photo: contributed

UBC Okanagan scientist offers gardening tips

Miranda Hart talks dirt

Miranda Hart digs dirt.

The associate professor in UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences is a researcher and naturalist who has dedicated her career to studying microbes in soil. Specifically, she investigates how soil biodiversity helps ecosystems function, and what happens when we destroy this life in our soils.

While the focus of her research—soil microbial communities—may sound complex, it’s happening in every backyard garden around the world. We asked Hart, who teaches biology, to break down her science for people who love mucking about in the dirt as much as she does. Here are some tips for gardening, whether it’s flowers, a crop of vegetables in a community garden or a few herbs in a window basket.

READ MORE: UBC Okanagan researchers contribute to study about charitable behaviour

READ MORE:UBC Okanagan makes addition to womens volleyball, basketball

We’ve heard recently that some researchers suggest tilling, or overtilling, is not effective and is actually harmful to soil. Yet, we’ve been doing it for hundreds of years. What are your thoughts on this?

This is not easy to answer. Tillage has been with us as long as agriculture—but it is hard on the soil. It leads to loss of topsoil (erosion) and also disrupts the network of roots and fungi below ground. This leads to a less resilient system and therefore, less efficient?

For intensive agricultural systems or gardens, this might not be a problem because you’re adding nutrients and biocides.

The main reason we’ve been able to move to ‘no till’ agriculture is due to herbicide use. Currently, farmers control weeds with herbicides, not tillage. But this is not sustainable, because weeds develop resistance to herbicides. Plus, there is increased scrutiny on the environmental and health consequences of using herbicides.

In short, if you have a garden, weed by hand. If you have a farm—you need to weigh your weed problem versus how much topsoil you have.

Your work examines arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) and how it benefits plant nutrition and crop production. Your latest research examined how a commercial AMF inoculant worked in different grain-cropping practices. Did the commercial product out-perform the natural process?

No, the commercial product did not perform better than control plots—we added a native AMF and also had plots without AMF additions. I think the reasons are two-fold: 1) The AMF isolate failed to establish on many sites. 2) the resident fungi were probably already doing a good job and I don’t think the inoculants were necessary.

In general, if your soil is in pretty good shape and you have had plants growing on it recently, you likely have resident fungi that are good enough and you don’t need to add anything else.

Is commercial fungi perhaps the way of the future?

Not yet. We still don’t understand what factors allow a fungus to establish in foreign soil. And even if they do establish, are they good for that soil? Or that particular crop?

It’s hard to imagine that there is a ‘silver bullet’ fungus that will be a good fit with all systems and cropping types. Further, we don’t know what happens to these fungi in natural ecosystems—can they become invasive? Do they affect the biodiversity of resident microbes and plants? We need to answer these questions before I can recommend their use in the field.

READ MORE: UPDATE: Police swarm residence near UBC Okanagan, arrest 3 men

READ MORE: UBC Okanagan opens new spaces for community-engaged research

Is it possible to transfer your knowledge of soil health to information a backyard gardener could use?

Absolutely. The key to ‘healthy’ soils is to promote a biodiverse ecosystem that is well adapted to the soil and climate. Use native plants wherever you can, and take it easy on the inputs (nutrients and fertilizers) because plants that are adapted to our climate are not used to high levels of fertilizer.

However, for a production garden, then you’ll definitely want to augment nutrients. I recommend organic fertilizers over synthetic, such as compost or manure, since they will stimulate the soil food web by including carbon for the microbes to eat. This leads to higher biodiversity in your soils and more resilient plants.

To report a typo, email:
newstips@kelownacapnews.com
.


@KelownaCapNews
newstips@kelownacapnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Photos: Over 80 competitors took part in 3D Archery Shoot

The event is hosted by the Salmon Arm Fish and Game Club

Girl, 9, out of ICU after carbon monoxide poisoning in Shuswap tent

Her mother who was sleeping in the same tent with her did not survive

Okanagan-Shuswap weather: Severe thunderstorm watch

Environment Canada forecasts thunder, cloud and rain for one more day

Osprey nest in downtown Salmon Arm will remain until new year

The powerlines around the nest have been de-energized so the birds can stay until spring

A 64-year-old dies while mountain biking in Blind Bay

Shuswap Search and Rescue came assist first responders at the scene

Police release photos of suspect in daytime sex assault at Vancouver woman’s home

A young woman, in hers 20s, was followed home by the man, before he violently attacked her inside

Raptors beat Bucks 100-94 to advance to franchise’s first-ever NBA Finals

Leonard has 27 points, 17 boards to lead Toronto past Milwaukee

Third person charged in death of B.C. teen Bhavkiran Dhesi

Inderdeep Kaur Deo facing charge of accessory after the fact to murder

Missing Shuswap teen found safe

The teen was found by searchers at 4:30 a.m. on May 25

Highway 1 closed east of Revelstoke

Highway 1 is closed east of Revelstoke near Canyon Hot Springs due… Continue reading

‘I think he’s still alive’: B.C. mom pleads for help finding son last seen a month ago

Family offering $5,000 reward for information leading to the safe return of Tim Delahaye

Okanagan woman celebrates 101 years young on the back of a Harley Davidson

Last Saturday Violet Madeline celebrated 101 years. A member of the Lower… Continue reading

New poll suggests one-third don’t want politicians to wear religious symbols

Local politicians shouldn’t be allowed to wear hijabs, crucifixes or turbans on the job, survey suggests

Raptors fans far from home adjust plans to watch pivotal playoff game

Raptors currently lead the playoff series 3-2, and a win Saturday would vault them into NBA finals

Most Read