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

Sentencing for South Okanagan man who sent Christmas card to shooting victim

A South Okanagan dangerous offender tacked on another nine months of prison time

Video: Bizarre incident in Penticton alley leads to arrest of Calgary man

A man was witnessed jumping on a car ‘acting like an ape’

Gucci Mane concert officially postponed in Penticton

Agency is looking at new tour dates between the Sept. 3 and 15

Proposed pharmacy on busy Penticton corner could mean intersection improvements

The lot at 595 Carmi Ave. would be narrowed to widen the traffic lanes

Penticton block party to give a boost to local youth

Ellis on the Rise block party takes place on May 24

Nominate your favourite businesses for the Best of the South Okanagan

Join the Penticton Western News as they celebrate the Best of the South Okanagan awards

DeLongs create sterling silver jewelry

Studio in Summerland has many unique pieces available

UBC prof says report citing $89B home equity loss a ‘grassroots movement of the rich’

Report says longtime homeowners are being taxed out of their homes by the NDP

Baby boom seniors putting pressure on B.C. long-term care: report

B.C. leads Canada in growth of dementia, dependence on care

RCMP probe if teen was intentionally hit with ski pole by mystery skier on B.C. mountain

The incident happened on March 20 on Grouse Mountain. Police are urging witnesses to come forward

VegFest drops Okanagan Ice Pops as sponsor

Controversy stirs over a bacon-chocolate flavoured popsicle

Roadside device to weed out THC can’t detect impairment, B.C. lawyer says

‘This fact alone is likely to have serious implications for Canadians’ Charter Rights,’ lawyer Sarah Leamon warns

Summerland skater excels at 2019 Victoria Day Super Series

Yuzuki Onishi competed at recent skating event

Most Read