Thursday, April 8, 2010

Garden Thursday

Guest Post: The Dirt Detectives Write Up Their Findings & Share Their Results With Yours Truly

I was going to write about how lovely and blossoming the garden is looking this week, because it is: the lilacs are on the very edge of full out bloom, the apple trees are budding, all pink and white and meltingly beautiful, and the rhubarb is simply massive. It's all so colourful and fresh and new. So very bloggable.

But then I ran into my friends the Dirt Detectives. They have been investigating the Soil Food Web for the past few weeks. In fact we all have. It's been an amazingly informative exploration and the results have surprised us all, me included. So I bailed on the bloggable garden post and asked the Dirt Detectives to do a guest post. And, being the wildly enthusiastic about anything and everything eight year olds that they are, they agreed readily.

So, without further ado, I present the Dirt Detectives and Their Findings:

The Dirt Detectives are gardeners with an organic bent. They like to grow things without using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. But some things don't always grow so well. They decided to investigate further.

To this end, they went to the library, where they found a book called Teaming With Microbes: A Gardener's Guide To The Soil Food Web. It told them a lot of things they didn't know about the soil in their garden. It also taught them some new terms, the Soil Food Web being one of them.

Here is a Soil Food Web picture for you. Imagine this in your own garden. The Dirt Detectives did.

You might have had plants like this in your garden. Straggly shriveled little tragedies that you pass by every so often and wonder "How the hell did that get like that? It had everything that the other plants had."

(Editor's note: please note that the Dirt Detectives do not swear)

This plant was planted at the exact same time as the other plant. The same day even. Obviously something was not the same...

(Editor's note: read the titles under the pictures if you're wondering where she's going with this)

Strange Discoveries:

The Dirt Detectives discovered that the soil is alive under the ground. It's filled with more than just a few worms and spiders and slugs (and odd bits of LEGO). It's called a Soil Food Web, if you want to get specific.
They also discovered that a teaspoon of good garden soil contains a billion invisible bacteria, several yards of equally invisible fungal hyphae (roots), several thousand protozoa, and a few dozen nematodes.

To start with, they tested the soil in their gardens, just to see how the land lay, so to speak.

(Editor's note: I hope we're not going to get a lot of cheesy jokes about soil)

Be careful or you just might.

Another thing they learned about was the rhizosphere. That's the area around the plant's roots, where all the bacteria and other micro-organisms live and make a lot of stuff happen.

They also discovered that what's bad for the rhizosphere is all the chemical fertilizers that people use, because those chemicals leave residues that stay in the ground and drive away all the good bacteria, animals, and other microscopic organisms that feed around the rhizosphere.

So what conclusions did the Dirt Detectives come to after reading this book? Most of the time the Dirt Detectives use things like fish fertilizer, compost, and kelp meal. But according to the authors of Teaming With Microbes, an even better way to feed the garden is to introduce lots of microbes in the way of compost tea and mycorrhizal inoculants. This way the Soil Food Web in their gardens will be well balanced and SPECTACULAR.

Mycorrhizal Inoculants

Here is an example of an inoculant you might be familiar with. But this is only the beginning, let me tell you. There are also tubs of mycorrhizal inoculants you can buy, to improve the microbial content of your soil. They come in powdered form, to which you add water. This wakes up the little micro-organisms. Be careful with this stuff though: you must plant it within 24 hours of wetting it or all those little colonies you're creating will suffer.

The Dirt Detectives were quite surprised when this whole package of peas burst up out of the ground after having a little soak in the inoculant.

The entire package of peas. Every single one of them.

(Editor's note: pretty good results, I'd say)

Making Compost Tea

This is pretty straight-forward: get yourself a 5 gallon pail with some big scoops of well-rotted compost in it, then fill to the brim with water. Stir gently, so as not to hurt the living things in the compost, then fill up your watering buckets and go wild. At least, that's what the Dirt Detectives did...

(Editor's note: you like the cheesy jokes, don't you?)

Yes, I do, actually.

So there you go. A day with the Dirt Detectives. Hope you enjoyed it as much as they did.


Rebecca said...

Science Celebration sneak preview?

Looks like a job well done.


sheila said...

Bingo! That and an easy link to an O4L. I like to multi-task with these things, you know.


Oh, I tell you, I need to create a language around this stuff. It keeps me up at night.

Shelly said...

O4L you say? Drag and drop I say! Nice project!