SERVICES

IN-DEPTH REVIEW OF
SOIL FOOD WEB BIOLOGY

You can learn how the soil food web functions and its benefits on nutrient cycling, soil structure, weed suppression and pest and disease control at www.soilfoodweb.com

Healthy soil is full of a diverse variety of beneficial soil food web organisms, working every second of every day to help your plants access the nutrients they need to thrive from the parent materials (sands, silts, clays) and organic matter in the ground. With a healthy, fully functioning soil food web, artificial fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides aren’t needed for your plants to flourish. Mother nature knows how to take care of herself.


“Dirt” consists of parent materials alone. Without biology, there is no structure – nutrients are lost with water as it flows through, resulting in erosion, compaction, decreased fertility and weed problems. Soil that has become dirt must rely on artificial fertilisers, large portions of which wash out into waterways before being taken up by plants, causing much known damage downstream. Dirt has a likely history of repeated tillage and application of fertilisers and -icides. The suffix “icide” means “to kill”, and kill it does… indiscriminately taking out the good guys as well as the bad guys in the soil. Tilling or turning over soil is an excellent way to chop, slice and dice beneficial fungi and cause bacterial communities to become out of balance.

 

So, are you trying to grow in soil, or dirt?

 

Finding out where your soil lands on the spectrum between the two is important for optimizing plant growth.  A complete soil food web analysis will quantify which micro-organisms are home in your soil, providing numbers of beneficial and detrimental organisms present.  You will get a total bacterial count, total fungi count, and predatory organism count.  Predatory organisms are incredibly important in a thriving soil -  it is their poop at the root zones that provides plants with the nutrients that they need in a bioavailable form.  Without predators in your system, yields will be affected and reliance on artificial inputs increased.  The fungal to bacterial (F:B) ratio of your soil will be calculated and this is very important for understanding which plants are likely to grow best in your soil in its current state.  We’ll help you interpret your results for the plants you want to grow.

 

Where is your soil at now? Where do you aim to take it?  Soil food web analysis is a robust way to establish a baseline and measure progress towards the desired state for your plants.  The plants win, you win by reducing input costs, and most importantly of all, the soil wins.  Whether you tend plants on a windowsill, a backyard garden, a market garden or a large acreage, working with the soil food web is an easy, accessible and incredibly impactful way to do your bit for the planet.

Maybe you’ve made your own, or maybe you’re considering purchasing from a supplier.  There are many ways to make “compost”.  Whether you end up with a pile of putrefied waste, decomposed organic matter, or a biologically diverse material that will enhance the soil food web and the growing capacity of your soil, depends on many factors.  The level of beneficial biology in compost is directly related to

 

  • The ratio and diversity of starting materials
  • How these materials were stored prior to use
  • The process used to build the pile
  • The process used to mature and maintain the pile

 

Analyzing the levels of biology present in your compost (or the compost you are considering purchasing) will give you a good idea of whether applying it will help or hinder the plants that you are trying to grow.  We do this by identifying and quantifying the functionally beneficial organisms in your sample.  We calculate the fungal to bacterial ratio (F:B) and compare this to known optimal levels for plants in various stages of succession to thrive.  Looking at the number of beneficial predators in your compost also tells us about the amount of nutrient cycling (or not!) that will be promoted when you apply the compost.  And of course, it is important to identify if there are detrimental organisms present and to understand which compost should NOT be applied in a given situation.  Re-compost, and start again.  Or don’t buy it!

 

Maybe this particular batch of compost isn’t so good for tomatoes, but brassicas would love it.  Maybe this batch will work to set your orchard backwards in succession (yikes), maybe this one contains human pathogens and the kids should be kept away from it (double yikes), or maybe… it’s just perfect for what your plant requires.  Soil Food Web analysis provides us with a robust method to take out the guesswork.

Compost extracts and teas are becoming increasingly popular.  Recipes, advice and commercially made options abound on the internet.  When made correctly from a biologically appropriate compost,  extracts and teas can be incredibly beneficial to the soil food web both above and below ground.  When made incorrectly – for example adding the wrong type or amount of foods, brewing or resting for the wrong period of time at the wrong temperature, using an inappropriate brewer or sprayer –  you could at worst be doing more harm than good and at best be going to a lot of effort for nothing.  What could end up being sprayed on that crop of spinach might enhance its growth and help protect it from pests and diseases, or it might result in diseased humans.  

 

Worm leachate (the juice that oozes from the bottom of a worm bin) is also touted as a garden amendment extraordinaire.  And under the right conditions, it is.  Worms are obligate aerobes, meaning they need conditions with oxygen levels at or above 6 parts per million.  They also perform a very cool function, in that everything that passes through their digestive tract or touches the slimy substance on the outside of their bodies becomes inoculated with beneficial biology.  Over time, the right ratio of worms can literally turn a static compost pile for you, and they are a fabulous way to deal with any batches of compost that may have gone wrong and ended up contaminated in some way. Within a worm bin or worm farm, it doesn’t take much for conditions to swing anaerobic and for the worms, and their leachate, to suffer. Moisture levels, amount of food, and temperature is critical.  It is important to know whether your leachate is aerobic (and full of good guys) or anaerobic, and thus harmful for your plants, BEFORE you apply it.

 

Soil food web analysis can be very helpful to first identify if the organisms in your starting compost match the goals that you are trying to achieve. It is then useful to verify that the extraction or brewing process has maintained or enhanced the levels of biology that you need.  And of course, it provides instant peace of mind on that “diseased human” side of things.

INFORMATION ON

SAMPLE COLLECTION

It’s a good idea to have a very clear question in mind when you think about what to sample. What exactly is it that you want to learn, and how do we answer this within your budget?

 

It is best to email or phone the lab to discuss your needs and the most representative way to sample in order to answer the questions you have about your soil and growing situation.

Pricing

SOIL, COMPOST OR COMPOST
LIQUID SAMPLES

A full soil food web analysis will provide you with total bacteria biomass, total fungi biomass, F:B ratio, protozoa count (flagellates, amoebae, ciliates) and nematode count, broken down into beneficial and detrimental organism groups.  Any dormant organisms present will be noted, to help understand the direction that things may have come from or maybe moving.  We can help you to interpret your results and prices including an explanatory email or telephone call to discuss.

Payment at this time is currently by cheque, e-transfer or cash and must be received prior to the analysis.

 

Please send e-transfers to info@springhillsoil-lab.ca and make cheques payable to Spring Hill Soil Laboratory. Cash in the correct amount may be left with samples that are dropped off by prior arrangements.

$95

Full soil food web analysis

PER SAMPLE

$85

5-9 Full soil food web analyses

PER SAMPLE

$75

10+ Full soil food web analyses

PER SAMPLE

ABOUT

FiNDING HOME

“She did not work for flourishing in her time only. It was through her actions of reciprocity, the give and take with the land, that the original immigrant became indigenous. For all of us, becoming indigenous to a place means living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it.”

 

Of Skywoman and the creation story told by the first people of the Great Lakes region. From Robin Wall Kimmerer in “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.”

 

For me, home is an identification of and connection to “place”, where my hands tend the soil. While I have no ancestral connection to these lands, I pledge to tread gently and use my acknowledged privilege to leave the soil much better than when I found it, wherever I go, and to share my knowledge openly with others.

INTAKE

SAMPLE SUBMISSION

STEP 1

Please phone or email ahead to discuss your sample/s and to be sure that there is adequate time for microscopic analysis to occur as soon as possible after we receive it.

STEP 2

Download the sample submission form PDF to print off and include with your mailed/dropped-off samples.

STEP 3

Be sure to match the identifying information with the label you have written on the ziplock bag (see collection protocols).

STEP 4

Make your payment and get your samples to the lab as soon as possible after collection (see pricing for payment information).

RESOURCES

FELLOW AND FUTURE SOIL NERDS...

I know these fantastic resources can be found on very large, corporate, online book-selling platforms.  Here I have tried to provide links for you to access them from the very source.  These folks are doing incredible work and they deserve to keep every penny for it.