the microBIOMETER® results showed there is room for improvement, the result from last year’s beds also proved that composting and mulching practices are paying off in increased soil life. This means that sandy soil will gradually be able to hold nutrients better and better!” – Dr. Basile

microBIOMETER® Soil Testing in France

The Biospheres, working through the CDA*,  accompanies and trains farmers/agricultural companies in the agroecological transition based on a soil conservation approach. The group is also working on applied research projects and therefore on trials under real farming conditions in which they evaluate the impact of certain changes in practices on different indicators (biological, chemical, physical, economic).

“One of our primary objectives is that farmers succeed in putting biology back into their soils to ensure their natural fertility. We are therefore very interested in everything that lives in the soil, from earthworms and microarthropods to microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, nematodes). For us, microbial biomass is one of the most important indicators that help us understand soil biology. Fungal to bacterial ratio, which is a less documented indicator for the moment, remains interesting to observe in certain situations and is the object of real research by our R&D team to understand how best to interpret it.

We have been using microBIOMETER® for 8 months now to test the soil in different projects in our panel of biological indicators. microBIOMETER® provides us with quick and easy results on microbial biomass and F:B ratio which is a real plus for us. We can perform tests directly in the field and present the results to the farmers. Moreover, the affordable price of the analysis allows us to perform soil biology tests in projects where we had no affordable way to do so before.”

*CDA, Centre de Développement de l’Agroécologie, are affiliates dedicated to R&D and advisory.

 

 

microBIOMETER® featured in award-winning science fair project.

soil microbe testing
Ariel White; Post-Wildfire Forest Reboot Kit

Ariel White, a ninth grader at Pretty River Academy in Ontario, Canada, utilized microBIOMETER® in their science fair project titled Post Wildfire Forest Reboot Kit.

The project was awarded first place at their high school and chosen to compete at the Simcoe County Regional Science Fair. At the regional fair, Ariel was awarded a gold medal, Best of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Best of Fair, The Dufferin Simcoe Land Stewardship Network Award, and was one of seven students selected to represent their county in the Canada Wide Science Fair where they won a silver medal!

About the project: Forest fires have increased due to climate change, causing forests to burn down at an unbelievable rate. Now we need forests more than ever, yet they have been taking years if at all to regrow. This project explores the question “how can we boost the speed of forest regrowth after forest fires?”. For phase one of this experiment, each plant was graded for performance using tests such as success-rate, growth-rate, compost-value, and self-propagation. For the second phase, it was seen what effect this plant had on the soil microbiome; which is key to healthy, speedy plant growth and isn’t evident after fires. It was concluded that the morning glory substantially increased the microbiome health from inevident to healthy, and had an almost perfect performance score. These results are very important to our world’s future as they could help to deter climate change and repair our forests and their diverse ecosystems.

microBIOMETER® educating farmers in the Gulf Region on the importance of life in the soil.

Sustainable Organic Q8 was launched in mid-2018, educating people on recycling their organic waste, being environmentally aware and teaching people how to grow whatever and wherever they can. As far as gardening/farming styles, Sustainable Organic focuses on the value of the living soil and the soil food web and teaching home gardeners and farmers to slowly shift the general culture from MONOCULTURE, “Babysitting plants” and providing all their needs from nutrients to medicine to DIVERSITY, Building and regenerating an ecosystem that will take care of itself or at least be a bit less exhaustive and much more sustainable.

Sustainable Organic has helped bring diversity above grounds back to the region in the past couple years. However, many people are still very new to the life underground and living soil. Their gardening/farming practices rely heavily on providing nutrients and immunity/medicine to plants. To them it is cheap, it works, and they’re so set in their ways that the idea of change is becomes a source of anxiety.

Although more and more gardeners are praising the life in the soil, they also practice routine solarization and refuse to refrain from it, reflecting their hazy understanding of soil biology and the soil food web and what it really takes to construct. Testing the soil to most growers means checking nutrient availability, water content and pH.

For the sake of adding some objectivity to soil biomass and increasing the value of soil biomass testing, Sustainable Organic sent microBIOMETER® test kits to popular gardeners in Kuwait, Saudi and Dubai to experiment with by testing their soils and compost. These gardeners have a large number of followers and they educate via social media, gardening courses, and workshops. By starting to broadcast microBIOMETER® as a means of testing the biomass in the soil and amending it based on the readings received, Sustainable Organic intends to create a trend in the region shifting the focus more on the life in the soil than the mineral content.

“microBIOMETER® is an innovation that has made it possible to quantify the life in the soil. This economic tool, I believe, not only helps us improve our soil at the gardening/farming level, but it can also help us deepen our understanding and comprehension of the soil food web and the LIFE underground. This will ultimately lead to a tremendous positive change at the psychological and behavioral level.  It’s common to see people in our region praising the life in the soil (finally), but then professing solarization at the end of or the beginning of a grow season. This is an obvious clash in concepts that we hope are not deeply understood. We believe with popularizing the use of the microBIOMETER®, we can help clear the fog!

It’s beautiful to see people go out in the middle of the desert and start digging holes to “build” soil, plant trees and mulch around them; then announce seeing mushrooms and biologic diversity; start talking about soil biology, arbuscular fungi and carbon sequestration and tell farmers near them to try out the living soil method learned from Sustainable Organic. They say think globally and act locally. We intend to revive the desert in the Arabian Peninsula with Mother Earth and her fever at heart!”

About Dr. Jassem Bastaki. Originally from Kuwait, Jassem acquired his education in Head and Neck Endocrine Pathology in Pittsburgh, PA. In 2012, he left Pittsburgh to practice diagnostics and oncology in Kuwait and in doing so transitioned from fertile land to urban settings in some of the harshest climates in the world. The stress from his line of work led him back to gardening; indoors and hydroponic initially until he learned how to garden outdoors no matter the climate or conditions. Every second he spent with his plants taught him more and more about life and the reality we are unaware of. “We are guests on this earth with everything else that lives on it and in it.” The more he realized what was missing and where to find it, he wanted to help everyone find their way back to earth.

Jassem is a microBIOMETER® distributor in the Gulf Region as well as Iraq, Jordan and Egypt.

Microbial Biomass vs. Microbial Respiration

What is the difference between microbial biomass (MB) and microbial respiration rate (RR) ?

Both parameters are used to assess soil microbial health. The respiration assay measures the amount of carbon dioxide produced by the microbes in a given weight of soil. The soil is dried and then rewetted and put in an airtight jar that allows measurement of the amount of CO2 produced over 24 hours. The CO2 is produced by the activity of the microbes in the rewetted soil. Between 20% and 70% of the microbes die during drying but their dead bodies often provide nutrition for the survivors to use and regrow the population to its original level.

Respiration reflects the regrowing work that is being done. The respiration level is often mistakenly believed to predict microbial biomass (MB), but it does not. Microbes in a low pH or toxic soil have to work harder, therefore, their respiration rate is higher, just as your respiration rate in the gym is higher than when you are watching TV. Outside of the U.S. the respiration rate (RR) is only considered in relation to MB and this q-value RR/MB is used to determine the level of stress in a soil. If RR is high for the MB, the soil is in trouble.

MB, as measured by microBIOMETER®, correlates with chloroform fumigation—always and microscopic evaluation of soil. It is an excellent predictor of soil health because the size of the microbial population correlates with the nutrition available in the soil. If the soil is deficient in carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus or any other mineral, or contains toxins, MB will be low. In fact, MB is low in any soil that is compacted, has a low pH or is overly dry, because microbes need oxygen and moisture and the correct pH for enzymatic activity.

In nature, the plant uses 30% of its food production to feed a microbial population that will mine the soil for the N, P, K, S etc. that it needs. Interestingly MB is low in soil treated with high levels of mineral fertilizers; researchers have shown that the stimulus for the plant to grow a microbial population is its need for nitrogen and phosphorus. If these are artificially supplied the plant is not stimulated to feed the microbes that usually provide these nutrients to the plant. And since the microbes are at least half of the immune system of the plant, you now need lots of pesticides to protect the plant.

Agronomist in the U.K. assisting clients with soil health.

Source: Ben Taylor-Davies Twitter

Ben Taylor-Davies, also known as Regen Ben, is a farmer and bioagri-ecologist working from Herefordshire in the UK. His farm is based in Ross-on-Wye and has been focused on environmental improvements for the past 22 years. His work includes creating 12km of new hedges with 6m of pollen and nectar or ground bird nesting margins around every field as well as working on river meadow restoration.

Following a Nuffield scholarship in 2016 and the opportunity to travel the world (USA, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Peru, South Africa, France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Mongolia, China, Singapore and Australia), Ben was intrigued by the regenerative agriculture movement which very much complimented the environmental work he was doing back on his own farm. When discussing these soil health focused farming methods with clients as an agronomist, it struck a chord with many of them too; the future of agriculture and real farm sustainability.

Ben came across microBIOMETER® in 2019 and found it an incredibly useful tool in benchmarking clients farms in order to start monitoring change in what they were doing. The real time results offered by microBIOMETER® provides Ben with full control over how, where and when he takes readings. Ben uses his microBIOMETER® readings in conjunction with the What3words app which allows him to accurately repeat measurements in subsequent years in order to build a picture of successes and failures.

Variance in soil samples explained

Often, we are asked about variance – different results when you test the same sample. Our answer is that nature produces most of this variance. To explain, when you measure out 0.5 cc of soil, you have on average about 0.6 grams of soil. If your microBIOMETER® results read 300ugMBC/gram of soil, that means you have 600ug of microbial biomass – we divide the number we get by ½ because the literature tells us that 50% of the dried MB is carbon. As dried bacteria is estimated to weigh 1pg, if this were all bacteria, it constitutes 600,000,000pg or 600 million bacteria.

Now imagine that I have 600 apartment buildings in NYC that each contain 1 million people, and I decide to check 10 apartments in 10 buildings at 4 p.m. to estimate the number of people actually in the building. Obviously, it would vary because people are not always in their apartment and different apartments have different numbers of inhabitants – the same is true for soil.

Soil contains microscopic aggregates of different sizes and the number and type of inhabitants in each varies on the physical and chemical composition of the space as well as the nutrient, pH and hydration level. Each sample you take is like looking at a number of different apartments in a number of apartment buildings.

For this reason, when conducting research, soil and medical researchers run duplicates or triplicates. Because of cost, soil labs generally do not run duplicates and they see 10- 25% variation. We are recommending running duplicates when using microBIOMETER® unless you are doing academic research. Generally, we see <10% variation for a given sample, and for a field that looks homogeneous. Pastures can have much higher variation because the nutrients level across the area varies tremendously.

microBIOMETER® Soil Testing in New Zealand garden community

In learning how to develop healthy soil for healthy plants and people, Frans Plugge of New Zealand discovered the importance of increasing the fungi population in his garden and this led him to microBIOMETER®.

“The microBIOMETER® soil test makes measuring the fungi to bacteria ratio so easy,” Frans said. 

To promote the benefits of soil regeneration, Frans has started the community street garden using the principles of regenerative agriculture; minimizing artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.  Frans plans to take regular measurements of the fungi to bacteria ratio using microBIOMETER® to monitor his progress as well as create a great discussion point with members of the garden community, therefore, contributing to a healthy plant community.

Some of the microBIOMETER® results Frans shared with us for his home garden and compost:

  • Our compost.  1102 ug C/g, F:B 1.7:1
  • Veggie garden soil. 310 ug C/g  F:B 0.1:1
  • Purchased compost soil mix. 1299 ug C/g F:B 2.4:1
  • Soil from native bush. 469 ug C/g  F:B 0.8:1

The first photo pictured here is a bare clay strip that Frans forked loose but did not turn. He added a thin layer of garden compost along with a layer of soil sowing in ten different species of autumn crops; legumes, grasses, and cereals. Then he planted brassicas into the garden (second photo).

Over the years, Frans typically added compost and dug in green crop in the main vegetable garden, but had not had great success in yield. This autumn in the area the microBIOMETER® sample was taken from, he planted an autumn cover crop of 7-8 different species and a selection of brassicas amongst them. The idea is when the cover crop begins to go to seed, they cut at root level and drop as mulch (third photo).  Frans is hoping they can stop digging in an effort to build up healthy soil organisms.

Frans’ conclusions related to New Zealand’s potential to reduce its carbon footprint:

  • If all New Zealand farmers lifted their soil organic matter (SOM) by .25% per annum, we could offset all New Zealand’s annual GHG emissions including methane.
  • Globally, numerous farmers are lifting SOM by 0.5 – 1% per annum over many years.
  • Add in parks, recreation spaces, berms, gardens and Crown Land.

About Frans:

  • Completed his degree at Lincoln University in Valuation and Farm Management
  • Founded ECOsystems in 1995 with the vision “Saving Energy and the Environment” and the mission “To reduce energy consumption in commercial buildings by 50%”
  • Longstanding and current elected board member of the Carbon and Energy Professionals N.Z. (CEPNZ).
  • In 2018, established the Kata School to promote practices of continuous improvement that Toyota has used for 70 years. He is the current chair.
  • Attended and presented at Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership training in Brisbane and completedthe Kiss the Ground training on Regenerating Soils.
  • Currently focused on using the behaviours of Toyota Kata scientific thinking and experimenting towards a vision to develop the culture required to achieve the challenge of carbon positive.

How much carbon can be stored by increasing your soil microbes?

microBIOMETER® reports the microbial biomass as ug of microbial carbon/gram of soil. The chart pictured here shows how much carbon can be stored in an acre just by increasing microbial biomass alone. (Chemically fertilized farmland averages about 100 ug/microbial C/g of soil.)

Microbial biomass is the best single estimate of soil quality. It is the bodies of dead microbes that build humus/soil organic carbon, returning carbon to the soil and building soil structure which prevents erosion and pollutant run off. (Chemical nitrogen fertilizers have been shown to inhibit microbial biomass.)

The literature reports that lab measurements of soil organic carbon are not sufficiently accurate in monitoring an increase in carbon sequestration in less than 3 years but that a yearly increase in microbial biomass can indicate that the process of carbon accumulation is occurring.

microBIOMETER® has been used to demonstrate increases in soil carbon due to increases in microbial biomass on the Apple campus in Texas and for 3 years by the NYC Arts and Science Carbon Sponge Project.

Source: Direct evidence for microbial-derived soil organic matter formation and its ecophysiological controls.

Research shows microBIOMETER® correlates with crop health

Katharhy G. is an agroecosystem and ethnoscience researcher who traveled to Ecuador to investigate the relationship between microbial biomass and crop health, as well as to study the local indigenous agriculture practices.

He visited 28 different farms growing 15 different crops. 14 of these farms are practicing conventional farming, while the other 14 farms are practicing indigenous regenerative farming. Most sites are not receiving irrigation. He tested the soil with microBIOMETER® and ranked the crop health as poor (1), average (2), good (3), excellent (4).

As the graph shows, microbial biomass correlated with crop health under all these different conditions. Samples with microbial biomass lower than 225 were all poor (1) and samples above 400 were all excellent.

The take home lesson is that to improve your plant health and yield, increase your microbial biomass by feeding your microbes with organic amendments.

If you have microBIOMETER® research data you’d like to share with us, please contact us. We would love to share it with our readers!

Contact:. katharhyg@gmail.com