Finding out what kind of microbes are living in the soil may help producers determine overall soil health, David Zirnhelt writes in his latest column. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

Finding out what kind of microbes are living in the soil may help producers determine overall soil health, David Zirnhelt writes in his latest column. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

The critters who work all winter on the ranch

COLUMN: Working with nature is a great thing, a necessary thing

Like most of my ranching colleagues I have been enjoying the extra time before serious freeze-up. However, that means much of the office work and planning for next year is on hold, until the ground is frozen.

We work with the seasons because to do unseasonal work on the land can result in lasting damage. I mention these kind of activities: tilling the land when it is too wet thereby destroying the physical structure of the soil, or driving on soft land and driving down the frost risking winter killing of the plants that are there, alfalfa being one of the most susceptible to freezing out.

Heavy pressure on clay soils for example can compact the air spaces between particles and thus deny the ability of microbes to colonize those spaces and do their magic of turning raw minerals into living soil which in turn can fix free elements from the atmosphere and the ground.

One definition of soil health is the condition under which soil can perpetuate and grow its fertility with out much purchases, amendments and fertilizer.

If we take off crops or animals that are grown on soils and don’t manage for the conditions that perpetuate fertility then we are not farming or ranching sustainably.

For my part, one of my recent activities is returning soil to the upper part of a field from the burn piles created by land clearing many years ago. When woody debris is piled after trees are removed the roots of trees and bushes hold a lot of soil.

Once the wood is rotted then the soil remains and is a great addition to tired soil. It is actually a kind of natural compost which harbours all kinds of microbial critters and plants that build soil by nurturing many life forms in the soil.

Read More: Column: Ranching life almost a hundred years ago

Read More: Til the cows come home: the more, the better

This organic matter is what much of our young soils are missing but need in order to be productive. It takes a forest one hundred years to build one inch of soil: black gold. This is not to be squandered.

Anyone will tell you that it takes a great concentration of animals and hay residues to build an inch of soil.

And we can’t pile it too deep in some places and drag it into fill holes as we are levelling land. Following contours as best we can without leaving land too rough to drive farm equipment over effectively.

Some recent titles of stories from farming magazines give a flavour of the current focus on soil health:

“It’s the little things in life that count: Measuring microbial biomass may be more relevant than NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium), but how do you count the little bugs?”

“Finding out what kind of microbes are living in the soil may help producers determine overall soil health.”

“Big growth expected for biologicals: farmers are showing increased interest in input products made from naturally occurring chemicals or live organisms.”

Measuring those things you cannot see requires the analysis from soil labs. However, we can get a microscope and try to learn with a little guidance from the experts.

Now, if the frost doesn’t go too deep, that is, if the soil is healthy and porous and covered in the remains of plants (litter) then the bugs will work all winter FOR FREE.

That work will give the plants a great start in the spring.

Working with nature is a great thing, a necessary thing.

Merry Christmas to all Creatures.


Do you have a comment about this story? email:
editor@wltribune.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at TRU.

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

Just Posted

This Dec. 2, 2020, file photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. (Johnson & Johnson via AP)
Interior Health notes 80 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend

108 people in the region have died from the virus

The Fraser River is seen west of Williams Lake from Doc English Bluff Ecological Reserve. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Tsilhqot’in National Government appeals Gibraltar Mines’ permit to discharge into Fraser River

Permit amendments fail to adequately protect the environment and human health, says TNG

The Horsefly Community Hall will be the site of a mobile vaccine clinic March 19, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Six COVID-19 vaccine clinics to open in Cariboo Chilcotin

100 Mile, Alexis Creek, Big Lake, Horsefly, Williams Lake and Tatla Lake

A Williams Lake area family living on Knife Creek Road lost everything to a house fire on Wednesday, March 3. (Photo submitted)
House fire destroys rural family home south of Williams Lake

The Macdonalds built their home on Knife Creek Road about 30 years ago

A special committee has been appointed to look at reforming B.C.’s police act and is inviting the public to make submissions until April 30, 2021. (Black Press media file)
Public input sought for B.C.’s police act review

Submissions will be accepted until April 30

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

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

Cottonwoods Care Home in Kelowna. (Google Maps)
New COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna care home includes fully vaccinated seniors: Henry

Two staff and 10 residents tested positive at Cottonwoods Care Centre

Excerpts from a conversation between Bria Fisher and the fake truLOCAL job. Fisher had signed a job agreement and was prepared to start work for what she thought was truLOCAL before she learned it was a scam. (Contributed)
B.C. woman warning others after losing $3,000 in job scam

Bria Fisher was hired by what she thought was a Canadian company, only to be out thousands

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix provide a regular update on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, March 2, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 cases: 545 Saturday, 532 Sunday, 385 Monday

Focus on Prince Rupert, Lower Mainland large workplaces

Rising accident rates and payout costs have contributed to billion-dollar deficits at ICBC. (Comox Valley Record)
B.C. appealing decision keeping ICBC injury cases in court

David Eby vows to ‘clip wings’ of personal injury lawyers

(Black Press Media files)
Hosts charged, attendees facing COVID fines after Vancouver police bust party at condo

Police had previously received 10 complaints about that condo

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen takes part in an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. A joint federal and B.C. government housing program announced today aims to help people living in up to 25,000 vulnerable households pay their rent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Federal, B.C. governments announce $517-million rent aid program to help vulnerable

Benefits for those not eligible for B.C.’s Rental Assistance Program or Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters

Most Read