March 16th, 2021

Winter Winding Down

As winter winds down in a hurry here on the farm, our attention returns once again to the soil. In particular to the microbiology within it that is the beating heart of biological growing systems. I attended one of many conferences on this topic recently and was deeply relieved to hear how far the science and practice of regenerative agriculture has progressed in the past year. Many researchers in public and private institutions around the world are now taking the time to dig into the practices that seem to increase agricultural resilience and ecosystem diversity.

Diagram showing the various practices that enhance soil biology, from a presentation by Fred Provenza.

As it turns out, most of these solutions revolve around protecting and feeding the microbes in the soil, but more on that from Michele & Richard in later sections of this newsletter. They have spent weekends and evenings in construction mode this month, and the greenhouse is nearing completion. Our eco-conscious ethic pushes us to reuse materials where possible, and to build things ourselves when practical. For this project we are welding grow-tables out of reclaimed carport tubing and are resurrecting countertops from an earlier construction project that went down in a blaze of glory.

Michele preparing reclaimed carport materials for welding into greenhouse tables.

Nathan and Cynthia have been working hard, too, but on the internet front. This week marks the release of our new website and product packaging. Much as we have found with our approach to farming, there is initially a lot of resistance to doing things differently. However time will show that patience, practicality and openness to change will provide much greater opportunity for future generations, both in the health of the land, and the people who live upon it. 

The label for our newest product, 1200mg strength sublingual oil.

Enjoy the spring weather as you get it, wherever you are, and don't forget to thank the microbes!

Regenerative Health

Healthy Soil • Healthy Plants • Healthy People • Healthy Planet

The Human Microbiome: The Most Important Medical Discovery

I’m going to go out on a limb here, but it's a very solid limb.

When I trained as a physician, I could never have imagined during my career I would see what I consider the most consequential medical discovery of all time:  not the discovery of penicillin (I’m not THAT old) or identifying and mapping all the human genome (although that is certainly toward the top of the list).  It’s the discovery of the human microbiome and its primary role in human body function, health, and disease.  Understanding its key role in health and disease will change medical care in ways we are just beginning to understand.

Diagram showing important facts about the human gut microbiome.

Fun Facts Regarding the Human Microbiome:

  • The human body is home to 100 trillion microbes that comprise the microbiome (~3X as many as all the cells in our body) 1

  • The microbiome contains 46 million genes (by comparison, current estimates are the human genome consists of 50-100 thousand genes), many of which perform functions essential to human health 2,3

  • Human health depends on services provided by the microbiome, including extraction of energy from food, immune system function, production of key vitamins and neurotransmitters that influence our mental health 1,4,5,6

  • The western diet (highly processed carbohydrates,, high sugar content, processed meats) changes the microbiome in ways that promote obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic diseases that plague Western societies 1,6,7

The Soil Microbiome/Rhizosphere Microbiome: 

Similar to the discovery of the Human Microbiome, there is an emerging understanding of the Soil Microbiome; the related Rizosphere Microbiome (soil microbes interacting with plant roots); and its primary role in plant and human health 8.

Fun Facts Regarding the Soil Microbiome/Rhizosphere

  • The soil microbiome is one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet.

  • A teaspoon of productive soil generally contains between 100 million and 1 billion bacteria.10 So every 40 gallons of soil contains as many individual cells as an average sized adult human.

  • Most agricultural soils are not degraded of nutrients but rather deprived of microbial assistance as a result of toxic conventional inputs.

  • Each plant harbors a unique rhizosphere microbial community, much as each human harbors a unique gut microbiome.

  • Diverse mixes of plant species interact in ways that enhance the soil microbiome, nutrient availability and plant chemistry.

This diagram from Trends in Plant Science shows how plant root secretions interact with soil microbiology.

Waking the Soil Microbiome: the foundation for Regenerative Health 

Research on the interaction between the Soil Microbiome and Human Microbiome is in the early stages but is already establishing a correlation between healthy soil/healthy plants and human health.9 The soil microbiome is the foundation on which this virtuous cycle of health is built.   Regenerative Agriculture practices “wake the soil microbiome”, providing the initial step in regenerative health.  More to come on this relationship as research progresses.

- Richard, The Farm Doc


Reference: 

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4191858/pdf/nihms589935.pdf 

  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6716383/pdf/nihms-1536011.pdf

  3. https://microbiomepost.com/how-many-genes-make-up-the-human-microbiome/#:~:text=The%20researchers%20found%20nearly%2046,could%20be%20around%20232%20million

  4. The Microbiome | The Nutrition Source | Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health

  5. 5 Important Functions Of Your Body's Microbiome | Gastrointestinal Specialists, Inc. 

  6. The Microbiome: a Key Player in Human Health and Disease | Insight Medical Publishing

  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5082693/pdf/nihms-793639.pdf

  8.  Rhizosphere microbiome mediates systemic root metabolite exudation by root-to-root signaling

  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6780873/pdf/microorganisms-07-00287.pdf

  10. https://web.extension.illinois.edu/soil/SoilBiology/bacteria.htm

A Sense of Place

Through our own yards.

Waking the Soil Microbes

Typically we’re not in the mood to do much in the garden after a jam-packed growing season. As a result, we often take for granted all the interconnected microbial activity that makes healthy soil possible. Over time there has come an understanding that the soil is a living thing and needs what we all need: clean air, food, water, sunlight, time to work, time to rest.  

The last few years we’ve learned to have more respect for the soil and rely on regenerative farm practices to guide seasonal interactions with our land.  So last fall we seeded an annual rye, mustard and clover mix as a cover crop and mulched all of our terraces and raised beds.  We used cardboard, a thick layer of sawdust and hardwood mulch to redefine walking paths.  During winter months freezing temperatures, snow, rain and sunlight all play a part as the soil hibernates.  Then as the weather warms, millions of microorganisms per teaspoon of soil are ready to provide a surge of growth.

The terraces behind the house with living cover crop and organic mulches.

In the past, February arrived and we were frantic to get seeds started in the greenhouse so they could get planted in the ground right after our frost free date in late April.  There might not be any more frost but the soil itself is still below the optimal planting temperature for most seedlings. On multiple occasions we’ve had to cover the delicate starts to protect them from yet another cold snap and then watch as they struggle to take off.  This year it’s mid March and we are just now starting flower and vegetable seeds in our new greenhouse.  We will also use this space to plant our hemp crop from seed.  This timing change will correlate with warmer soil temperatures and microbial activity. 

  

Looking at the roller coaster weeks ahead, some days will be sunny with temperatures in the mid 60’s. Then suddenly we’ll be plunged into several dreary cold days, however, more and more days are filled with nature’s symphony of chorus frogs and birds descanting from their lofty perches. It seems like all creation is poised to wake up and begin the work of spring.

Thanks for reading!

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