The Soil Food Web
Location: OSU’s Plant Protection Center, Corvallis, Oregon
Featuring: Dr. Elaine Ingham
Soil Food Web:
Our soil teems with a multitude of organisms, which provide the necessary work for healthy plants to grow free from disease, pests and infertility. These interconnected interactions and feeding relationships (quite literally “who eats who”) help determine the types of nutrients present in soil, its depth and pH, and even the types of plants which can grow.
Parts of the Soil Food Web:
• Nematodes (fungal and bacterial-feeders and predators)
• Protoza (amoebae, flagelletes, and ciliates)
• Animals, birds, anthropods (Predators)
• Bacteria organic matter (waste, residue and metabolites from pl ants, animals and microbes)
• Plants (shoots and roots)
• Fungi (mycorrhizal + saprophytic)
• Arthropods (shredders)
Dr. Elaine Ingham believes getting a healthy food web back into our dirt will stop poisoning us and turn this sick world around. Our use of toxic chemicals to grow food has greatly imperiled our soil, rivers, lakes, streams and oceans. In many areas of the world, our impact has been massive and unremitting, resulting in the loss of many organisms we don’t even know exist (we’ve only identified 10 percent of the bacterial and fungal species on the planet). Can nature teach us how to grow enough food to feed an abundance of life sustainably, without killing everything in a field simply to force-feed a single crop?
Building Soil: A Basic Tea Recipe
By making a compost tea or extract, you are feeding the soil food web and providing nutrients. Teas made with compost extract beneficial microorganisms and compounds into a liquid solution that can be directly applied to foliage.
The amount applied is determined by the organisms in the tea. If the tea has excellent numbers of what is missing in the soil, then you can apply as little as 5 gallons per acre. If there are moderate levels of organisms in the tea, than 10 gallons per acre will do, or for compost tea with few organisms use 20 gallons per acre.
A Basic Tea Recipe:
– 25 gallons of water, aerated to remove chlorine, add two teaspoons of a humic acid solution (preferably humic acid extracted from your own compost).
– 1-2 tablespoons of humic acid diluted in 2 cups of water before adding to the compost tea or 1 to 2 tablespoons of fish hydrolysate (pre-diluted to neutralize the acid preservative according to the label on the container).
– ½ cup of kelp mixed in 5 cups of water before addition to the compost tea.
– Five pounds of good aerobic (good smelling, like deep forest soil) compost with excellent bacteria, fungi, protozoa in the compost. Using a microscope, assess the compost: using a 1:5 dilution of compost, 400x total magnification, there should be a minimum of thousands of bacteria in each field of view, 1 strand of fungal hyphae in each 5 fields, 1 flagellate or amoebae in each 5 to 10 fields of view and 1 beneficial nematode per drop.
Add additional foods if needed to improve fungi: 1 cup steel cut oats, or bran flour, or shrimp shells (no protein on the shells!) put in the compost bag with the compost.
Replace humic acids with the same amount of fish hydrolysate if the plants need a nitrogen boost.
Introduction to Soil
Many people are jumping onto the organic gardening bandwagon for political, nutritional, and environmental reasons, but successfully making that jump is not as simple as some may think. Simply switching from synthetic chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides to organic gardening products is not enough; rather the jump needs to involve a wholly new approach toward working with nature. Successfully growing healthy plants does not involve a “feed-vitamins” or “put-on-a-bandage” mentality. The old chemical application approach tries to solve problems by pouring on chemical nutrients to feed the plants and pouring on more chemical pesticides to kill problem organisms that attack plants—then plants suffer from the unbalanced growth forced on them by too many chemical nutrients. Of course, beneficial soil life is also killed, slowly but surely, by these chemical applications. As beneficial life is destroyed, the majority of soluble chemicals can no longer be held in the soil. These chemicals leach from the soil and pollute our water systems. As toxic chemicals erode the beneficial life, healthy soil turns into unhealthy dirt. Simply using organic products will not get us out of the grip of the spiral; rather we suggest that to win our freedom from toxic chemical use, we must start gardening with nature. Chemical companies love an ignorant public because if people do not know what toxic chemicals are doing, they will keep buying those chemical products. The key to true organic gardening is to recognize the power of beneficial microorganisms, an approach little known or understood.