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Core samples from Nebraska  RSS feed

 
Jen Shrock
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Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
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The other day at work I had a co-worker ask how my permaculture stuff was going. We chit chatted about what I was working on and the conversation led to some research that he has been doing and some experiments that he would like to do. I told him that I would post a question out here to see if I could get input, or even better, a sample from someone. Forgive me in advance if this sounds a little vague. I couldn't convince him to either write down what he wanted me to ask or post the question himself. So, here it goes...

While talking, he was mentioning some experiment that he was wanting to do in which he would flush out / separate the bacterial and/or fungal life from soil. What he is particularly intrigued with is that he has read of soils in areas in Nebraska where there is still very active bacterial and fungal life 6 - 8 foot down. Can anyone add to that? Does anyone know how one could get a plains (bacterial predominant) core sample from 6 - 8 foot down and another forest (fungal predominant) sample of the same depth. Like I said, his primary interest focused on Nebraska.

Soryy about the vague nature. Trying to relay what another is thinking isn't always the easiest. Any comments, inputs or directions for the resources would be appreciated!
 
John Elliott
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We don't live on a dead planet -- yet.

There is bacterial and fungal life going on everywhere. When conditions get tough, these things sporulate -- they pack it in and hibernate until conditions improve. Yeast in the bottom of a beer keg, fungi out in the hot sun, bacteria in a bird dropping on a rock, all of these are not dead, but just waiting. Sure enough, the beer keg will be emptied, and the rains will come and wet the dried out mushroom and the rock. Then life resumes where it left off. Often in a much different location than where it started. So those muddy boots that you threw in the trunk on your cross-country trip are now sources of inoculation when you get home and wipe your feet.

It's not really the species that are hard to find; you can start a culture of Saccharomyces cerevisiae pretty much anywhere by leaving some flour and water out in the breeze for a week. It's the conditions that determine how the microbial community develops: the temperature, humidity, diurnal range, etc. The Saccharomyces that live in San Francisco are unique -- take them somewhere else and they change, and the sourdough made from it just doesn't have that San Francisco taste. Take soil from Nebraska and haul it to Georgia and it will soon change. It will lose its high plains, severe winter adaptation and instead those traits that are adapted to subtropical heavy clay will start to get expressed.

If you have a piece of dead soil, maybe it was over-tilled, over-fumigated, and it's drying up and starting to turn into Dust Bowl dirt, you don't need a special inoculation from a thousand miles away, you need to make it a better home for local microbes. Get some leaf litter from the closest nature park; some water from a local pond; put some birdseed down so the local birds will see a feast and crap all over; pick local mushrooms and bring them to your plot. It's not too hard, and even if you do nothing, Mother Nature will find a way to bring in a few of her children. Your real job is to make sure the children (a) have something to eat (lots of decaying biomass) and (b) won't get poisoned (make it a no chemicals zone).

I hope my answer has hit some of the high points. I'm all for experimenting, but you have to pick and choose those factors which you have control over. What's really the objective here?
 
Miles Flansburg
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Jen, Have them do a web search for Nebraska soil profiles. Or horizons.

Here are some images that might be telling.

http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=nebraska+soil+profile&qpvt=nebraska+soil+profile&FORM=IGRE&adlt=strict
 
Jen Shrock
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Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
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John - I am not quite sure what his reasoning behind wanting the samples and wanting to study them is for exactly. I think, in his case, more curiosity, I think. I am working on building and livening things up naturally on my own lot. I don't think that he has a place of his own to do that with. When my co-worker and I talk, it quickly leads into the scientific aspect of things. When I look at the soil needing things, like nitrogen or potassium, etc., I look at it as the broad element. He tends to want to get into the complete nitty-gritty details (mentioned something about some nutrients having different "versions". I don't know how to explain other than I might say vitamin B in a coversation to him and he would say vitamin B12, B3, etc. - Just for a comparison example). I think that what I am doing has piqued his curiosity some, just from the fact that he will bring it up on occasion. I really don't know what his spin is on this, other than him saying that he read about it and is really curious. Hey, if we can get them curious about something and suck them in, great!

Miles - I will have to check out the link. I have to get ready to head off to work so I haven't had a chance yet.
 
John Elliott
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Jen Shrock wrote: I really don't know what his spin is on this, other than him saying that he read about it and is really curious. Hey, if we can get them curious about something and suck them in, great!


Keep on leading him over to the green side.
 
Amos Burkey
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Location: Nebraska
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Jen Shrock wrote:..... Does anyone know how one could get a plains (bacterial predominant) core sample from 6 - 8 foot down and another forest (fungal predominant) sample of the same depth. Like I said, his primary interest focused on Nebraska.......


I may be able to help out with the soil sample from Nebraska. I will need to know a bit more what he needs specificly. Jen, PM me if he is interested.
 
Dan Grubbs
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As a red-bleeding Nebraska native I wanted to pipe in. I'm sure we all realize that Nebraska is a big place (more than 400 miles across) with multiple soil profiles -- as it is with all states. One could sample the Loess hills of the Missouri River valley, the prairie, the Sandhills, the high plains, the canyon lands, as well as the pasture or cropland, irrigated or dryland -- all in Nebraska. And, those are just some of the major geographical areas. I would think it would be hard to generalize.

If your friend is interested in the life of prarie soils, I suggest he reach out to the folks at The Land Insitute of Salina, Kansas. They are doing extensive research (of the sustainable kind) and I bet their researchers could give him some insights into his inquiry. The prairie they are studing in Kansas is similar to a sizable portion of Nebraska. Here is TLI's website: http://landinstitute.org/ There are opporuntities for your friend to interact with these scientests at several venues.

Also, for those who are interested, TLI has several interesting events in which this audience might have interest.

1 - Land Access Symposium
Wes Jackson, president of The Land Institute, will be among leaders of the sustainable agriculture movement to speak at a symposium on land access presented by the Agrarian Trust in Berkeley, Calif. The symposium is in response to data showing the average age of the American farmer is 58, up 1.2 years from 2007, and that a third of all farmers are of retirement age (65 or older). That begs these questions: With 400 million acres of farmland set to change hands, who will reap the rewards? Will that land be consolidated into larger holdings and treated as a commodity or investor asset? Or will it prove the foundation for a new business, a next-generation farmer, a passionate entrepreneur?

2 - The Prairie Festival - Sep 26-28
Way too much information on it to share here, so I suggest you visit TLI's website for more information. I've attended the Prairie Festival and was able to speak directly with Wendell Berry there and others who are seeking a better approach to agriculture. I will go back and I recommend it not only for the speakers but for the good-time social events that can be hosted on a working farm (barn dance, bison stew cook out, several musical artists). Here' the website again: http://landinstitute.org/

If you want to take an independent journalist's take on what The Land Institute is doing, here is New York Times columnist Mark Bittmann's video report on his visit to TLI during the festival one year: http://youtu.be/nouzXynhnmw

See you there!
 
Jen Shrock
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Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
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Amos and Dan. Thanks for the feedback. I will touch base with my co-worker tomorrow and pass along the info and see if I can get him to give me a better definition of what it is exactly he is looking for.
 
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