The key to reviving a dead soil is to add the life back in.
Abalone Coast Analytical, Inc. has added this new department in order to be part of creating solutions to soil, water and food challenges. We have monitored soil and water for over nine years and now we are excited to go beyond monitoring to beginning to help heal our land and water. Soil Harmonics is about soil restoration and building ecosystems. We teach these processes and assist in their application.
The main members of the team are Amanda Smith, owner at Abalone Coast Analytical, Inc and Cristy Christie, owner of Black Diamond Vermicompost. Their combined education includes knowledge of soil chemistry, soil microbiology, permaculture practices, building aerobic compost and compost tea brewing. When a larger implementation team is needed, we have an extended network of landscape architects for designing your space as well as the crew to install the design.
We are here to educate and help you maintain your land once the transformative process begins.
My love affair with the soil began about 25 years ago when I took Introduction to soils for my environmental science major at UC Riverside. I discovered this amazing, dynamic little world that magically grew plants, could be used for building material and could naturally filter water, making it clear and ready for drinking. It was the chemical, physical and biological properties of soil that, until school, I knew nothing about. Those properties determine what the soil will be best at doing. For instance, chemical properties offer plant nutrients and its clayey soils that have more of these nutrients. This same clay content creates the physical environment of massive amounts of pore space and room for holding onto water. The microbiology in the soil will determine how easy it is to grow healthy plants and how easy it is for the pore space to be available for them. I was to discover the powerful impact of soil biology many years later but back then, I was big time in love with chemistry so….
After finishing the environmental science degree, I went on to complete a master’s degree in soil chemistry. For a while I felt complete, but it didn’t stay that way. A couple of decades later, I discovered the Soil Food Web. This is the term for the microbial life in the soil and how all those little life forms interact. This microbial life is comprised of bacteria, protozoa, fungi, nematodes and micro-arthropods. Together these creatures decompose organic matter and provide nutrients for plants. Bacteria, protozoa and fungi all provide nitrogen that plants need in abundance. Fungi specifically, become a major plant supply highway, bringing all sorts of other minerals to plants. Naturally, to do this soil life forms need to live around plant roots. Plants are definitely large and in charge in the soil universe as they exude yummy carbohydrates from their roots to feed the critters in the soil. This entices microbial life into the plant root zone where plants create a nutrient and mineral shopping list that they hand off to the microbes. The soil microbes happily bring the goods back to the plants in exchange for the carbs.
This gradual understanding I’ve gained is why I advocate for healthy soil and its place in our ecosystem. Pesticides, herbicides, compaction and tillage kill or maim microbial life and can reduce room for it in our soil. To have healthy nutrient rich plants, we need a healthy, vibrant Soil Food Web. Feeding your plants isn’t the only thing that a healthy Soil Food Web will do for you. It will also protect plants from pests and disease and will increase the water holding capacity of the soil. It protects your plants by covering attack sites with beneficial bacteria which are also good for you! It makes room for more water with microbial movement through the soil that picks up micro-soil particles and clumping them together. This soil clump in the science geek world is called a ped or an aggregate. When an aggregate is created, the place where it came from is now a hole. For you bakers out there, it’s like sifting flour to add air to a mix. More holes in the soil means more room for water and deeper plant roots. I learned these things by attending seminars and reading books and was flabbergasted by the intricate wisdom of Mother Earth’s ecosystem and how she knows what to do for herself.
So, when you consider growing anything on your garden or farm site, think about limiting the disturbance you create in the soil. Use compost full of soil life to feed your plants and protect them from pests instead of applying pesticides and fertilizers. As long as the compost has been properly prepared, it will boost up the Soil Food Web. Also, consider finding out if your soil is up to snuff with simple testing that can tell which Soil Food Web components are missing and how to reintroduce them. If you don’t know where to get good compost or get your soil tested I can help! Happy, healthy, planting!