In the face of an escalating climate crisis that is daily headline news,  it is obvious humanity stands at a crossroads looking at the destruction we have caused.   Perhaps, at that crossroads, we should start to understand that the micro is the same as the macro.   For me, I am more and more convinced the land beneath our feet is a soilution.

I personally feel we are going down a dark path in human history and we need to step back and consider how nature works and how we can mimic her for restoration.   And, I beleive the answer is in water and microbes.

“Although the surface of our planet is two-thirds water, we call it the Earth. We say we are earthlings, not waterlings. Our blood is closer to seawater than our bones to soil, but that’s no matter. The sea is the cradle we all rocked out of, but it’s to dust that we go. From the time that water invented us, we began to seek out dirt. The further we separate ourselves from the dirt, the further we separate ourselves from ourselves. Alienation is a disease of the unsoiled.”

― Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction

Let’s admit that the traditional approach to land management (intensive agriculture, deforestation, and unsustainable practices) has led to soil degradation and exacerbated climate change.   We have destroyed the micro-life.   We have harmed Nature.  However, a new paradigm is emerging, one that recognizes the soil as a vital ecosystem and harnesses its natural power to mitigate any climate change and restore environmental balance.    We touched on this topic in Dr. Elaine Ingham’s Soil Food Web course but I discovered more when I studied with Didi Pershouse and her s teaching on the Soil Sponge.

Didi, with  Australian microbiologist and climatologist, Walter Jehne are teachers of the Soil Sponge concept and how this affects our water cycles.     In my opinion, this is ONE LARGE transformative shift in our understanding of nature and offers a promising pathway towards a sustainable future.

Reconnecting with the Soil Sponge

What is the soil sponge?   When I asked Wikipedia it added the word carbon: “Soil carbon sponge is porous, well-aggregated soil in good health, better able to absorb and retain water”

Beneath our feet lies a world teeming with life – the soil sponge. This is an intricate ecosystem of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and protozoa.   These little guys plays a pivotal role in nutrient cycling, water retention, and carbon sequestration. Healthy soil, rich in organic matter and diverse microbial life, acts as a carbon sink, storing carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere as CO2.

The earth is complex and interconnected living organism. The soil beneath our feet as its vital organs. Just as our bodies rely on a delicate balance of microorganisms to function properly, so does the planet’s health depend on the thriving community of microbes that reside within the soil.  Just as the organs of the human body rely on other organs, the same applies in the soils.  We can not separate things.  It is all connected.

These tiny and often invisible creatures play a pivotal role in maintaining the carbon and nitrogen cycles. They act as nature’s recyclers, breaking down organic matter and transforming it into nutrients that plants can use to grow.   It is connected.   Plants, in turn, are the soil’s protectors, forming a verdant canopy that shields the earth from the sun’s hot rays and the relentless erosion of wind and water. Their roots, like tiny anchors, bind the soil particles together, preventing it from being swept away by the elements.

Through a process called transpiration, plants release water vapor into the atmosphere, creating a cooling effect that helps regulate the planet’s temperature. This water vapor eventually condenses into clouds, which then release rain, replenishing the soil’s moisture reserves and supporting the growth of new life.

But the role of microbes extends beyond the soil. High in the expanse of the atmosphere, reside invisible droplets of water known as atmospheric bacteria. These tiny droplets, acting like miniature sponges, absorb and hold water vapor, contributing to cloud formation and precipitation. In essence, these atmospheric bacteria are nature’s cloud seeding agents, playing a crucial role in regulating the Earth’s water cycle. They help ensure that the planet receives the life-sustaining rainfall it needs to support its diverse ecosystems.

As I deepen an understanding about the Soil Sponge, it becomes more and more obvious that a paradigm shift in our relationship with land and microbes is required.   We need too transition from exploitative practices that degrade soil health to regenerative strategies that restore and enhance soil functionality. This approach embraces the soil sponge as a key ally in the fight against climate change.

Microbes: The Heroes of Carbon Sequestration?

Microbial life within the soil sponge plays a critical role in carbon sequestration. Through a process known as decomposition, microorganisms break down organic matter, releasing nutrients essential for plant growth and converting carbon into stable forms that remain stored in the soil. This process not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions but also improves soil fertility and enhances plant productivity.

The Soil Sponge approach recognizes the symbiotic relationship between soil, plants, and microbes. By promoting healthy soil practices, we foster a thriving microbial community that effectively sequesters carbon and contributes to climate mitigation.

This represents a fundamental shift in our understanding of nature and our role within it. It moves away from the linear, extractive mindset that has dominated agriculture and land management for centuries. Instead, it embraces a regenerative approach that mimics natural processes and promotes long-term sustainability.

Regenerative land management practices, such as  applying and using microbe rich composts, reducing tillage, increasing organic matter inputs, and adopting diverse cover crops, work in harmony with the soil sponge, enhancing its ability to store carbon, regulate water cycles, and support healthy plant growth. These practices not only mitigate climate change but also improve soil health, enhance biodiversity, and increase food production.

The Soil Sponge approach offers a beacon of hope in the face of climate change. It is a observation to the interconnectedness of nature and the profound impact of soil health on the planet’s well-being.

As individuals, we can play a role in this paradigm shift by supporting regenerative agriculture, advocating for sustainable land management practices, and making conscious choices that promote soil health. By embracing the soil sponge as an ally, we can help Nature mitigate climate change, restore ecosystems, and secure a sustainable future for generations to come.    She has already figured it out.

 

 

References:
2 – Explaining how the water vapor greenhouse effect works – https://skepticalscience.com/argument.php?p=14&t=375&&a=19
3 – Walter Jehne – Cooling the Climate Mess with Soil and Water – https://youtu.be/t3rIkYUVq5c?si=HGSoE3O41YLBpBrw 
Articles:

 

The success of your garden begins with one fundamental factor – its soil and the microbes. This ensures a flourishing garden.  Living Soil Yum is our latest, tested all natural product to help our soils, plants and humans.  It is a mixture of our Microbe Grown Compost Humic and Fulvic Acid, Azolla, Comfrey, Yarrow, and Nettle.   Next to our Microbe Compost, this is your garden’s best companion. It will elevate soil structure, nutrient accessibility, and plant resilience, all contributing to vigorous growth and top-tier, nutrient dense produce.

We are soil geeks and we love the microbes.    During our training with Dr Elaine ingham, she challenged us, the students, to create special recipes to increase biology in our BioComplete (TM) compost piles.  All students embark upon experiments studying and counting the microbes with our microscope.   Our goal is to increase the good guy biology.

Nic and I also are getting to know our Ecuadorian soils, the challenges we all face with soil restoration and we are finding solutions.    From our land, we hand picked precious plants high in mineral and nutrient contet.    We took our best and most diverse Microbe Compost and we made a blend that is amazing. 

We checked it in the microscope and we were pleasantly surprised. PUT CURSOR ON PHOTO FOR EXPLAINATION! 

This amazing blend is a supercharge for your garden’s vitality,!   The ingredients are Microbe Grown Compost Humic and Fulvic Acid, Azolla, Comfrey, Yarrow, and Nettle.   This is a haven for beneficial microbes .  When you add water, the spores and cysts will wake up!   The microbes, btw, are the ones that break down organic matter, releasing nutrients and safeguarding plants from pests and diseases.  Let’s look at the benefits.

Humic and Fulvic Acid

These acids are very complext compounds that science has not yet figured out.  These intricate organic acids form over millions of years through the decomposition of plants and animals. While their precise structure remains a mystery, their crucial role in soil health and plant growth is undeniable.   It is also beneficial for humans too.   It is interesting to note that fulvic and humic acid supplements are not regulated by the FDA, yet!   I suppose they cannot regulate something they can not understand.   That is good news for us!    .   I drink our compost extracts and teas for these acids.  Yes, I do!   I have a microscope to ensure only the good guys are home!

What does these complex molecules do for soils, plants and humans?

For the soil and plants:

  • Helps to transport nutrients into plant cells
  • Improves the soil’s structure and drainage
  • Chelates minerals, making them more available to plants 
  • Increases the water-holding capacity of the soil
  • Helps to detoxify plants from heavy metals and other pollutants
  • Helps to suppress soil-borne diseases 

For Humans:

  • Supports immune system function
  • Promotes detoxification of heavy metals and other toxins
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Enhances nutrient absorption
  • Boosts energy and athletic performance
  • Supports skin health
  • Supports wound healing
  • Supports gut health 

Azolla:   

This nitrogen-fixing fern enriches the soil with crucial nitrogen, supporting plant growth and optimizing water retention. Azolla is a versatile and beneficial soil amendment that can improve soil fertility, crop yields, and pest resistance. It is a rich source of nitrogen, organic matter, and it has been shown to suppress some soil-borne pests and diseases. Azolla is a fern that can also help to improve water quality by providing oxygen to aquatic ecosystems.   

Comfrey:

We comfrey both for its’ benefits for humans (bone knitting) and as a chop and drop in our gardens and pasture.   Comfrey is a nutrient-rich herb, delivering essential elements such as nitrogen, potassium and calcium. 

Yarrow:

Known for its soil structure-enhancing capabilities and deep-reaching roots that break up compacted soil. It also provides valuable nutrients like nitrogen, potassium, and calcium.  Yarrow is not native to Ecuador but our stock in the garden is growing happily.  

Nettle: 

Ah, the beautifil and yet dangerous nettle!   She is a favourite on my list of nutritive herbs.    She adds  iron, magnesium, potassium, and silica, reinforcing plant cell walls.

Such an amazing blend!   We are excited!

The Benefits of Our Soil Amendment

Improved Soil Structure
Our soil amendment enriches the soil’s structure by introducing organic matter and beneficial microbes, resulting in better drainage, aeration, and water retention.

Enhanced Nutrient Accessibility
It elevates nutrient availability by unlocking nutrients from organic matter and enhancing the soil’s capacity to hold them. The outcome? Quicker growth, increased yields, and superior-quality produce.

Resistance to Pests and Diseases
Strengthening plants, making them more resilient against pests and diseases, ultimately saving you time and money on treatments.

Promoting Plant Growth and Development
By supplying the essential nutrients and beneficial microbes, it paves the way for robust plant growth.

Applying Our Soil Amendment

To reap the benefits, dissolve 1 tbsp in litre of pure (non-chlorinated) water.   This can then be dilluted once again or give each plant a little drink.    Mix well and apply immediately to your plants and garden.   You can also ncorporate it into your compost pile to expedite and encrish the composting process. For optimal results, use it every few weeks throughout the growing season.   Even better, purchase our Aged Organic Matter (mixto) and blend!

Revitalize Your Garden! 

Boost your garden’s well-being and witness it thrive like never before.

Here is Dr Carlos, a local coffee farmer and year one for this coffee farm!   Dr. Carlos Iñigues is a doctor of Ecohydrology and is the co-owner of Vinka coffee farm in Loja province, Ecuador. We provided soil tests, created a comprehensive soil report, and sold him our unique (microscope tested) microbe-rich compost and compost extracts.  

He rated 89% with the Coffee Association. 91% is considered World Class.

BTW..this was supposed to be a case study. However, when R Carlos saw the results, he stopped the case study to microbe his entire land.
The Living Ground Project provides land, farm and homeower Consultancy Services to revive soil and land.
Microbiology soil testing, microbe-produced compost, extracts and teas. Our upcoming education center that will impart knowledge about microbes and health.  Good soil/terrain is the foundation of all health. We have the knowledge and tools to help you regenerate & transform your land into a food forest, while increasing the nutrition and health of all plants and living organisms.

 

At Living Ground, our mission extends far beyond saving soils – it’s about fostering a holistic connection that benefits plants, microbes, and humanity itself. While nature’s challenges persist, we approach them with a different perspective – one of harmony and mimicry, rather than conflict.

Today, we’re excited to invite you into our world through an informative video courtesy of the Soil Food Web (SFW) school. This captivating footage takes you on a journey through the heart of the Soil Food Web approach in Peru, offering a glimpse into the wonders that unfold when we align with nature’s wisdom.

Leisha is a  Soil Food Web Consultant and Nic is currently on his path toward certification within the same renowned program.

As we embark on this shared journey, we invite you to join us in championing a more harmonious and sustainable world. Come witness the magic of nature’s equilibrium, and be part of the Living Ground movement.

Before you delve into this transformative video, remember to subscribe to our blog and stay updated with our latest explorations, insights, and progress. Your presence and engagement mean the world to us.

And now, without further ado, let’s embark on this enlightening adventure by exploring the Soil Food Web approach through our exclusive video presentation.

The Garden map is the mission and vision of Living Ground

I acknowledge  the superiority and necessity of “Natural Systems” over the artificial stimulation methods employed by traditional plant care practitioners (both organic and chemical).

I strive to learn more about the soil microbiome, we see the connection to all life and especially human life.   We are a part of and not separate.  

believe that land suffers from a deficiency of “chemicals” or nutritive value. Thus, it is time to encourage movement away from chemical dependencies. 

I can enhance the beneficial natural soil biology that supports plant health.THe Microbiology Approach provides peace of mind for all growers while the landscapes are being cared for in a more environmentally sensitive manner.

I follow, to the best of my ability,  nature’s way

I create from the land.   I alchemized taste and texture from the plants and desire each product to be a sensation of happiness from soil to plant to kitchen alchemy.

Collecting Soil Samples is fun and easy.  A composite sample is made by combining several subsamples from the same area, mixing and then sending a portion to our lab.

The Short Form Instructions:

Gently dig around roots zone (2-5 inches) and take a core sample (little hand full). Do this 5 times
Empty those 5 cores into a clean bucket or bowl. Mix up the core samples.
Place 10 oz or 250 g (approximately 2 cups) of mixture in a plastic, zipper-bag. Leave some air space in the bag upon sealing.
Label your bag (name, date)
Complete the Soil Test Submission FormComplete the Soil Test Submission Form
Bring your sample(s) (or send in a taxi) to our lab within 2 days.

Register the sampling here .  We receive the form immediately when you press “submit”, so there is no need to print it.   Label your bag  and bring it to us.

Wait for the result!   You will receive an email as soon as we have received the samples along with an estimate of when you can expect the result (normally this is less than two days).

MORE DETAILED INFORMATION:

Soil tests can be no better than the sample. Therefore, proper collection of the soil sample is extremely important.  If there is more than one soil type or native plant community, we suggest doing a separate composite sample for each of them.   For large areas, consider having an onsite investigation and consultation

First, identify the area of interest to take the sample from.    This area should be uniform in nature and plant-type (similar).   Your sample will contain 5 different samples of the soil at the root system of the existing plants from a designated area.  This will be placed in a clean bucket and mixed throughly.   The sample (approximately 2 cups) is taken from the bucket and placed in a zip-locked bag.

The best sample cores are from the root zone of the desired plant.   You can carefully use spade to dig down around the root zone and using apple corer or potato peeler.  Be gentle!   We aim to keep the living creatures alive and not sliced and diced.

Due to our temperate climate and clays of Ecuador, we often have compaction areas (hard compacted soil).   Roots can not penetrate this compaction zone.   Make note of the depth of this compaction zone and record this in the submission form (in other comments)  as it will give us clues for recommendations.  If the root or compaction zone cannot be located, cores from 3‐4 inches down into the soil will work.   It is best to have some root sample material.  We also test for mycorrhizal colonization so it is best to include about 5 inches of roots.

Once you have your sample, fill out a soil test information sheet.   If you are testing different areas, please fill out a separate intake sheet for each sample.   Each sample should be given a different name.

Once all information is received the test takes approximately 2 working days to complete.   We will provide you with recommendations for optimal health of your soil.

Once you receive your report via email we are most happy about the analysis and help you understand the analysis.   Or, you can read “Understanding Your Soil Biology Report” .

We look forward to doing business with you and saving our land one soil particle at a time.  Let’s change the dirt and make soil!

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Microscope analysis for soil health.  Understanding your report!

Soil health is a complex subject and there are many ways to approach it. Biodiversity is a key aspect of soil health with profound impacts on agricultural success and sustainability. Each organism has specific functions that affect the rest of the soil ecosystem, including plants.

Some key functions of a healthy soil ecosystem include:

Good water retention and drainage
Healthy structure and resistance to erosion
Richer, more diverse nutrient cycling and retention
Improved plant health
Increased carbon storage
Resilience against pest and disease outbreaks
The goal of this analysis is to develop a profile of the soil’s ecological status, which considers diversity, the physical characteristics of the soil habitat, and where possible takes into account outside factors such as agricultural activities that can affect, and be affected by, the soil ecosystem.

Observing soil in the microscope can provide great insight into the current ecological status, changes over time or with treatments, and the effectiveness of soil management strategies.

The method
To observe soil in the microscope, samples are mixed with water and then allowed to rest for two days. They are then viewed at 100x and 400x magnification. Bacteria, protozoa, and fungi are observed and recorded along with physical characteristics of the soil and any other organisms that may be present, such as nematodes. Healthy soil should have many different kinds of organisms with populations that are in balance with one another. There should also be visible evidence that the physical habitat supports a complex ecosystem.

Groups of organisms observed with the microscope
The main groups of organisms considered during a microscope analysis are bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. Other organisms that are sometimes observed include nematodes and rotifers.

Bacteria

Bacteria are very small (1 μm), but it is possible to see them at 400x magnification. Bacteria cannot be specifically identified using only a microscope, but we can estimate the abundance and basic characteristics such as spiral, rod, or round shapes, and the type of movement they have, which all give clues about bacterial diversity.

For this analysis, any noticeable signs of bacterial activity and diversity are written down, and an estimate of bacterial biomass is made. This estimate is then compared against the fungal biomass estimate (next section) to determine whether the sample is dominated by bacteria or fungi, or equally balanced. For most agriculture and garden soils, the recommendation is to aim for a 1:1 balance of bacteria and fungi.

Fungi
A variety of robust fungal hyphae found in a sample of forest soil.
Healthy soil typically has robust networks of diverse fungal threads called “hyphae”. In the microscope, these look like clear or brown strands, typically between 2-6 μm in diameter. The length of fungal hyphae varies greatly in prepared samples, and long, robust strands are considered a sign of good conditions in the soil. When disturbance is minimal, fungal networks weave through the soil, extracting nutrients and interacting with plants. They help bind particles together into aggregates, and they provide significant benefits to plants through the exchange of nutrients and much more. Soil fungi develop slowly and are particularly sensitive to disturbance and other stressors, which makes them excellent indicators of the soil’s ecological status. In the microscope, the presence of septate fungal hyphae wider than 3 μm is considered a sign of good growing conditions. Large numbers of light, thin hyphae could be a sign of dense, oxygen-poor soil, which is a less supportive ecosystem for most agricultural crops.

In analysis reports, the fungal biomass estimate is compared with the number of individual fungal hyphae fragments to provide a simple numerical score (total evaluation of fungi / totalvurdering sopp) on a scale of 0-5, where 0 is very poor and 5 is very high. This simplified score is particularly useful for tracking changes over time, or to compare the effect of treatments or soil management techniques.

Protozoa
A large testate amoeba found in a healthy soil sample. Pseudopods or “false feet” extend from the opening at the bottom of the shell, allowing the amoeba to move and capture food.
Protozoa are an incredibly diverse group of single-celled, eukaryotic organisms, which have a predatory role in the soil food web. The role of protozoa in agriculture tends to be underappreciated, perhaps because they are difficult to study, but they are critically important members of the soil food web. For example, bacteria tend to consume a lot of nitrogen and store it in their bodies, but protozoa have little need for nitrogen, so when they consume bacteria they release what they don’t need back into the soil in a form that plants can easily use. Protozoa are voracious predators of bacteria, but they are selective about which species they consume. Each species of protozoa feeds on particular types of bacteria, and in doing so they each play specialized roles in the soil community. This could also mean that protozoa diversity may be an indicator of bacterial diversity in the soil. Protozoa have also been found to promote plant health and disease resistance and improve growth independently of nutrients.

When evaluating protozoa in soil samples, diversity and balance are the top priorities. The ideal sample will have moderate representation from as many groups as possible, with good diversity within those groups. Since it is not feasible to identify all the species of protozoa in a routine analysis, they are instead grouped according to easily observable characteristics. This provides an efficient way to estimate diversity in living, active samples.

We have attempted to create an index that takes into account both the number of groups and the number of organisms within each group. This index is a work in progress, but generally speaking, a more positive result will have several groups and relatively even distribution of individuals within the groups.

What can we do to support soil life?
It is important that we remember to view soil as a habitat and an ecosystem, and to shift our mindset from feeding plants to feeding the soil, which will in turn feed the plants and support them in many other ways.

Here is a summary of the basic conditions that favour beneficial microbial activity in soil and how to provide them:

Microbes need: You can provide it by:
Moisture Keeping the soil covered
Oxygen Allowing natural structure to develop; avoid compaction
Energy and nutrients Maintaining good cover with living plants and mulch; as much diversity as possible
Shelter Keeping the soil covered
Reduced disturbance Minimizing tillage, driving, and chemical interference
Earthworm activity* All of the above
*Earthworms are known as “ecosystem engineers”. Their activity improves soil quality and creates conditions that support beneficial microorganisms.

 

“A rainbow of soil is under our feet; red as a barn and black as a peat. It’s yellow as lemon and white as the snow; bluish gray. So many colors below. Hidden in darkness as thick as the night; The only rainbow that can form without light. Dig you a pit, or bore you a hole, you’ll find enough colors to well rest your soil.” — F.D. Hole, A Rainbow of Soil Words, 1985
From bacteria to fungi, snake-like mini worms, wobbly, jelly-like morphing cellules and hairy racing bubbles and balls the soil is alive, and when healthy, it teams with billions of microorganisms.    These living organisms feed on tiny minerals specks, plant material and each other to release life.   Their dance adds critical nutrients back into the earth.   Without these critters, the soil is nothing other than “dirt”.

When land and gardens are poorly managed and soil is left uncovered, over tilled, and laden with natural and ago chemicals, the beneficial organisms die. What we have failed to understand is plants, bacteria and fungi have a signally system that will adjust for its’ own needs. When we force the pH and neglect and alter this language dance, the biology of the soil dissipates. This results in a poor quality soil that is unable to produce nutrient rich food.  It is well recognised that soils are comprised of physical, chemical and biological properties. However, up until recently,  there has been disproportionate attention given to the chemical and physical side of soils, without due respect given to the biological aspects.   Even organic farmers and gardeners have unknowingly harmed the microbiome of the soil. Good news is we can reverse this with some understanding of what is going on in the soil food web.

Soil is a living, dynamic ecosystem comprising a complex diversity of life.   This diversity is the basis of the fertility of our soil.    Most of us actually have not experienced “food” that is fully alive and at its’ peak due to the biological infrastructure that created it.   But, we are entering a new era of understanding soil as a function of it’s biology and about to understand the taste of nutrition.

Although chemical tests and geophysical analysis of soil are useful for certain circumstances and queries,  biological analysis allows us to ecologically and effectively manage our agroecosystems. So how can we do this?

THE MAGIC OF LIFE UNDER THE MICROSCOPE

Microscope soil tests give us a glimpse into the magical world of soil microbiology that has previously been very abstract and difficult to interact directly with. You are able to see the fungi, protozoa, bacteria and nematodes that play such a vital role in the health of your soil with (relative) ease.

Analysing your soil in this way will allow you to:
 

  • Analyse the quality of your compost/ compost tea 
  • Analyse compaction and anaerobic conditions
  • Find out about diseases before they become a problem
  • Find out about changes in your soil and how effective your techniques are
     

Analysing your soil can be as simple as bringing a sample to our lab for a look down the microscope. This gives us the information to figure out what management techniques are needed, which can then be administered and adjusted accordingly.    

Analysing your soil in this way is efficient, effective and helps you to get more in touch with the biology in your own soils, enabling a deeper understanding of soil functioning. And, crucially, knowledge of your soil will empower you to make the right decisions for you, instead of being dependent on third parties that may not have your best interests at heart.   

It is time we view and treat soil as a living being- in a traditionally regenerative manner – more biological activity is present., more biological activity is introduced. When organic matter is present, the soil can thrive and become the rainbow under our feet now and for generations to come.