Iginia Boccalandro

When we look at bare ground we are looking at dead soil. Kirk Gadzia, Holistic Land Manager, has declared it public enemy number one because it allows erosion, loss of topsoil and water, increases deserts, and because it fails to remove carbon from the atmosphere, which is crucial to climate stabilization.

The soil’s food web is one of the main reasons we are alive. It is the active biology in the soil that breaks down rock into chelated minerals that, along with organic matter, make humus, which holds water and transports nutrients to plant life. Plants, in turn, create oxygen that, with other atmospheric gases, sustain life on our planet. Although science has only identified 3 % of the living organisms in soil, their impact is huge. They are classified into three groups: bacteria, fungi and microorganisms such as nematodes, small worms that comprise more than 28,000 species. Together these miniscule organisms, with their capacities to digest, churn and transform substances into simple sugars and broken-down minerals, create the conditions for life to occur out of rock.

Think about it. Microorganisms outnumber by billions of billions all above ground species. In fact, in a cup of living soil there are more organisms than what we can see on the land, in the ocean, and what has gone extinct.

Due to its unique capacity to sequester more carbon dioxide than a tropical rainforest, science has recently confirmed (contrary to our seventh grade biology class) that grasslands sequester more atmospheric carbon than a tropical rainforest. A rainforest will use carbon dioxide during the day and produce oxygen, but at night, the fallen foliage putrefying on the forest floor will off-gas just as much CO2 as is used during the day – surprisingly, making a tropical rainforest carbon-neutral.

What makes grasslands disappear and what makes them regenerate? At the Carbon Workshop Series this month, you can get answers to these questions. The proportion of bacteria to fungi in the soil will determine what kind of plants will grow well. The amount of humus will determine the health, vitality and vigor of the plants. Humus will also reduce the amount of water required, stimulate greater root growth and reduce soil compaction. Ultimately, production is increased greatly by all these natural biological factors. This is in contrast to the petrochemical companies who want to sell inputs for greater fertility.

Dr. Elaine Ingham, soil biologist and chief scientist of Rodale Institute says, “We are not gardeners nor landscapers, but instead, soil managers.” When you understand how the soil food web works and how to use it to prepare soil, you are able to create the conditions to grow virtually anything. On Friday, October 14 at 7 pm, the Carbon Economy Series and Santa Fe Community College will host Dr. Ingham for a public talk: Living Soil is Where It’s At, for $10, at SFCC’s Lecture Hall in the West Wing. On October 15, Dr. Ingham will offer a full-day workshop: An Introduction to the Soil Food Web at SFCC’s Trades and Advanced Technologies Center from 9:30-4:30 pm. That will be followed by another full-day workshop at the same location on October 16: Soil Food Web and Compost Tea Technology. For More information visit http://www.carboneconomyseries.com, www.carboneconomyseries.com or call 505.298.4434.