COLUMNS: Soil and organic matter: measuring its microbiology

Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon reminded us that 2015 is the UN year of the soil.

When her honour, Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon, a rancher herself, was here to kick off the new Applied Sustainable Ranching program at our local Thompson Rivers University campus, she reminded us that 2015 is the UN year of the soil.

In doing so, she mentioned the billions and billions of living microorganisms that dwell in topsoil. These organisms take from the atmosphere 95 per cent of what plants need to grow: carbon, oxygen and nitrogen.

The rest comes from the mineral, organic and chemical components of soil. Unless you specify, soil samples from most labs don’t give you a biological assay of what is in your soil.

One would think given this is the “year of the soil” this might change. I don’t know if it has.

For the soil microbiology to do its magic, it needs to have air in the soil. These are called aerobic processes. If the soil is compacted by machinery, animals, or chemical salts applied too generously (how much is too much?) then aerobic processes can’t work and anaerobic (without oxygen) processes take over.

As I understand, alcohol is one of the products created under these conditions. Roots stop growing down in the soil when they reach this compacted layer, because they don’t like alcohol.

Deep rooting creates and maintains deep topsoil and increases the availability of nutrients and minerals available at deeper horizons.

I have been doing some digging in my fields and have noted earthworms as deep as three feet or more; this excites me because I know that roots looking for nutrient can follow the worm paths.

Perhaps the most encouraging measure of soil health happens when more and more litter — dead plant material — is left on the surface.

This provides insulation so the soil doesn’t freeze as easily and therefore the biological life can function for a much longer season and produce plant food. This kind of soil warms earlier in the spring and therefore growth is earlier. Bare and compacted soil freezes faster and growth stops.

We know when organic matter in the soil gets used up the protein content of plants grown there is reduced.

This has happened in our “breadbasket” — the Prairies. We know, though, that soil can be restored to original organic content in a few years by using the original plant communities (seeded often) to jumpstart restoration. Work on this has been done at the land Institute in Kansas.

David Zirnhelt is a member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and chair of the advisory committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching program which is starting at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake this January.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The RCMP arrest one of the suspects on Highway 97 courtesy of cell phone footage shot by a bystander. (April Thomas photo)
WATCH: Two suspects arrested after multi-jurisdictional chase

A half dozen police cars were seen heading north on Highway 97

Commercial tenants at the Williams Lake Regional Airport have been granted an additional six-month rent reprieve. (Angie Mindus file photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Continuing rent relief for Williams Lake Airport tenants considered

City council discussed the option during a committee of the whole meeting

The Grade 2 class of 150 Mile House Elementary attended Cariboo Memorial Hospital with teacher Kirsty Bowers to deliver “kindness” bags full of small gifts to housekeeping staff. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
150 Mile House students deliver gift bags showing appreciation for hospital staff

Students begin Monday morning with a bus trip to Cariboo Memorial Hospital

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Interior Health reports 16 new COVID-19 cases

423 cases remain active in the region

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Older rental apartments are prime candidates for renovations, and could result in lost affordable housing stock. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
B.C.’s renoviction overhaul a good start, but won’t preserve affordable stock, lawyer says

And still no protection for people who can’t pay rent due to COVID-19

Kamloops This Week
Cause of Kamloops landfill fire may never be known

Fire investigators are dealing with too much destruction in too large an area

(Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)
B.C. WHL teams to hit the ice with Kelowna, Kamloops hub cities

Kelowna, Kamloops centres chosen to host B.C. WHL teams for 24-game regular season

The machines are akin to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned to identify its unique vein pattern. (CANADIAN PRESS)
Feds dole out $3.5M for ‘vending machines’ to dispense safer opioids in B.C.

The machines are located in four cities across Canada, including Vancouver and Victoria

Kelowna’s lakefront visitor centre is one of 130 around the province. Tourism businesses have been hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions on travel. (Destination B.C.)
Tourism, small business getting COVID-19 help, B.C. minister says

$300M grant program has delivered $50 million so far

The incident happened in downtown Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline
Castlegar teen recounts stabbing after stranger breaks into grandmother’s house

The unnamed teen survived a terrifying attack Feb. 21

Most Read