Greenhouse Blog 1— Soil!

Megan Raisch-

The common Joe sees dirt, and thinks “oh look, stuff that I don’t want to get on my shoes!” But not microbiologist Dr. Elaine Ingham. In fact, she doesn’t even see dirt; she sees soil. Did you know that there’s a difference? I didn’t either.

Dr. Elaine Ingham visited The joe gardener show with Joe Lamp’l to discuss the ins and outs of the soil world and all its surprisingly interesting features. Founded in 1996, Ingham’s life work and passion culminated into the formation of the Soil Food Web Inc., a consultation and education program about, well, the soil food web. 

From the get-go, Ingham’s passion for something others would never consider even remotely interesting is evident. She begins her discussion with Lamp’l about the destructive nature of the Green Revolution and how it was far from green at all. To put it simply, the Green Revolution all but destroyed the soil we use to grow our crops. Later on, Ingham explained that the best way for producing high crop yield with high nutritional value is to let Mother Nature take the reins and run her course. This also includes the use of organic fertilizer to give those crops and other plants a little boost.

Ingham explained in further depth the components of soil, what makes “good soil,” and how you can enhance your own backyard garden as well. It’s all about the biological components of soil. The life of a plant is merely to reach one goal: reproduction. In order for that to happen, there needs to be a very specific amount of certain nutrients and other organic materials available to the plant at any given moment. Though each component is dependent on what you’d like to grow, each plant needs the same basic things in the soil in order to be productive and have a high nutritional value. Aerobic organisms need to be present in the soil in order to provide the plant with its needs. In the rhizosphere, or the area where the roots of a plant are found in the soil, exudates are being released by the roots like “signals” for what the plant needs. Those microorganisms like bacteria and fungi that are eating the exudates are then able to “mine out” certain components from the soil that are needed by the plant, like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and more. Then, protozoa found in the soil eat these fungal and bacterial organisms, which then makes the nutrients readily available to the roots. 

Once the plant has sufficient nutrients in its growth season, the release of exudates comes to a screeching halt as the plant goes into reproduction mode. All of the energy and nutrients accumulated by the plant is now poured into the production of seeds and fruit, which is the component used by us. If a plant is lacking certain materials needed for that reproduction, then we suffer the loss of a fruit or vegetable that isn’t as nutritious as it had the capacity to be. 

Humans are killing these biological components and healthy root systems in several ways. One is heavy tillage equipment that creates a compact layer in the soil. This layer prevents oxygen from being able to fill those spaces of the soil, which leads to anaerobic organisms coming in and creating a toxic environment that can result in the death of the plant. Additionally, inorganic fertilizers can cause similar damage and create an environment that results in plants with lower nutrition content. 

Keeping all this in mind, it’s comforting to know that the FHC Greenhouse practices organic and soil-healthy techniques with our plants. Since the greenhouse is a smaller setting, this is easier to do. Now that I see soil instead of dirt, I appreciate its value and want to continue to preserve and promote that beneficial growth of the soil food web.

Ally Francisco

Everyday soil is incorporated within our daily lives. Most of the time with eating. As I started to work in the greenhouse, I noticed the significance in the quality of the soil. However, I never realized that soil and dirt are two different things.

Soil is full of life including fungi, bacteria, protozoa, micro-arthropods and much more. Unlike soil, dirt is lifeless due to the lack of oxygen and adequate organic matter. 

We have planted different lettuces such as bib leaf, kale, and baby butter crunch as well as different types of flowers. During this process, I was intrigued about the importance of the soil quality. The pots with the most moisturized soil had the quickest growth. However, the plants that were submerged in the drier soils needed more assistance. 

In our planting beds, we have a main base of soil topped with wood shavings from the woodshop as a top layer to contain the moisture in the soil. This helps to prolong the growth of our plants which we just started to plant in the beds. Today, I transferred kale plants from their planters into the beds. This follows last week’s pea seed planting.

 Throughout this semester, I am excited to learn more about the ins and outs of planting in the FHC Greenhouse!

Sarah Tiggleman

Prior to becoming hands-on in the greenhouse, I was pretty unaware of the importance of the quality of soil for the plants. In order to have the most success with our leafy greens, we needed the perfect formula in our soil. 

Starting off with the understanding of the difference between soil and dirt, soil is something that is not only composed of minerals but living things too like microorganisms. In order for the soil to maintain plant life, it needs to have room for air to circulate. This will allow the organisms and our plants to flourish with the access of oxygen. Dirt, on the other hand, is almost all minerals and is too dense for air to flow. Typically, it is harder for a plant to grow in these conditions. 

Another important thing I learned is to keep the soil local. Every area has different climates, plants, and organisms within their region; so, it is advised to take note of that because certain plants grow better in certain locations. Keeping the soil native will promote the health of the soil and plants. Along with that, the insects inside the soil will be promoting the growth of native species and not the growth of alien species in the population. Buying soil shipped to your town wouldn’t be a bad thing; however, the local soil will increase the number of bacteria and fungi and will be more beneficial to the soil. 

I am excited to share more updates and progress in the greenhouse! We have some awesome new things that will be trying out, so stay tuned. Follow us on our journey here on The Central Trend as the year progresses.

Taylor Koetsier-

Growing up, I have always had the pleasure of being able to work and learn in a greenhouse setting because of my dad’s family business, but I never was all that interested in learning how it worked. When the opportunity arose for me to take a class in a greenhouse for school, I had a sudden interest to learn more; but, what I didn’t realize was how much there really was for me to learn.  After listening to the podcasts that Mr. Scholten had given us. I was shocked. I never even knew there was a definite difference between dirt and soil. 

Soil is full of life because it’s made up of mineral components, and organisms such as micro-arthropods and much more. In order to successfully grow plants, you need the perfect formula for soil. It is very important that soil has lots of moisture. This allows the plants to grow much faster. Another important step to maintaining plant life is having enough room for air to circulate; it’s crucial that plants get enough oxygen. If you keep these in mind you will have leafy greens in no time. 

Dirt, on the other hand, has no beneficial organisms in it. It is sterile and causes diseases because it is bacterially dominated. It is also much denser and dry, not allowing plants to get the moisture and oxygen they need to thrive. Therefore, dirt will grow wonderful weeds but will not properly grow the plants and vegetables that most people desire.

I’m so excited to see what else I will be learning this year in the FHC Greenhouse and can’t wait to share more here on The Central Trend!

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