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October 6, 2022 33 min

Soil is alive and we want a lot of life in the soil. According to Deborah Neher, Professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Science at the University of Vermont, healthy soils have three components. These are a range of different pore sizes to help with structure as well as balance water and air; balanced pH and nutrients; and organic matter to hold moisture and nutrients as well as provider microbes. Soil structure is created by mineral particles, bacteria, fungi, and plant roots. What determines a good quality soil depends on the ecosystem – a forest has different needs than active farmland.

Bacteria and fungi are the life forms most associated with soil health. Some tests show the number of fungi and bacteria and their ratio to one another. However, they are not showing what is in the soil and there is still limited research on what these fungi and bacteria are doing. Often bacteria are associated with negative health factors. But there are many good bacteria that promote plant growth by producing nutrients or making nutrients more available. Others provide biological control. And others convert nitrogen in concert with legumes. Fungi can also be good and bad. Their structure is like linking pipes so they connect plants. This can help cope with drought conditions by pulling water from faraway sources.

Deborah also touches on how to properly compost to kill off pathogens and weed seeds. Through research, she found that the process is more complicated than knowing the nitrogen to carbon ratio – the type of carbon matters! Her lab tried the same nitrogen to carbon compost “recipe” in three different production methods: windrow, aerobic static piles (ASP), vermicomposting. Each final product had completely different fungal and bacterial communities. Listen in to learn what kind of carbon is best for disease suppression.


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Craig Macmillan  0:00 

I'm your host, Greg McMillan and our guest today is Dr. Deborah Neher. She's a professor in the Department of Plant soil science, the University of Vermont. And today we're going to talk about soil health. Welcome to the podcast.


Deborah Neher  0:10 

Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

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