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GROTEK BIOLOGY SERIES – THE BIGGER PICTURE


Alright so Greg, today we are going to talk about biology and the amazing impact it can have on plants in your garden, but I think before we get right into how it impacts your garden we really need to consider the bigger picture. And a lot of that relates to ecosystems and I know that a lot of people watching this video are going to understand ecosystems, a lot of the time they are things that you can see, they are very visible. But what we want to focus on is an ecosystem that’s actually invisible and underneath our feet. Yeah whenever I am thinking about bringing ecological services into the garden or into the grow room, it’s always good to have a good understanding of why that is. It’s not just randomly grabbing some kind of biology and throwing it in, but it’s going back and fully understanding how species co-evolved together. As you mentioned, we are quite aware of the ecology above the ground, we see plants and animals and I think most people have a basic understanding of how they’ve interacted and co-evolved over time to fill different niches. But there is a far more biological diversity and more species beneath our feet in the soil. Generally people disregard soil, we’ve maybe learned in school about different trophic levels and decomposers that are in the soil in the form of bacteria and fungi, but to really understand all of complexity and diversity in the soil and how we often focus on pathogenic species but there is far more beneficial species in the soil that are all working together for a common goal, whether that’s intentional or not, it’s all about serving the needs of each organism and so… All of these plants that we grow, all of our food crops, they all come from wild plants, and millions of years of feedback systems and finding their place. So when we have a garden that we manage as humans or we have a grow room, those are very synthetic artificial situations and I think even the best scientists still only have a cursory understanding of the full depth of ecological interactions. So in order to bring those into our gardens and get the benefit out of it… I guess traditionally, agriculture took a turn where we just viewed soil as a medium for anchoring roots and holding water and nutrients, we’re now really understanding all these other benefits. In the grow room and the potted culture now, there is a huge shift and an emphasis on living soils, and bringing in some of those ecological services to either increase nutrient uptake or nutrient availability, drought tolerance, immune response. There’s all kinds of benefits that we can get from utilizing biology. I think in terms of that ecosystem and all that complexity you’ve mentioned, something that people who are familiar with living soil, and maybe they’re not even familiar with that topic, would understand the soil food web. So if people have heard of the soil food web, that’s exactly what it’s referring to is those different levels, like you’ve suggested, with the bacteria, the fungi, the protozoa, a little bit of everything and how those are all interacting together. Part of the reason to bring biology into the system like you said, is because these container based systems are really inert and it’s really important to understand that foundation that plants have with all the organisms. I think that something within that plant-biology interaction that is super important is the rhizosphere. The rhizosphere is basically that zone where biology and plants really meet in that intense dance that they have together, and so much can happen in that space. Certainly, you know what I found really interesting in studying soils is the focus on all the biology and all the amazing life that is in the soil, actually a lot of soils can kind of be like a desert with oases, and those oases can be the rhizosphere. So you can get these dead areas in the soil and then you get right around the root and that very thin band where you get this intense biological activity and it doesn’t mean that in other areas there aren’t biology doing… but there just tends to be a lot of available resources just like an oasis in the desert supplies water to allow plants and animals to flourish in that environment. The same is in the rhizosphere of the
plant, and that’s because the plant is excreting compounds that are either food for fungi or bacteria, or they’re stimulatory compounds or some sort of benefit. Plants will actually excrete specific compounds to attract specific organisms to serve a function that is missing. This is the really interesting thing, plants
are trying to control their environment to a certain extent, if they need a specific type of help, they’re going to send out certain signals to actually attract those things that are going to help them the most. And not just plants are doing that, the
bacteria and the fungi, they’re also signalling. We can call it ‘chemical communication’ in a sense, by excreting compounds. The fascinating thing is how intricate this
system can be once you start looking at it and really observing what’s happening in that zone. You’re right, there is so much intense activity happening and there’s so many different transactions. I don’t want to make it seem like a business proposal but that is what’s happening, plants and other organisms are making decisions together about how much they want to work together in that given environment. It is a really interesting area to study. These types of relationships go all the way back. You can look at plants coming out of the ocean, where still the majority of plants actually live, but coming out of the ocean and coming onto that rocky sort of thing that was to be earth, in the end, and immediately they found fungi and started that relationship together. Yeah you’re right because originally there wasn’t really much in the way of soil. Soil takes a long time to evolve so plants were colonizing, when they first came on to land, rocks and different things. Well obviously it’s hard to pry nutrients out of rocks so by forming these kinds of relationships with fungi that can actually solubilize rocks and dissolve it, then absorb the nutrients and do an exchange with the plants, there was a good mutual relationship. Yeah and that’s sort of abstract, going back hundreds of millions of years, but if anyone has been on a hike recently, if you see lichen growing on rock, you’re seeing that initial relationship still happening today on that rocky surface. It’s really really interesting and so, the key for gardeners in this whole equation, is to try and figure out how to take these infinitely complex relationships and take advantage of them in the garden. There’s going to be a lot of ways that a garden can benefit from biology but from your perspective Greg, what do you think some of the key reasons to bring biology into the garden might be? Resilience. To me, it all comes down to creating a resilient growing system. And that resiliency comes from a degree of complexity I believe. If we over simplify things just as, if you go to the prairies you’ll see wide swaths of the same crop. Well farmers are constantly battling nutrient deficiencies, pest and disease infestations, because that’s an overly simplified sytem. And it’s leaving a lot of, what is really an ecological niche, open for an organism to come and fill. So in our own gardens I think we can create resiliency by trying to fill the ecological niches, to the best of our ability. As I said, even the best growers, even the best scientists, we’re still learning, we still have a very limited view on all these interactions that take place in nature. But by bringing the biology into your own garden you can start to fill these niches. Again, to help improve the turnover of nutrients in the soil, but also, if you’ve got beneficial bacteria and fungi living in these places it makes it harder for pathogenic species to find their place. Also a lot of these beneficial species made penicillin, for example, was isolated from the soil. And it has similar anti bacterial properties in the soil. So what is it called? Systemic Immune Response in plants and certain bacteria and fungi can help stimulate immunity in plants. So by bringing that biology in you’re creating a more stable system. Sure. That resilience is critical, and I think the resilience comes from overall soil health by filling those niches liked you’ve suggested. I think also too, there’s an aspect of quality as well for the plants that are grown in systems that use biology. You can actually enhance certain properties and you can, through the mineralization of the soil, actually get a better nutrient profile in plants. Improving how healthy they are for you to eat. Like you said, we almost have a barren wasteland in a lot of growing systems that we use, where we’re really trying to keep things as simple as possible. Because simplicity is generally a very good thing for us. It’s easy to understand. The problem is, the soil ecosystem is just so infinitely complex. In a handful of soil you might have as many organisms as you have people on the planet, in healthy soil. So I think that’s what you’re getting at, is resilience is really all about that diversity in the soil as well. Yeah and it helps with regulation as well. You mentioned you get a better nutrient profile when you’re bringing the biology in, but it also helps plants regulate nutrient uptake. As well as to buffer some of the negative consequences of either an under supply or an over supply of nutrients. Improving drought tolerance. We know about mycorrhizael fungi, not only do they help with nutrient uptake but they effectively expand the forging network of a plant’s roots. And also helps with drought tolerance because it’s able to access water out of the reach of individual roots. Yeah I mean, there’s no question that biology and building a diverse system around your plants roots is going to enhance your productivity and really get that plant to achieve maximum yield. And I think we’re going to need a couple of other talks to talk about things like bacteria, fungi, some of the big functional groups. And within those groups, how many different types of help you can actually get. So I’m really looking forward to digging into some of those topics. Yeah, so am I.
It’s going to be an exciting time.

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