Web of Life Regenerative Land Care

Healthy Soil is Living Soil

Welcome!  

You’ve found your way to Web of Life Regenerative Land Care.. which makes me think you’re probably a gardener, farmer, or other type of land steward, who wants to be a good steward of that land.  

So where do you start?  Well if your goal is, say, to grow healthy, nutrient dense food for your family or community.. or to help cool our warming planet.. then a look at the community of life in your soil is a powerful starting point.  Here’s why.

If we look closely at how Mother Nature designed soils, something important immediately stands out: they’re ecosystems!  In all natural soils, there’s a community of micro-organisms that plants need in order to get nourishment from the soil.  They’ve been nick-named the soil food web…

So.. I’ll give you the bad news first.  

Most soils managed by us “civilized” humans (many millions of acres) have been damaged by our over-use of salt fertilizers (think Miracle Grow), pesticides, herbicides, or slicing-dicing tillage.  Sadly, this list goes on. The disturbances go so deep that the fungi, and beneficial microbes like protozoans and nematodes, often virtually disappear from soil ecosystems. This leaves imbalanced, bacterially-dominated soils where weedy plants thrive, but most more complex plants don’t get what they need to be nutrient-dense or disease-resistant.

Yes, it’s sad, like so much of what so-called “progress” has brought about in our world.  So let me get right into some good news.

After spending time learning from a handful of inspiring and creative Earth restoring pioneers, getting my own hands into the organic matter, and immersing myself in the developing art of soil regeneration… I have two simple and powerful approaches to help you restore living soil in your gardens, orchards, fields and landscape!

It's the life in there

Did you know you can bring soil back to life by actually bringing life to the soil? 

It’s very cool. Known as the soil food web approach, or sometimes called biological growing, it was pioneered by Elaine Ingham and developed into a science at the Soil Food Web School and elsewhere.

Here’s how it works.

 

First, with a microscope I visually assess a sample of your soil to find out which members of your soil’s food web are abundant, sparse, or not there at all. Direct microscopic analysis is the most powerful way to assess soil health. In a basic soil biology assessment I measure the biomass of fungi and bacteria, count beneficial nematodes and protozoans.. and then consider: does this soil look like soil does in Nature?

Soil scientists now widely recognize that the state of a soil’s biology tells you more about how healthy and fertile it is than anything else. But most soil labs are slow to adopt methods that allow a direct assessment of a soil’s biology. Fortunately, labs like mine with this capability are beginning to pop up in more and more places. I’m excited to bring the resource to our region.

          Here’s a microscope field of view of a sample of soil with good fungal diversity.

But that assessment is just the beginning~

The second part of this soil revelation is this: if I find a soil too low in fungi to grow healthy blueberries, or missing beneficial microbes that earlier-successional plants like kale need to access their soil nutrients.. 

I can create biologically rich compost teeming with those missing micro-organisms! Even the most lifeless dirt can be reinoculated and restored to a thriving community of microbes and fungi.. all working for the plants to

  • dissolve hundreds of nutrients which those plants need, right from the existing soil matrix (= nutrient dense produce),

  • bring about innate resistance to disease,

  • and store lots of water, and carbon, in the soil, where our too-warm planet needs them!

Compost.. or bio-inoculant?

You can call this compost, but something like soil bio-inoculant might better describe it.   It’s typical for commercial compost to be made from waste diverted from the landfill.  But in this process I gather diverse, local, chemical-free starting materials…

…and compost them in a targeted process that, amazingly, kills pests, weed seeds and pathogens, while preserving and multiplying diverse, beneficial bacteria, fungi, protozoans, nematodes and arthropods! My custom recipes especially maximize fungi, since they’re almost always sparse in soils relative to bacteria.

A little bit of this bio-inoculant goes a long way. Its primary purpose is to inoculate your soil with all this life.

Let’s take a closer look at what–or rather who–is in this bio-inoculant. Here are some numbers from a recent batch (and for comparison, in parentheses after each value I also list the SFW School’s suggested minimum amount of each microorganism for a soil to be considered “biologically complete”.. that is, soil with a complete soil food web):

Bacterial biomass = 6,286 micrograms per gram, or µg/g (minimum 135 µg/g)

Fungal biomass = 3,507 µg/g (minimum 135 µg/g)

Fungal to bacterial ratio (F:B) = 0.56 (minimum 0.3)

Beneficial protozoa = 1,200,000/g (minimum 100,000/g)

Beneficial nematodes: = 2,400/g (minimum 100/g)

It’s a zoo in there!

        One of my recent hot compost piles, cooking at 160 F. It’s subtle, but can you see the steam rising? Yes, that’s snow outside the high tunnel.

Restoring the Web of Life

There are now an estimated 10 million acres of our planet where biology is being cultivated in this way. You can find many farm and garden case-studies at the SFW School’s website. And in the coming weeks I’ll describe my own experience regenerating a plot of pasture dirt here in Danby back to a healthy, functioning soil ecosystem in a single season.

A fresh and engaging resource for understanding the importance of living soils is John Feldman’s recent documentary Regenerating Life. I’ve watched this film three times.. there’s so much to learn about the central importance of restoring life to our soils. The film is an inspiring story about how very simple changes in our care of the land can powerfully transform our impact on the larger Earth biosphere.. to heal ruined ecosystems and rebalance our planet’s disrupted climate.

There are more details here about how to find me.  I’ll be adding resources to my website throughout the coming growing season to empower you to start realizing your vision of land care for a healthy garden, homestead or farm. 

Even a small act of regeneration will become part of this growing movement to heal the larger web of life which gives us life.  If you’re ready to prioritize this, I’d love to support you on your living soil regeneration journey!

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