Microbial Analysis for Growers
- 3 hours on-demand video
- 2 articles
- 8 downloadable resources
- Full lifetime access
- Access on mobile and TV
- Certificate of Completion
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- Use a microscope to determine whether soil microbial density and diversity are adequate to support production of healthy, nutrient dense plants.
Learn strategies to increase the microbial diversity and density of your soil.
Understand the nutritional, ecological, and economic benefits of putting trillions of microbes to work in your soil.
- Certified Crop Advisors may receive Continuing Education Units (CEU's) from the American Society of Agronomy by submitting a request to the instructor following completion of this course.
- Experience growing plants.
- Note: You will need a microscope to implement what you learn. We'll show you how to choose one that meets your needs.
One of the best kept secrets in agriculture is that microbes carry out every function growers rely on chemicals to provide. When you have the right microbial diversity and density in your soil microbial community, your need for costly chemical inputs can be reduced or eliminated.
Whether you are an urban gardener, growing food in containers on your balcony, a farmer planting hundreds of acres for commercial markets, a landscaper managing city parks, or anyone else who works with plants and soils, learning to recognize microbial indicators of soil health can help you grow better quality plants with higher yields and fewer inputs.
Microbial Analysis for Growers can help you transform your growing practices. Learn:
- When and why a do it yourself soil test for microbes makes sense.
- How to choose a microscope suitable for soil testing.
- How to classify and identify important soil microbes.
- How to use your results to help you grow high quality crops.
- How to corroborate your visual results by measuring soil respiration.
Note: All the equipment needed to conduct soil biology testing will be described within. It is not necessary to have the equipment on hand to take the course.
- Anyone who grows plants (farmers, nursery growers, greenhouse growers, home and community gardeners, turfgrass managers).
- Grower educators (master gardeners, extension agents, crop consultants, certified crop advisors, science and agriscience teachers...).
- Restoration biologists and soil health technicians
Soil productivity declines when microbial diversity and density are not maintained. This course was developed to give growers tools that allow them to quickly estimate microbial diversity and density with sufficient accuracy to guide routine management decisions.
In the previous five units, we have discussed how microbes can influence plant production, why microbial analysis can help guide management, the what tools you need to analyze microbes at home, how to collect and prepare your soil samples, and how to examine them under the microscope.
In unit six, we step back for a moment to look more deeply at the functions of microbial communities within various niches (plant surface, soil crust, rhizosphere, etc.) of the plant ecosystem. While this particular unit is more theoretical than applied, it is important to appreciate microbial community interactions before the value of having diverse representatives from the kingdoms we will examine in unit 7 become clear.
Taxonomists are scientists that strive to classify living things based on similarities and differences. Because life and science are both constantly evolving, taxonomy has been changing ever since Carl Linnaeus proposed the binomial nomenclature system.
In recent decades, the hierarchy of Domain has been placed above Kingdoms, and we have seen three Kingdoms divide into six. These changes are driven by new technologies that permit classification based on DNA sequence differences.
In Unit 7A, you reviewed contemporary Domain and Kingdom classifications. We also discussed differences between eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells. Please answer the questions below to evaluate your understanding of the characteristics that define these categories.
One feature that helps you distinguish a deer from an elk, or a wolf from a fox, is the size. In the same manner, size is one of many characteristics you can use to distinguish among different kinds of microbes.
An optical reticle is strongly recommended, for ensuring more accurate measurements. Before you can use your reticle, you must calibrate each your objectives using an optical micrometer. In this unit, we will show you how that is done.
As you determine the distance represented by each unit in your reticle write this value on a label you can attach to your microscope. This will help you remember the value as you begin analyzing soil samples.
Because your reticle remains the same even as you switch objectives, you will need to calculate a unique value for each objective on your microscope.
Many microscope dealers offer excellent training on how to calibrate your objectives. Links to some of these additional resources are included.
If you are going through the trouble of collecting soil samples, it is worth your time to consider soil physical properties in addition to microbial diversity and abundance. In this subunit, you will learn how to estimate soil pH, texture, and humic acid content of your soil. The methods described here for are chosen for speed and ease of use in farm and garden environments. They are less precise than a laboratory analyses.
Learn how to minimize errors tied to your MDD Analysis. Consider features of rich microbial communities and organic amendments that buffer plant systems against change created by human error. Learn how to interpret results of your MDD Analysis.
You understand the theory, and you know what to look for. But there is a lot to remember your first few times through. This quick protocol and two flow charts can be printed out and checked off step by step as you carry out your own MDD Analysis and interpret your results.
Did you know soil breathes? Okay, it doesn't exactly inhale and exhale like you and I do. But the cellular respiration processes that convert sugars to carbon dioxide (CO2) are as essential to soil creatures as they are to you and I. This means soil microbes are constantly releasing CO2, kind of like you release CO2 when we breath. The amount of CO2 the soil releases can be used as a vital sign of sorts. If you stopped exhaling and releasing CO2, that would not be a good sign. The same is true for your soil. High levels of CO2 production suggest more healthy microbial cells are thriving in your soil.
In this unit, you will learn how to measure the amount of CO2 your soil produces with a do it yourself kit.