Key to any soil regeneration effort is knowing where your soil is currently at.  Are all of the beneficial groups of organisms home in your soil?  Are there organisms present that could hinder plant growth?  Is there a good level of diversity?  Are the numbers adequate for the plant you want to grow?  


Once you have a baseline, it can inform the management decisions you might make to restore the soil microbiome.  Over time, further analyses can tell you whether the techniques applied have worked, and whether the soil is heading in a healthy direction. Generally speaking, spring and fall are the best times for biological soil analysis.

Why test the biology in soil?

Soil Samples for TestingHealthy 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.

Why test the biology in compost?

Spring Hill Soil Lab Compost TestingMaybe 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.

Why test the biology in compost tea and extracts?

Spring Hill Soil Lab - Compost Tea and Extract TestingCompost 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 (where compost organisms are extracted into water and applied to soil immediately) and teas (where organisms are extracted into water, fed foods, and aerated for a period of time before being applied as a foliar spray) can be incredibly beneficial to the soil food web both above and below ground.  It’s all about the process.  When made incorrectly – for example adding the wrong type or amount of foods, brewing or resting for too long, using the wrong temperature or an inappropriate brewer or sprayer – you could find, at best, that you have gone to a lot of effort for nothing.  At worst you could be doing more harm than good.  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.  


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.


Learn more


Program poster

Participants will learn what the soil food web is, why it is important, and gain an understanding of the different types of biology, what they do and how to recognize them. We will also learn about thermophilic composting and the Johnson-Su Method, and practical tips for home composting. Participants are invited to bring in soil sand compost samples to see what is currently living in their soil on the big screen samples.

Wednesdays, Mar. 27 – Apr. 10 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

3/$85 | Code: 67033

To register please call Cowichan Community Centre at 250.748.7529

Learn with the soil food web is, why it is important and gain an understanding of the different types of biology, what they do and how to recognize them. 


Curious about soil biology? In this introductory workshop you will come away inspired to look more closely at the life beneath your feet and to appreciate all that the soil microbial community contributes to the health of plants, animals, us, and to the planet as a whole. 




Composting is my craft, turning local materials (containing organisms indigenous to the Cowichan watershed) into biologically diverse inoculums, rich in soil food web allies to grow a variety of different crops and restore native habitats.  These inoculums are carefully analysed under the microscope to ensure that they are biologically complete.


My goal is to become a hub of local soil food web diversity and to get those microbes out into the community.  Use them to inoculate your own compost piles, or to make your own extracts or teas.  Keep an eye on the workshops page to find out how.




I have a small amount of microbial inoculums for sale at $10/lb.  These include finished Johnson-Su compost and biologically complete thermophilic compost, depending on the time of year.  Please contact me for availability.




I am currently working towards my Soil Biology Consultant certification with Dr. Elaine’s Soil Food Web School. 


Watch this space – I will be accepting new clients soon!