Imagine if you could grow anything you wanted with the soil in your yard. Imagine if you could use less water, produce more biomass that is immune to pests, and build fertile soil with less costly inputs. What would you think? Yes, here in New Mexico, shelter from wind and cold would also be a part of the equation, but regardless, if you and I are to understand how the microbiology of the soil works and the needs of our crops, we could potentially grow anything here! Does this sound too good to be true? Well, Dr. Elaine Ingham, PhD, soil biologist and soil food web instructor says just that.
To be able to grow anything in Northern New Mexico is based on hard science and there is a lot of anecdotal data that confirms its validity. It is basic seventh grade science that we are referring to; allow me to elaborate and simplify to refresh your memory. Our planet for most of its existence has been inhospitable to life until the recent arrival (in terms of planetary time) of a cyanobacterium able to transform sunlight energy into chemical energy and storing bonds of simple sugars. This process known as photosynthesis uses carbon dioxide and water and yields oxygen, one of the most important byproducts, and thus, setting the stage for life as we know it. Most plants, algae and cyanobacteria perform photosynthesis, and therefore maintain atmospheric oxygen levels and supply most of the energy necessary for life. Looking at the succession of life forms evolving over thousands of millions of years, blue green algae could be looked at as the first step. These tiny one-celled organisms, evolved into multi-celled organisms such as plankton. Continuously evolving, the soil is producing annual plants, perennial plants, grasses, shrubs, vegetables, deciduous trees, soft woods, and finally conifers and hard woods, such as the giant sequoia and red woods in Northern California. Paolo Lugari, founder of Las Gaviotas in Colombia, calls all of these, the “vegetative skin of the earth” which creates the conditions for us to be here, alive and living. Since we have harvested a lot of this “vegetative skin” over the years, human settlements tend to create deserts, and that puts us all at risk.
It turns out that the living microbiology in the soil underneath this “vegetative skin” changes in composition and provides the ideal conditions for each succession species. Since the ratio of bacteria to fungi shifts radically between grasses and conifers, than knowing this can make us much more successful at growing things. Soil that is predominantly bacteria dominant is good for the pioneer species like grasses, and fungi dominant soil is good for the conifers, and vegetables grow best with with equal amounts of bacteria and fungi. Knowing this we can become soil managers and tweak this relationship based on what we want to grow.
Instead of being at the mercy of the soil in the back yard or the chemical and mineral additives that we are encouraged to buy, we can build soil so that the conditions for “our crop” naturally occur. In other words if you want to grow apricots and you know what the ideal soil composition is for these trees, you can make it happen. How do we do this? Dr. Ingham teaches us to feed the life forms that we want. For example, fungi love sugar and carbohydrates, and the hardwood trees’ root systems will exude sugars to attract them and have them work for their benefit. It is an amazing symbiotic relationship that allows trees to get the nutrients they need by attracting the microbiology that produces it. Since trees cannot move to get food, the microorganisms do the moving. You get more bacteria by feeding the bacteria, and by feeding the fungi if we want more fungi. Dr. Ingham teaches biological solutions instead of chemical solutions. All of these processes are natural and follow scientific and physical laws. Once we understand than we can apply these practices and learn to use them, such as composting for greater fertility, reducing soil compaction and being able to store more water. Please visit our web page www.carboneconomyseries.com or call (505) 819-3828 for more information.