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Soil ecology, succession and culturing microbes  RSS feed

 
Cody DeBaun
Posts: 107
Location: Denton, TX United States Zone 8a
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So I've been thinking a lot lately about soil ecology. This thread especially, with all the recent conversation there, has been very enlightening. Here are the connections I'm trying to make, and the paths I'm hoping to take:

- It seems pretty well established both in the scientific community and among permies that a robust soil ecology, teeming with a diverse range of microbial life, is essential to long term, sustainable fertility, stability, productivity. The difficult questions from there seem to be how to get it, what makes it, what maintains it, what destroys it, etc.

- It also seems the consensus is that succession occurs as much under the ground as it does above ground. A general rule of thumb seems to be that more Annual/non-woody/early stage soils are bacterial, while perennial/woody/late stage soils are more fungal.

- So I'm thinking, I should be targeting any microbial applications with that successional mindset, right?
- All the IMO stuff I've seen involves burying a box of rice in a forest. Do you think a similar effect could be achieved buried in a prairie? One that is more useful for us on a garden bed?
- Or even if not providing direct microbes, I should mulch with succession in mind? Or does it not make as big of a difference as I'm thinking?
- Is there any evidence to support the idea that, for example, pioneer tree wood mulch benefits mid-successional trees more than, say, mulch from a climax tree?
- What about evidence of the microbial effects of animal manures? I've heard multiple permaculturists talk about using chickens or pigs for food forests, and am quite familiar with the way cows hold back forest. A number of them have talked about the mechanical portions of this process, but what about the microbial effects of their manures?


Thoughts?
 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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My strategy is that the world is awash in microbes, and that each kind will live where conditions are appropriate for it to live.

 
John Weiland
Posts: 971
Location: RRV of da Nort
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Just adding a very useful link here and hope it's not a duplication:  http://www.scoop.it/t/plant-microbe-symbioses

Within that nice updated collection of articles is the following recent addition on the impact of symbiosis in the ability for some legumes to grow....or not....in certain 'foreign' soils:

https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms14790
 
Marco Banks
Posts: 615
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Years ago I watched one of those videos about burying rice next to the roots of an old tree, and then digging it up and transplanting the fungal goodness to your own garden.

So I followed their method.  I got an old tube sock that was 100% cotton and filled it up with organic rice.  I tied it off, grabbed by favorite small shovel, and headed for the park.  Then I dug down about a foot next to an old oak tree out in the park and buried my sock full of rice.  I watered it in using a bucket of rainwater.

One month later, I returned to retrieve my sock full of rice, expecting it to be covered with a soft network of fungal hyphae and beneficial bacteria.  The sock was just a hollow shell.  It was completely empty except a bunch of little black bugs that had been, apparently, feasting for the past month on the treat I'd left for them.  They'd eaten ever last grain of rice, and there was no evidence of fungal colonization.  I was pretty bummed.

I laugh at that now.  And I want those 3 cups of rice back.

You don't need to go to heroic measures to bring external microbes, fungi and bacteria to your place.  They are all around.  If you create the right conditions for them to thrive, they'll multiply quickly and colonize your soil.  But if you really want to get a jump start on things, I suppose that you could take a shovel and a bucket out into the local forest, get a couple of healthy scoops of forest soil, and then bring that back and incorporate it into your compost. 

However, my hunch is that you already have all the right microbes for your biome all around you.  Just pile up the organic matter (either as an active compost pile, a passive "let it rot at it's own pace" compost pile, or as a generous layer of mulch) and microbes will multiply.  Carbon feeds the system, so you've got to get as much biomass as possible growing, mulching, and rotting all over your land.  Planting cover crops, bringing in external sources of carbon (my favorite being wood chips), chop and drop gardening, and animal integration (putting biomass through their digestive system) are all ways to feed the microbial herd. 

Build the environment for them to thrive, and they'll culture themselves.
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 3161
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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hau Cody,  You did not mention  just exactly what sort of garden you have or want, that will determine the microbiome that would best suit your needs.

An annuals garden will require more bacteria than fungi in that microbiome.

A fruit tree area (orchard) will need specific mycorrhizal fungi on and in the roots of the trees, along with their food bacteria, there again, different fruits need different types and species.

As kola Joseph mentions, bacteria and fungi spores are everywhere, each will establish in places that have the best conditions for that species to thrive.

The rice idea came from Japan, while it can work, why bother?  All you need to do is get your soil ready with the right amounts and forms of nutrients and the bacteria will thrive, the fungi will grow.

Marco found out the hard way that using a food medium like rice needs to be done in a very controlled area so that other critters won't find the treats first.

The easiest way to grow any organism starts with finding soil that has the desired organism present already (microscope needed) then inoculate some growing medium with said soil and keep conditions near ideal for a few weeks.

Redhawk
 
Todd Parr
pollinator
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Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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Many places on my land I have turned dead, lifeless clay into soil that is chock full of all sorts of living organisms just by piling woodchips or hay on an area.  I purposely kill large portions of yard (quack grass) with black rubber roofing material left in place for sometimes a year or more.  When I remove the material, the soil, at least to my eye, is entirely lifeless.  A good layer of woodchips and some water fix that more quickly than you can believe.
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Todd Parr wrote:Many places on my land I have turned dead, lifeless clay into soil that is chock full of all sorts of living organisms just by piling woodchips or hay on an area.  I purposely kill large portions of yard (quack grass) with black rubber roofing material left in place for sometimes a year or more.  When I remove the material, the soil, at least to my eye, is entirely lifeless.  A good layer of woodchips and some water fix that more quickly than you can believe.


When you cover to kill grass, you are providing lots of new food for the bacteria that are already there, same for any fungi (these are the decomposers we want for soil creating).
If it were actually turned to dirt, it would take several months to start new cultures via woodchips and water.

Redhawk
 
Todd Parr
pollinator
Posts: 1424
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:
Todd Parr wrote:Many places on my land I have turned dead, lifeless clay into soil that is chock full of all sorts of living organisms just by piling woodchips or hay on an area.  I purposely kill large portions of yard (quack grass) with black rubber roofing material left in place for sometimes a year or more.  When I remove the material, the soil, at least to my eye, is entirely lifeless.  A good layer of woodchips and some water fix that more quickly than you can believe.


When you cover to kill grass, you are providing lots of new food for the bacteria that are already there, same for any fungi (these are the decomposers we want for soil creating).
If it were actually turned to dirt, it would take several months to start new cultures via woodchips and water.

Redhawk


Redhawk, that's good to know.  I always feel like it's a necessary evil killing the good stuff to get rid of the quack.  I'm glad to know I'm not really killing all of the good stuff off too.
 
Tom Digerness
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Location: Northern Utah/Northwest Colorado
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I have to agree a with Joseph, all the life is there just waiting for the right conditions.  Here is a close up picture of some open ground after a wet spring (sagebrush steppe), this area will most likely look like dirt by the end of the summer.
20170401_081816.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20170401_081816.jpg]
Spring "dirt"
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Awesome photo Tom, I see lichens, mosses along with other goodies growing nicely. It will all go dormant when it has to do so.
 
John Stannum
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Location: NSW Australia
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The sock with the beetles would not have been a dead loss. Beetles eat a huge variety of foods, because they have intestinal fauna just like a cow. But the fauna would be different to a cow. I hear each time a beetles intestinal contents is studied, new varieties of yeast are discovered.
Bringing the sock of beetles back and giving them some more rice to inoculate with beetle intestinal fauna in  hole, would have benefits. I just couldn't specify what they'd be.
 
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