The Eldenbridge Institute took over the Cell Biology Lab at the University of Alabama in Huntsville last Thursday night to spend the evening teaching how to use the microscope to assess the health of soil and compost.
Many people are familiar with the idea of chemical soil tests that look at the presence or lack of soil nutrients, but the microscope is actually a much better tool for figuring out the health of your soil when you are farming or gardening using organic techniques. Plants in organic systems get many of their nutrients via a symbiotic relationship with soil micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungi, meaning the best way to understand the fertility of your soil is to look at the health of the soil food web.
After an introductory discussion on how to tell the “good guys” from the “bad guys” in the soil, the class got to go hands-on with the microscopes and look at live soil samples. Several students brought their own samples so they could see how things looked in their own gardens or compost piles.
In addition to the students who are currently taking the Eldenbridge PDC course, the attendees spanned a wide spectrum, ranging from local farmers to graduate students and faculty in the UAH Biological Sciences Department.
The microbial ecosystem of healthy soil is rich in life and variety, with many thousands of species of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes connected into a complex trophic web. In order to allow us to sort out the good organisms from the bad, we discussed how to use morphology-simply looking at the size, shape, and color of the organism-to help categorize them all into groups that would tell us the story of what was happening in the soil.
The Eldenbridge Institute is currently planning on offering an hands-on weekend course in soil fertility, compost, aerated compost teas, and soil microscopy coming up next spring. Watch our calendar for dates, or join our mailing list to receive our monthly newsletter.