Toil
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Introducing a group to the soil food web

I wanted to put this out there - are there any materials anyone knows about to teach the basics of the soil food web?

I need to present this to a community garden, and there are some old-school skeptics mixed in with the more naturally receptive ones. So I need to get the point a across quick and hard.

some points I want to hit:

The progression from weeds to old growth
bacterial vs. fungal soil
how to add organic matter and what kind and when
developing balance and diversity in the biosphere (by providing homes!)
old practices we should do away with (like removing all roots "to remove the pathogens")
crop rotation vs. polyculture
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Ozark Lady
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Wow, when you figure that all out, teach me!

I would caution you that is trying to teach too much in a nutshell.

I would say, pick one of your subjects, develop it, make it really clear, and save the others for next week, and the week after. And really just build on the theme.

I can't help ya any, cause I still don't get it either.
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I can't be of any help to you....but think the rest of us would like have a video of your class toil :D

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What I'd like to do is drag HG over here.

My haste is well founded. This is basically a new group with a new garden, and the "elders" are a bit old school. I need to present something short and convincing enough to overcome irrational fears and old habits.
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Sage Hermit
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crop rotation info might be found in the companion planting thread. I'll try and help make some power points for you but you probably would ace my power points on fungal vs bacterial. And have member soil come in here too.

Edit:
You can solve all your problems in a garden/laboratory.

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gixxerific
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Good luck Toil with the old guy's you will need it. I wish I had a straight forward program for this but I don't.

I know I have been talking some elder gardeners and they are set in there way's. But that again some of them do the "organic" thing but it is more ol' skool than what you are trying to get across I would believe. Though not far off.

Good luck. :D Let us know how it turn out.

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Re: Introducing a group to the soil food web

Toil wrote:I wanted to put this out there - are there any materials anyone knows about to teach the basics of the soil food web?

I need to present this to a community garden, and there are some old-school skeptics mixed in with the more naturally receptive ones. So I need to get the point a across quick and hard.

some points I want to hit:

The progression from weeds to old growth
bacterial vs. fungal soil
how to add organic matter and what kind and when
developing balance and diversity in the biosphere (by providing homes!)
old practices we should do away with (like removing all roots "to remove the pathogens")
crop rotation vs. polyculture
I don't know how many sessions you're planning on teaching, but having taught several subjects (math, English, history, German, Spanish) which organize themselves quite differently, and teaching them to students along the 7th- to 12th-grade continuum, I would begin with:

--how to add organic matter. This becomes a session on composting, which may lead to

--how to add organic matter and what kind and when. :)

Once the compost has been started, or members have made concrete plans in that direction, the next session might build upon it by dealing with

--developing diversity and therefore balance in the garden. Unfortunately, the word Biosphere has been cheapened by the cheap tricks in the Arizona desert (Biosphere I and II). Using different words for that concept may be preferable in keeping members' ears and minds open to what you're presenting.

After these two to four sessions, you'll probably have developed a rhythm of what to present next, how much to bite off, what will be accepted vs. what will be a hard row to hoe, etc.

I would suggest that the phrasing "old practices we should do away with" be altered to something more like "gardening practices which have been shown to be destructive" so that your explanatory words will evoke surprise and (perhaps) acceptance in your listeners vs. defensiveness and resistance.

Maybe a foldable easel with large paper and strongly colored markers will help. Drawing simple schematics/flow charts to help (literally) illustrate your points will draw in the visual learners in a way that words will not. "Show and tell" is more than a phrase; it's a good place to start when presenting new material to an audience. :D

I hope it turns out very well!

Cynthia H.
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I would suggest that the phrasing "old practices we should do away with" be altered to something more like "gardening practices which have been shown to be destructive" so that your explanatory words will evoke surprise and (perhaps) acceptance in your listeners vs. defensiveness and resistance.
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Sounds great

The soil food web institute https://www.soilfoodweb.com/ sells dr Ingham's books and has a very cool poster, graphic depiction of the soil web of life.

Here's a simplified and much less artistic graphic, that you could print off

https://www.blm.gov/nstc/soil/foodweb/images/FOOD%20WEB.jpg

Dr Ingham's book Soil Biology Primer is available free on line here

https://soils.usda.gov/sqi/concepts/soil_biology/soil_food_web.html

It is great, with good illustrations (click to enlarge) pretty much goes chapter by chapter through what you want.

The Soil Science Society Of America has a great website on Soil Science Teacher Resources with links to all different resources about soil biology, soil conservation, soil fertility, aimed for different grade levels:

https://www.soils.org/about-soils/lessons/resources

Here's a great set of slides/pages you can print off on the life of the soil, with what they do, why it's important, how it all works, great pictures

https://www.cias.wisc.edu/curriculum/modII/secc/TCB_SoilQual_distrib.pdf

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I agree on the not provoking folks by saying old practices, etc.

When my goats get out of the pasture, there is no way I can push them to go back in. But, with a bucket of feed, and just a sniff or two of what I have, and they are willing, more than willing- eager to go back to their pasture!

Folks are alot like my goats. Try to push me somewhere, and you run into major resistance. But show me something that smells good and I will meet ya at the gate!


Show me the better way, like the photos here somewhere of the school experiment on the seedling. Where this way produces this, aww but the organic compost did this! Then folks see and begin to sniff the roses. Charts will help alot, as long as you don't over use them, too much charting and lecturing, and folks will tune you out.

If you use too difficult of terminology, a person has to think about the words you use, and miss the rest of the speech. And sometimes you will simply "blow it right by them", which accomplishes nothing at all.

You might try a challenge: Suggest this half be done the "old way" and that half be done the new improved way, and in this way illustrate the difference in a tangible way! Or set up beds and have each bed represent different gardening techniques and ideas and do a side-by-side evaluation, that they will all always remember.

No matter what, one speech is not going to radically change the mindset of folks, you need something they can hold on to, and work through in their own minds. Lead, don't push... remember my goats!
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Thanks OL, and thanks all.

This is easy to do with my dogs! With people I have trouble saying neutral.

basically, all the stuff I was told not to do on this thread, I already did!

doh! what now?


It's really a tough group to handle. I actually got flak for insisting that thinning is a standard and good practice. So if thinning is an issue, imagine the leap it takes to cast aside monoculture.
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I'm gonna have to go with Ozark lady on this one and say you might have to go with a "results speak for thenselves" approach.
Sometimes seeing is believing, especially if you have a crowd of people who have the mindset that what they're doing has worked for generations, so why change anything?

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ok I will go for it.

I think they will let me use this patch but it's covered in mugwort. doh!

Or so I thought. I looked under the mugwort carpet and there the soil is much improved. I shall just do the work and dig it out, and do a 3 sisters extravaganza.

I called the place where we get our compost, and the guy told me it is exclusively leaves. They use windrows, and I am not sure but I think he said they heat up. Is that just the size?

Anyway, it explains why this stuff is always so gritty and sandy. After 3 years, a lot of grit gets worked in from a whole lotta yard waste, and leaves compost down to a much smaller result than greens and browns. The top layer just flows through your hands, a mere 3 days after it rains. My plan in the experimental area is to get some cover crops in ASAP.
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Did you say you're going to DIG OUT the mugwort?
Why not sheet mulch?

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rainbowgardener wrote:Sounds great

The soil food web institute https://www.soilfoodweb.com/
Wow, there is a lot of information to try to "process" at that web site. Thankfully, it seems that this quote sums everything up ...
"EARTHWORMS ... If earthworms and/or micro arthropods are present, then the full food web is present, and if everything is in a good biomass or numbers of individual organisms, then plant health is pretty much assured, because all the processes will be functioning."

I appreciate their efforts in exploring the science of the "soil food web". But, personally, I can identify with a less technical approach. So, I figure, do what it takes to make your soil a welcoming site for worms, and you've pretty much taken care of the soil food web.

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applestar wrote:Did you say you're going to DIG OUT the mugwort?
Why not sheet mulch?
I got no materials to start with. I was shot down on planting cover last year. And earlier this year as well. This spot was spared the total stripping (gotta eliminate the bad bugs!). Looks like a mine to me! Anyway, I can't even spare any cardboard. My plan was to pull the wort, spread some clover, and just hold the line until the squash are in. Oh, and the fermented wort is going back on the soil.

what say ye?



Farmerlon, that's a great idea - assuming you want to grow plants that like the same conditions as worms. The greater concept is more important, and to get technical, is even less technical and more general.
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I say, Ask on FreeCycle for cardboard, etc. for sheet-mulch or whatever technique you select.

I see boxes asked for and offered on almost every FreeCycle digest I receive, so I know they're out there!

Cynthia

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but what would I put on the cardboard?

I'm not using the leaf compost.
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When are you starting this series? Today is April 30, Walpurgisnacht (Walpurga's Night; anybody familiar with the ballet "Giselle"?). Tomorrow is Beltaine (May Day). Auspicious for new undertakings and adventures. So...

(statement of primary theme, forte) Get the cardboard together. Heck, go wild: get two layers' worth of it together! :D

Find out how many of the other garden members make compost. Surely *some* of them do. Ask the ones who make compost to bring a 3-gallon bucket of it in the interest of an experiment. If they're enthusiastic about the experiment, ask gently (leise, piano) whether they'll contribute 5 gallons' worth.

You, of course, will contribute as much in the way of vermicompost as possible; it's pretty powerful stuff, as we all know, and you've told us on the forum that your specific system generates good volume as well. So that will be your volume contribution.

My idea is that the mugwort patch can be cardboard stifled 100% with the two layers of FREE cardboard. Then one-half of the area will have compost applied on top of the cardboard; the other one-half will "just" have the double layers of cardboard. Why? Because...this is an experiment. (In precisely what, I'm not sure; there are many possible parameters to observe.)

I'm sure you and the other gardeners can decide on two plants which generate edible food + biomass and can be planted on both halves of the mugwort experimental patch. Does corn grow there? Sweet potatoes? I'm thinking maybe vining plants (winter squash, melons) will generate food + biomass; I know sunflowers do.

So that you end up with four areas planted in the mugwort patch:

Cardboard only + two food/biomass crops
Cardboard + (vermi)compost + two food/biomass crops

I would've suggested fava beans, but you said that cover crops were a rough slog, so maybe food + biomass will work for this tough crowd! :)

Now, what to observe? Hmmm...so many choices! You know best what they'll go for, so here are some ideas:

--Which seeds germinate when? (Maybe give the seeds on the "cardboard only" side a little handful of soil apiece so they don't simply blow away.)
--Seedlings--when?
--Growth rate?
--First edible food?
--Total pounds of edible food?
--Total pounds of biomass **for the community garden's new compost project**? (so that you aren't stuck with the leaf-only stuff)

If the ground to be covered with compost is reduced by half in this way, maybe there will be enough compost, what with the others' and your vermicompost, to give the compost-covered side a real boost. In any case, it may get people interested in contributing biomass from other plants on other plots to a community compost project.

(2nd iteration of the theme, mezzo forte) This is also a good entry point for discussing plant diseases: diseased plant remains should not be composted; they should be trashed so as to avoid spreading the disease to the whole place. No sprays, etc. Just good, old-fashioned hygiene! If you're a good enough teacher, the others will be convinced they thought it up themselves.... :wink: If not, maybe it can be the next (or "a future") session.

(harmonic suggestion Windrows are used in commercial compost production b/c they coordinate with the machines used for aerating and turning the materials. The windrows I've seen were maybe 20 feet wide at the base, tapering to a point approx. 15 feet off the ground, and as long as the compost yard's property, minus a turnaround at either end. The cross-section of a windrow, taken as the viewer looks from one end toward the other, is an acute isosceles triangle which appears somewhat "squashed" on top. Windrows do generate lots of heat due to the volume of materials; one municipal compost yard in the Bay Area caught fire two or three years ago when the crew made an error, either in the watering or aerating schedule--I forget now which one it was.)

Cynthia

organum, organic ... vox/vita humana

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wowo awesome post cyn!

I am with you on the corn and squash. And they will have beans on them.

Today, I picked up a whole bunch of radish seeds and some white clover. On this patch, I can get away with cover cropping. But I will be sure to point out how the corn beans and squash give us both biomass and food.

When I mean no compost, I mean it! Nobody has compost at home but me. They joined up because they are curious about gardening. Our "in charge" person did not do so well at composting. Probably the oak leaves? Anyway, there is nada to work with. Or near nada.

What this garden needs is to always have a bed growing compost material, like alfalfa or fenugreek.
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"What this garden needs is to always have a bed growing compost material, like alfalfa or fenugreek"

AND comfrey! Great big leaves that are wonderful for the compost pile and it is a medicinal herb. Borage would be good... Bees love the flowers and now that I'm growing it for the first time, I am discovering that it grows big fuzzy leaves very fast. I've already cut a bunch off for my compost pile too keep it from crowding other stuff.

AND people need to start composting! I can't believe a group of people who are interested enough to show up for a community garden and no one composts! Start a compost pile there for all the garden wastes, weeds, etc and get people to bring in bags of Starbucks coffee grounds. Mix the old leaf only compost into it, until you start having fall leaves.

WONDERFUL post cynthia.... I love it!
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great ideas rainbow!

wow I am really lucky to have you guys.

Comfrey makes a great fermented extract as well, so I'm told.


No, the new guys don't compost. This is in some cases their absolute first time gardening. Even so, one in the group is already nuts for mycorrhizae and is coming over for microscopy.


Looking at our topsoil, even at just 40x magnification, is depressing. I have yet to spot a microarthropod, and nematodes are rare. I am aerating samples with molasses, and so far all I get is near monoculture of rather large flagellates.

There is just no organic matter for anyone to eat!
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What about Bokashi UNDER the cardboard. You won't need much. -- or spray some Activated EM and/or AACT. Kitchen scraps from EVERYONE, that and the vermicompost with some of the worms, mugwort breaking down, the moist cardboard.... YUM YUM!

Top of the cardboard could be straw or spoiled hay, and weeds and grass clippings -- if you don't have any now, wait a week and they'll grow. You can hold the cardboard down with rocks for the time being (I know you have lots of those :wink:)

If you absolutely have no extra soil to use as a buffer, FLIP the mugwort patch on top of the the raw stuff, let dry a bit and rake smooth so you'll have the soil layer just under the cardboard to plant into. A little more work but should do the job.

(Bravo! to Cynthia from me too!)

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My husband was never big on my organic gardening. He wanted a tractor and plow and chemicals, and straight rows.

But, we had no tractor, no plow, and no money to buy chemicals, so we made do.

But one day he came home all excited. He had seen tomatoes. And I mean tomatoes. The folks used a round wire cage, and simply filled it with compost materials. Then they went all around the outside of it with tomato plants. I don't know details, just what my husband saw was, compost grew the largest and most tomatoes he had ever seen. And then he was "sold" on the idea of adding compost materials to the beds and helping the crops grow.

What if you duplicate this to a smaller extent, put in a small compost cage, and just fill it with weeds and stuff from the spot you are gardening, and plant the tomatoes around the perimeter, with perhaps some legumes intermingled? You have the 3 sisters going elsewhere, so get the tomatoes going in this way? It still makes your point on gardening with compost. I don't compost, but surely it would work the same.
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Toil wrote: Farmerlon, that's a great idea - assuming you want to grow plants that like the same conditions as worms. The greater concept is more important, and to get technical, is even less technical and more general.
Yes, you're right, and I appreciate what they're trying to do. I will certainly spend more time reading and learning (or, at least trying to learn :) ) there.

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cynthia_h wrote:I say, Ask on FreeCycle for cardboard, etc. for sheet-mulch or whatever technique you select.

I see boxes asked for and offered on almost every FreeCycle digest I receive, so I know they're out there!

Cynthia
Near me, there is an endless supply of cardboard to be had, at the recycle drop-off locations. At the place where I drop off my recycle items, there is always a large container filled near the top with cardboard. So, I could easily take some out to use, if needed. {no need for diving! :wink: }
You might look there, if your town (or local community organizations) has similar recycle drop-off centers.

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Ok, I am looking into all these possibilities. Will keep you guys posted, and thanks again.

On another note, I spoke about our garden with and gave flyers to, among other, a priest leading an immigration rally, a state representative, a guy from a foundation with money, and a nursery willing to donate flats.

And I had only set out to put up a flyer at the market. it's amazing how life can get interesting when you go outside!
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keep up the great work toil.

my advice is show them how nature does all the hard work. or let taste and flavor do the talking :)
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