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

Summerland’s Antlers Surf is bringing more than just local boards to the beaches

The Summerland-based company is moving into the Skaha Marina this summer

Okanagan-Shuswap weather: Thunderstorm possible for South Okanagan

The rest of the region will enjoy a sunny day.

Okanagan-Shuswap weather: Severe thunderstorm watch

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

Housing provided for women and children fleeing violence in Penticton

Announcement on Friday is part of a provincewide initiative to construct additional housing.

People’s Party of Canada leader talks B.C. trade to Penticton supporters

Maxime Bernier, head of the new federal political party, spoke at Time Winery on Friday

REPLAY: The best videos from across B.C. this week

In case you missed it, here’s a look at the replay-worth highlights from this week in the province

Mistrial declared in Jamie Bacon murder plot trial

Bacon was on trial for counselling to commit the murder of Person X

B.C. VIEWS: Money-laundering melodrama made for TV

Public inquiry staged to point fingers before 2021 election

Okanagan group offers suggestions on overdose prevention site

Downtown Vernon Association agrees proposed facility should be near Vernon Jubilee Hospital

Canadian homebuyers escaping high housing costs by moving to secondary cities

In British Columbia, exurbs have grown in the Hope Valley and Kamloops

Feds lay out proposed new rules for voice, video recorders in locomotives

Transport Canada wants to limit use of recorders to if a crew’s actions led to a crash

Brothers acquired land at entrance to Garnet Valley

Name of Summerland valley and lake does not match spelling of family name.

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 found in torched SUV

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

Most Read