Week Four (6/25 thru 6/29) The Final Week

Well this was the last week of the internship, which you may have deduced from the title, but either way it was a bit of a rough one. Mostly because I was borderline sick/sick for the beginning of the week. The festivities of the wedding, which were extensive, left me completely drained and exhausted.

This meant Monday and Tuesdays were very slow days for me because I could feel myself teetering on the edge of a “knock you out” illness. Monday was spent helping out were I could, that being mostly in the microscope lab. I think we planted some veggies into the Right Size Garden rows in the quarter acre in the morning.

Tuesday I did some microscope work, and some assessments of the microscope spreadsheets that were done for some folks who attended a class earlier in the month. It was a good experience to take the raw data collected and translate it into a form that is understandable by anyone. After doing that for a while I decided I needed to lay down. I ended up taking a nap at the Rodale house because I had to wait for one of my roommates, Nate or Keith, to get off work and take me home. Luckily Keith was able to leave early because he was working on the code for a computer program for Rodale and he could do it from “home.” I got home and slept the rest of the night, and I think I even woke up late. Basically I got a Lot of sleep, and felt pretty good the next day.

Wednesday Nate, Eric, Molly, Rita(a researcher at Rodale) and I all went up to Penn State to take part in their field day. I can sum up my experience on Wednesday in two words: not impressed, but let me expand on that statement. Penn State, like most other research facilities, is funded mostly by “Big Ag” companies and they look into how to improve conventional systems of food and animal feed production. I also feel that I need to clarify that my “not impressed” perspective most likely comes from being spoiled by my time at Rodale, where everything they do is pretty much geared towards organic systems. I sometimes forget that this is not the norm…yet, but I digress. First stop I made was to the predatory bug station where they spoke of their experiments of different kinds of beneficial bugs and their effects on bad bugs like slugs. Two interesting ideas that came out of this station: 1) Beneficial bugs that will eat seeds but are only big enough to eat weed seeds because they’re the only ones that sit on the soil surface. Which to me is a very promising idea on another layer of weed control that is natural. 2) The main speaker of the station told us of preliminary data they were looking at suggests that when a slug who survived being sprayed by pesticides is then attacked by predatory beetle, and survives it passes the toxins on to the beetle and continues to live. The beetle is left either severely damaged or dead. Now these are preliminary findings on one study, but the potential reality this study is pointing to means pesticides can do more damage to the beneficial bugs then the harmful bugs. What surprised me most was that this gentleman was surprised at this findings, and I was so surprised that I couldn’t help but blurt out a “really?!” Realizing I may have spoke out of turn and with little actual knowledge on the subject I referenced the fact that fish can bio-accumulate mercury and other harmful toxins that don’t kill them, but can be incredibly detrimental to the humans who eat them. The gentleman agreed with that idea but also added that there were too many variables concerning the time the pesticide stays in the slug and how far into the tissues it permeates, which both felt like compelling questions that could lead to doubt. However for me, and my outsider perspective it felt very natural that the data would point to such conclusions.

The next stop was a cover crop experiment involving corn production where they look at different cover crop combination to help fix nitrogen and deal with weeds. Again my “ignorance” of only being taught sustainable practices left me feeling like there was a better way because they were using herbicides to kill off the ground cover and were only concerned about the water soluble nitrogen in the soil. The one bright spot of this stop was I found the only, the Only person concerned about the biology in the soil. I can’t remember her name but she was the only one I meet during the entire field day who was actively looking at the biology present in the soil during her experiment. I saw one more experiment before lunch that had to do with crop rotation and ground cover to optimize yield for a dairy operation. After lunch I saw an experiment looking at “injecting” manure into the soil as opposed to spraying it on top of the soil or using an aerator. They didn’t really go into the aerator facts, but later on Nate clued me into the fact that it may be more beneficial then they initially lead on. Regardless the experiment is looking at nutrient retention, and run off in a system where you disk the manure in to the ground and a system where you spray in on the ground. Obviously when you disk the manure, liquid manure, into the ground you are putting organic matter back into the ground and saving nutrients, but what about the potential pathogens still present in the manure? What does it do to the biology in the soil? I only asked one of those questions, and the answer is “we’re not sure because we didn’t set up the tests needed to look at the biology.” Again another interesting experiment but yet again one that I feel is lacking in certain areas.

The final experiment I saw for the day was the only, the Only experiment that was “organic,” although the land itself wasn’t officially organic yet. The experiment was called the R.O.S.E experiment which is similar to the SARE Veg experiment at Rodale in that it looks at ground cover as a way to deal with weeds and provide nitrogen fixation. They used as mixture of rye, vetch, and (I think) vetch with triticale which is a wheat rye hybrid. This seemed like a good experiment, and as memory serves was doing “ok,” but my main issue with this experience was that main speaker ended up bad mouthing organic seeds and ended up saying “they need to do more genetic work with these organic seeds.” (Please note that was a para-phrase of the gentleman’s words.) Obviously there needs to be a “tweak” in genetics and not our land practices…obviously. Again, disappointed. Also in looking up the breakdown of the acronym for R.O.S.E., which I didn’t find, I was reminded that three of these experiments are labeled “Sustainable,” and not a one fully followed what I would define as sustainable practices. Most of the experiments, apart from the R.O.S.E experiment, and maybe the dairy experiment used herbicides, which in my mind is not sustainable. This experience taught me several things: 1) I know very little about the “other side of the conversation,” i.e the conventional side, and that limits how I can communicate with folks and farmers who are immersed in that language. 2) There needs to be more research farms like Rodale “speaking loudly” the data around growing food organically. 3) I heard a man on the tour say “it’s a gamble” in reference to when he plants his sweet corn. I immediately wondered “how do we remove the gamble?” Compost? Compost tea? Cover crop? Permaculture? I didn’t have an answer, and I still don’t. but I do know it needs to be affordable, easy and something farmers can eventually do for themselves. 4) Later on I was reminded about how amazing it was that Penn State, a land grant college, is doing an experiment in organic at all! True. For me though, that is not good enough, but that’s probably because I’m an idealist and a dreamer…and I don’t plan on changing anytime soon.

Thursday started with some Turf Management project, and then I went out and helped stake some tomatoes for the SARE Veg experiment. The rest of the day was spent in the microscope lab until I got the chance to help Scott swab the milking system of the neighbors farm. This is part of an experiment to see if the cleaning system they switched to, which is apparently cheaper and better for the environment is actually doing a comparable job to the old system. After that I came back and did some more microscope work.

Friday was counting soybeans, microscope work, a class with Cynthia who is running the ASC and some compost flipping…I think…I’m not certain about that part. I am however certain that fellow intern Diane made some awesome key lime pie to celebrate the last day of Molly and I. It was delicious. Later that evening we had a pool party at Lindsey’s apartment to celebrate the time Molly and I spent there. I had a great time, and I really appreciated my time at Rodale and the people I meet while I was there.

Well that is it, the end of the internship. It went by waaaay too fast. A month that has left me with plenty of questions and new ideas of how to move forward and where that direction will lead me. I am grateful for the experience and the lessons learned. Thank you.

Stay tuned….

Week Three (6/18 thru 6/21) the short week

This week flew by, and I was grateful for that because I was a bit preoccupied with the fact my best friend got married on that Saturday the 23rd of June!!!! Hurray!!! However, that is not what this blog is about so I’ll get on to what I did at Rodale this past week.

Monday started out with working on the turf management project, which consisted of helping Elisa count roots, take basic observations, and get a group of us to “stomp” on each bed to simulate real world conditions. After our “turf march,” which we do everyday, we all headed to the Rodale house to work with Richard setting up two worm bins. Richard is awesome! He has been working with worms for 8+ years, and in his own words has killed/driven away enough worms to have some good ideas on what works. He also makes some really, really good extract from his worm castings. We spent the next three hours putting together two wooden worm bins, putting down shredded news paper, then adding in the worms, and finally some food scraps that were available from the house.  After we finished with setting up the bins we talked about potential ways to set up an experiment surrounding feeding the worm, and how much they can consume. We really didn’t get that far and planned to get together again on Tuesday to put some final touches on the ideas that came up. We headed back to the research teams building where Elaine showed us the newer spreadsheet that had just recently been worked out, and then it was time for lunch. After lunch I spent my time looking at soil samples from the turf project, while also showing a gentleman named Mark how to use the microscope. While I was looking at samples I realized there was an error in our process. I knew which samples had received compost tea, and which ones had received the fertilizer. In knowing which sample was which it meant I subconsciously was looking for certain results in each sample. I brought this up to Elaine and she agreed with me that we needed to change the way we labeled the samples. Elaine asked me to find Elisa and have her renumber the samples. That way I, or anyone else looking at the samples wouldn’t know which beds they came from. Ah the lessons of science… I was in Elaine’s office looking at samples until 6:45pm, which was crazy, but necessary because the rehearsal wedding/dinner was taking place on Friday in Baltimore.

Tuesday was a microscope day for pretty much the whole day, until we had a meeting with Richard around 3:45 until about 5pm. We discussed different ways to feed the worms in a way that would allow us to measure how much food scraps they can eat in a given time. Mark sat in on our meeting and had a proposition for us afterwords. He was/is looking for two people to come up to Canada with the intention of getting some help processing soil samples and working out tea brews for his turf business. An interesting opportunity to gain some more experience, see Ottawa, and hopefully get a business founded in biology running better. A possibility I am still pondering.

Wednesday started out with planting and weeding the right size gardens, and after that I went to the Shumei meeting. At the meeting they provided Jo-ray, which a form of energy healing, and then we each took turns reading out loud from one of the books (insert dude’s name) wrote with his principles for interacting with the land. After reading there was a discussion about the principles or philosophies of (insert name). It was interesting to hear some of the philosophies that the Shumei folks follow. I don’t totally agree with all of them, but I think a combination of permaculture, their practices and the biology practices of Elaine. Something to work on for sure because I love the aspects of art and beauty found in Shumei but I do not fully agree with their choice to not use compost to rebuild the biology in the soil. The rest of the day was spent (surprise, surprise) doing microscope work! That evening though I had the pleasure of having dinner with Elaine and Molly. Elaine decided to take us out to dinner because she was going to be gone most of the last week of our internship. We talked about our individual plans moving forward, compost, organic farming, future research ideas, the impending apocalypse, and comic books and fiction. It was a great dinner.

First thing Thursday morning we flipped all three compost piles, which was easily done with 8+ people taking turns helping out with all the piles. After that Scott and I headed over to a plot that was originally meant to be part of the Right Size Garden project but has since been allocated to Elaine’s desire to experiment with local under story plants. Her hope is to see which ones do the best and put together seed packets for farmers and a like to use as they desire. Lindsey brought us a huge container of water with the riding mower and we watered all the under story plants, which didn’t take long at all. Once that was done I headed over to the microscope lab to look at samples, which I did until lunch and picked it back up again after lunch until 3pm. Around 3 Elaine taught a class on how to run a potential microscope business: what to charge per sample, how to set up the processing forms, and how to cater your interpretations of your findings to meet what the client is trying to grow. It was a good bit of information to take in, although honestly I didn’t get it all down. Immediately after the class Mark took Lyndi and I out for a bit to eat where we talked about the details of the potential internship in Ottawa. At the end of it I told him to pencil me in for the end of July and most of August, provided I could figure out my passport situation in time. Since then I’ve taken some steps to get my passport in order, but I am also starting to feel like the internship is one I am going to have to pass on for multiple reasons. I haven’t made that my final decision but I want to explore my options closer to home for the remainder of the summer, and possibly find one that leaves me with some money in my pocket. (We’ll see.)

With Thursday coming to an end it was time to pack and wait for my ride back to Philadelphia where I stayed at my dad’s for the night. The next day I ran around getting the final touches of my suit in order, and then a great car ride down to Baltimore with my buddy Nate and the groom’s, Casey, mother Joyce. We did our rehearsal wedding/dinner thing then the guys retired to Casey and Julie’s apartment. The next morning we took showers, got some delicious brunch at a local restaurant, and it was off to the wedding location. I will not go into it but what occurred next will go down as one of the happiest moments in my life. It was some what of a foregone concussion that these two were going to get married, but it was still a beautiful site to witness Julie officially become part of my extended family. I am so very grateful to have been apart of the ceremony and celebration afterwards, and I was honored to hold the ring for Casey and give a speech at the reception. GOD IT WAS AWESOME!!!!

Week Two (6/11 thur 6/15)

Week two was just as jammed packed as week one, with a bit of heart break in the middle.

Monday started with an hour of weeding the Agriculture Supporting Communities (ASC) which is an idea that is very interesting to me. The original intention was to create a CSA like situation but instead of paying for your share all at once in the beginning the members pay as they receive their shares. The plan is also to offer cooking classes based around the main ingredients of each share, such as kale, for anyone who isn’t familiar with cooking such veggies. Currently it is being utilized by people who are more well off, but the dream(as far as I understand it) is to incorporate a social justice aspect and make it more affordable for people who don’t have access to fresh food. I’m not sure if they are realizing that dream yet, but I and happy to see an organization such as Rodale striving towards such goals.

After weeding I worked on the microscope for about an hour, and then it was off to work on the USDA’s mycorrhizal project for the rest of the day. Basically the USDA is looking at the importance of the presence of mycorrhizal fungi to the growth and health of plants, I think…I wasn’t too clear on the purpose of the project. For those who are unaware (as I was less then a year or so ago) mychorrhizal fungi is a kind of fungi that forms a symbiotic relationship with the roots of a plant and extents area in which plants can take up nutrients. We went up to the top of one of the hills on Rodale’s land, removed a black tarp meant to suppress weeds and any mycorrhizal fungi already present in the soil, and proceeded to rototill the soil so we could plant tomatoes and leeks into the ground. After we did that we obviously planted the tomatoes and leeks. Half of which were inoculated with mycorrhizal fungi, and the other half not. We planted them in the recently tilled soil as well as a plot of soil that had been maintained in a “conventional” manner, meaning conventional organic…meaning tilled regularly. Once we finished that we watered them and called it a day.

Part of Tuesday was spent sitting in on a class by Elaine where she talked about the soil food web. Afterwards Elisa and I spoke to a gentleman who manages quite a few big name park properties in New York and Philadelphia with compost and compost tea. He and Elaine are doing a turf management experiment looking at the effects of adding tea to the turf on the roots, biology and compaction. I am actually rather interested in this project mostly because of my love for baseball, and more specifically the Philadelphia Phillies. I’m not totally down for being an “advocate for the lawn,” but if people want to just have grass I think it would be amazing if most if not all of them used biology to manage said lawns.

Again, I’m not certain what I did Wednesday morning. This is mostly because the only solid memory I have of Wednesday is one that will stay with me for quite a while. We came out of lunch to see several of the Farm-Ops guys running towards the Rodale house and the neighbors farm. Then we saw the big plum of black smoke. At first we all feared it was the Rodale house, the home in which Ardy Rodale lived when she was alive, and where Elaine, Molly, Lyndi and two other interns live currently. Thankfully that was not the case, but unfortunately it was the next door neighbors barn that was on fire. The next door neighbors, the Brubakers, are a Mennonite family who run a conventional dairy. The other research interns and I didn’t really feel like we would be of much help at the fire so we kept our distance. It was really hard though to walk to the Soybean Establishment Trial to count soybeans and such while our neighbors barn burned. It was even harder as we walked past a pasture full of the other neighbors cows who were obviously freaked out by the fire and all the noise from the fire trucks. The other neighbors, the Burkhulters(possibly not the correct spelling) are not only also Mennonites but related to the Brubakers, James’ wife is their daughter. It was a very difficult afternoon, but the one sliver lining of the tragedy was seeing how quickly the Mennonite community and the Rodale community rallied around the Brubakers. I have no doubt that their barn will be rebuild be the end of the month, mid-July by the very latest.

Thursday we spent most of the day planting and watering 864 tomato plants for the SARE Veg experiment, planting them in all 9 different treatments with 4 replications…it was a lot. Then it the afternoon….we got to make compost piles!!!! It was great! Nate, Lyndi and I are in a group. We call ourselves “Team Awesome” because, well, we’re awesome!! We used chicken manure, straw and “brown material” which was incomplete composted material, and hay/food scraps. It was a lot of fun, and I’m excited to see how far they get in the next couple of weeks.

Friday we learned about the Variomax machine which is used to determine the carbon to nitrogen ratio in soil and other samples. Then it was on to learn about the rototiller, which I actually used on Monday, but it was good to get a reminder. After that a group of us headed back up to the Soybean Establishment Trial to take bio-mass cuts, soil samples, temperatures, penetrometer, and of course counting every plot of soybeans save 8!!! Luckily you don’t have to count the whole plot, but just the beans between two flags, but still we counted around 1000 soybeans. It was a lot! The rest of the day was spent looking at soil samples and learning about the “Eco-toilet” near the Rodale bookstore, which catches it’s own water and uses a man made wetlands system to clean the rain water that is caught. It was cool, but ultimately I headed back to finish some soil samples.

Well that is week two, and it was quite a ride. The weekend was also super special. My best friend had his bachelor party in Philadelphia, which I was the DD for…because I’m the best man, and I felt it was my responsibly to see him home safe. I also got to spend Sunday with my dad, and made a beautiful connection with an amazing person…it was wonderful, simply wonderful.

See you next week!

The First Week (6/4-6/8)

As I look back on the first week it is hard to distinguish what happened when, but I will do my to recount the days accurately for you here. Enjoy!

Our journey began with a 17 hour drive, give or take half an hour, from Fairfield, Iowa to Fleetwood, Pennsylvania, which is were Lindsey lives. We got to Lindsey’s around 12:30-1:00am, and our gracious host, and Lyndi, had made us popcorn and set us all up with the means to pass out.

Sunday morning we got breakfast at a coffee house in Kutztown. Once we were full we headed to Rodale to drop off Molly and check out the place. Elaine was there because she lives in the same house as Molly; she proceeded to give us the nickel tour of Rodale. We made plans to have dinner with each other later on in the evening. Afterwards Lyndi gave me a ride to the house I would be staying at, and then to the local Giant so I could get some food for the week. I put away my food and proceeded to take a nap! Because I was tired! Before I did though Lindsey came by to show the other new intern, Nate, where he would be staying. Around 7 we ate dinner in Kutztown, and then it was time for bed.

Monday was all about what goes on at Rodale, what is expected of us, and other formal information. We meet all the other interns: Eric, Elisa, Diane, and Scott. All really cool people. We also meet the seasonal techs and people who work at Rodale. One in particular, Rita, showed us the process they use for weighing, sorting, drying and grinding up bio-mass cuts and cover crop samples. We saw the “dirty” lab where samples are processed and the “clean” lab where there are several different kinds of machines to test said samples. Above the “clean” lab is the microscope lab where we, the research interns, will look at the micro-organism present in the samples.

We also meet with “Coach” who is the executive director at Rodale. He talked with us about some of his past accomplishments as well as some of his plans for Rodale’s future. One aspect of the future is animals and later in the day he showed us the chickens they raised from peeps(which I didn’t know was an actual term) which will be used for egg production as well as other things. They also now have pigs at Rodale.

I can’t place the exact days that everything happened during the week, but I can tell you most of what I did and learned.

One day, Tuesday I think, I went out and took bio-mass cuts for the SARE Veg trial. This is an experiment starting it’s third year where they are looking at different cover crops and planting styles as an alternative to black plastic for organic farmers. I had no idea that black plastic was a stable in what I am now calling “conventional organic farming.” The study looks at rye, vetch, and a rye/vetch mix as weed controlling cover crops. They roll and crimp some of the cover crops, and they just cut some of them…and I think they plowed one or two. Either way we took bio-mass cuts to get a sample of how much is actually growing in each plot.

On Tuesday we also mulched the 1/4 acre plot of the Right Size gardens and did some microscope work in the lab.

I can not recall what I did on Wednesday, but trust it was awesome. Probably involved some weeding of some sort, possibly some microscope time, and more fun “getting to know everyone” conversations.

Thursday we took some worm extract that Richard made and watered the Right Size garden beds. The Right Size garden project is one head up by Lindsey and Lyndi and is hoping to look at how much food a family of four can produce for themselves at varying scales. This is a project that I am very interested in because it ties into urban farming as well as empowering people to grow their own food, and help off set everyday costs. The rest of Thursday was spent in the microscope lab with Molly, where we proceeded to look at soil samples while balling our eyes out because we listened to a This American Life episode about kidnapping…very sad stuff. We also taught some of the other interns about looking at soil samples through the microscope. Good times.

Friday was a day where I felt like I needed an “easy day,” and thank God I got one. First thing we did was count soy beans for the Soybean Establishment Trial. Which is another experiment looking at different ways to deal with weeds in an organic system. Including cover crops and tilling. After we counted soybeans it was time for Field Day!!! A day a Rodale once a month where folks from all around come to take a tour of the farm and hear about the different experiments and activities going on around. It was good to hear more about each project going on around the farm including the Sare Veg trial, the mychorrhizal project that is in conjunction with the USDA ( which I will get into later) and of course the pride of Rodale: The Farm Systems Test – which looks at many comparisons between conventional agriculture and organic, which has been going on for 30+ years!!

During the tour Elaine and Troy talked about compost, the wind row experiment they are doing, and the small scale piles being made that are also being studied. All and all it was super cool! And a good way to end the week.

Well that is all for the first week. Stay tuned for more accurate details of the second week.

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday the 21st: The beginning of the end…of class…

This is the last week of class…wow! It has gone by in a whirlwind! Thursday is the final, then it’s a week or so off and then off to Rodale for the internship! I am super excite to get back to PA and experience all this summer has to offer, but before we get there let’s look at what we learn on this day Monday, the 21st day of May in the year 2012:

Monday morning I was personally exhausted so I was both relieved and slightly saddened to see Nancy was our guest SCI speaker. Relieved because I felt I could simply take in the experience without having to put So much energy into listening and taking notes. Saddened because I am a huge fan of Nancy and an even bigger fan of philosophizing. Nancy got us thinking about aspects of good soil that we have learned over the last 3 weeks, and terms like resilient, layers, alive and even conscious came out. The most interesting aspect of the discussion with Nancy was the parallel she drew between interactions plants have with each other and the soil compared to the interactions people have with each other and pure consciousness. I later thought of it like this: As you enliven the soil you create less space for “undesired” plants to grow, similarly as you enliven pure consciousness within yourself less space is created for undesired, or harmful ways of being to thrive.

After Nancy’s talk we jumped right in to the pool of soil knowledge. First we went over a little about succession and how while early plants in the succession line require NO3 as they die and fall to the ground they feed the soil more fungal foods, which in turn facilitate the shift to a more fungal dominated soil, which leads to the next stages of succession.

Elaine want to make it clear that succession is not evolution and we should not mix the two up. Succession is the changing of plant species over time through the layered alteration of biomass in the soil. While evolution has more to do with the change of a particular species over time at the level of DNA, and can not be achieved by a single organism alone.

She also pointed out that rotation is not the same as the sequence of plants grown in a season. She quickly touched on the soluble forms of nitrogen: NH4, NH3, NO3, and NO2 and how they are not dominate in soil, but are in dirt. The distinction being dirt lacks organic matter and the micro-organisms found in soil.

Then she switched gears to talk about the different kinds of testing for different kinds of nutrients in the soil: extractable, exchangeable, and soluble; there are also test for the extractable nutrients in your plants.

Chemistry labs will test for “Total Extractable Nutrients” by: drying the soil, sieving it to uniform pieces, grind it to micro-meter sized particulates, “digesting” those particulates into a soluble(salt) form with acids, turning them into gas through combustion and finally running them through a spectrophotometer. What ever has survived such an ordeal is then reported…well actually on 4 nutrients are on the report…sooooo yeah. The process completely removes all organic matter and generally kills off, or “puts to sleep,” any micro-organisms. It’s kind of dumb.

Strong extracting agents are used to determine the “Total Exchangeable Nutrient” levels in your soil, although there is no universal extracting agent, and there are 50 different kinds in use today. Exchangeable nutrients are any nutrient that can be exchanged between the positive and negative charges on the surfaces of sand, silt, clay and organic matter.

I don’t have much on the Reams/Morgan Soluble Nutrients test. Other than there are 1000′s of extracting agents used in these kinds of tests.

The plant tissue test is designed to tell you the total extractable nutrients in your plant and is almost the same process as the total extractable nutrients test I went over a couple of paragraphs ago.

She talked about calcium in the soil and the balanced ratios of Ca:Mg(magnesium) something we have gone over before but this time she expanded on the subject. When clays, like montmorrilinite, are out of balance they tend to collapse and create collamar clay. Which are layers of clay compacted onto each other creating columns of clay that overlap at many different angles and make it very hard for O2 and water to move through the soil. So a proper Ca:Mg ratio is vital, and the generally way to add Ca to soil in the organic game is lime. However, as we have learned lime is a quick fix and will generally run off with the first rain. So Elaine asked “What actually holds Ca in the soil?” Then she told us of an experiment that answered that question.

The experiment looked at 4 varieties of soil combinations: sterile parent material, PM plus 5% sterile organic material, PM plus 5% OM plus bacteria, and finally PM plus 5% OM plus fungi. The parent material held non of the 300 micro-grams of Ca present in the water that was passed through it. While the OM and OM+Bacteria held less then 6% of the Ca, but the fungi one held all of the Ca! So fungi hold Ca in the soil by way of the oxalic acid that forms in crystals on the fungi. In fact the crystals will take up most of the salts you introduce into your soil, within reason.

Those are my notes for the day, take care.

Tuesday the 22nd: the class is winding down

It was the day after watching “The Symphony of Soil” which was fantastic! I mean…there was some conflicting information in it and the sound was a little off, but still! Very energizing. I left Dalby feeling all the more excited to learn more about soil and how to create the proper biology to allow it to do it’s job. Which is more than just producing food. It also helps clean water and recharge our water tables, which is awesome because water quality is another issue that I am concerned with.

On Tuesday Elaine talked about a variety of things. In the beginning of the class she answered questions about  the movie and shared her views on some of the information expressed by some of the other people in the movie.

She walked us through an experiment that was done adding nitrogen fixing trees to every twelve rows of corn, generally locust or wattle(I think). The roots of the trees where inoculated in Frankia, which I believe is a form of actinobacteria, by soaking the roots in the Frankia for fifteen minutes. The trees were then raised in a greenhouse for a year, planted into the ground and left to grow for a year before they were planted into the corn fields. The two rows near the trees grew taller and had more ears of corn on them due to the development of mycorrhizal fungi, and obviously the further away from the trees the corn was the worse it did. Unfortunately the short-sighted farmer’s were not to keen on the idea because they thought they would lose yield by giving up a row of corn to a tree. Even though the data showed the yield was the same.

While speaking about this experiment Elaine explained how she likes to plant trees: First you dig a hole, saving the “site soil,” and then you fill the bottom of the hole with a mix of 50/50-compost/site soil. After that you lay a mixture of 75/25-compost/site soil on top of the 50/50, and finally if your soil is not very good you plant the tree and surround it with 100% compost. Sounds like a good thing to try out and see what kind of results you get-comparatively of course.

She also talked about some experiments being done that show a plants exudates early on are more geared towards bacteria to build vegetation, and later on in the season they are more geared towards fungus for reproductive purposes. Interesting stuff for sure.

She also showed us all the Awesome work Hendrikus Schraven is doing! Very cool!

That’s all I got in my notes…

Wednesday the 23rd: The last day of class before the final

Today was more of a review day than anything else. Elaine went back over aspects of compost and compost tea. She talked about adding tea to your compost at the beginning and how that can really speed up the time it take to reach temperature, but it comes with a cost. You have to be very vigilant if you choose to add tea because it’s possible for your pile to reach 170 range with a day or two, instead of the typical time.

She talked about the process of making a protozoan infusion with green plant material: grass or herbs, generally the stalks with dormant bacteria, flagellates and amoeba. You soak them in a bucket that is half full of water and within 12-24 hours you should begin to see bacteria, and 24-48 hours to see protozoa. If the temperatures are colder you’ll be closer to the 24 and 48 hour ranges. If it’s hotter it takes less time 12 and 24 hours.

She reviewed the nitrogen cycle and the two different ways nitrogen is fixed in the soil and in plants. Rhizobium which work mutually with legumes moving up the root hairs and into the root itself where it releases a hormone that makes the plant give it all the sugar it needs to grow fast enough to create the anaerobic conditions needed to activate the nitrogen fixing genes. The second option being free-living nitrogen fixers like frankia which rely on the plant pumping out enough exudates to fuel the growth needed to create an anaerobic center which in turns on the nitrogen fixing genes.

She also went over some different kinds of fungi, bacteria and nematodes:

Fungi:

Beauvaria- which attacks the exo-skeleton of bugs, and is really good for ants and termites. Although you want to be sure not to use it around bees because it will kill them too. Trichoderma- which is a fungal parasite good for killing mildew and will wrap around the fungus. She warned us though because it will kill mycorrhizal fungi as well. Gliocladium- which is also a fungal parasite but found more in southern climates. On the list was also mycorrhizal fungi, but if you don’t know what that is by now…you never will.

Bacteria:

Bacillus- is a larger square/rectangle shaped bacteria that works well as a pest control. Pseudomonads- which lives in the digestive systems of worms, is a short little rod shaped bacteria and is good at decomposing toxic material.

Nematodes:

Steinernema- which is a entomopathogenic nematode. Entomo- meaning insect. It goes after weevil larvae. Heterorhabditis- a bacterial feeder that acts as a taxi for a bacterium that makes chitinase which eats the exo-skeleton of bugs.

There was more. She went over tea brewers and such. I was doing microscope work while she was talking so I missed a bit of it, but pretty good recollection all things considered.