Healthy soils seminar in time for autumn
03 June 2022
Right in time for autumn soils testing, the Healthy Soils Seminar held by the Kangaroo Island Landscape Board (KILB) was a hit with the locals. Guest speaker Mary Retallack from Kangaroo Islands Eco-Vineyards accompanied internationally renowned expert and key speaker Mary Cole (Agpath). The day was held at Bay of Shoals Winery, a demonstration vineyard participating in the Eco-Vineyards Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Project. Bay of Shoals staff took time out from daily vineyard operations to host the event.
The day was aimed at exploring alternative soil management practices to increase soil health.
The morning started with a brief look at the soil testing anyone can do with equipment found in the shed. This series of simple tests looks at the physical aspects of soil, with specific focus on understanding its current state and watching for improvements or changes that different land management practices can make. The rest of the day was spent inside with an in-depth look at the role of soil microbiology and how to harness them to work for us. Mary went through a long list of ways that microbes improve the health of soils. Carbon storage, water retention, nutrients, plant health, pH and disease resistance are all influenced by microbes in soils.
Key take home messages from the day were:
- The dynamic role of bacteria and fungi can unlock nutrients in the soil, making it available for plant use. Many nutrients are often not plant soluble until the right kind and number of microbes are present in the soil.
- Retaining live roots in the soil feeds mycorrhizal fungi. This symbiotic relationship also proves beneficial by retaining water in the soil, aeration and nutrient cycling.
Inexpensive self-made microbial stimulants increase the microbes in soil. Benefits have been seen within 18 months. Dr Mary Cole discussed specific compost formulations for various agricultural practices, compost windrows, high thermal and aerobic compost rings and compost tea to encourage fungi. High quality compost can be used to make extracts and bio stimulants on-farm and can be utilised for large scale broad acre pasture, crops or perennial horticulture. Compost and bio stimulants can also be used as additional foliar sprays, and seed inoculants to improve germination rates.
Simple steps to improve and promote soil health include increasing the diversity of pasture with mixed cover crops, reducing synthetic fertiliser inputs and deep ripping if soil compaction is an issue. Seaweed/Kelp and low sodium molasses are inexpensive additives to feed microbes in the soil and can be applied with commonly used farm machinery. Reduction in synthetic fertilisers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides also reduces tractor passes, time and money.
Dr Mary Cole is an honorary senior fellow of The University of Melbourne with over 40 years of practical experience in the field of soil health, microbiology, composting, mycology, and the management of fungal pathogens with practical experience in a broad range of production systems.
Many of the over 40 people attending indicated an interest in learning more about biochar and making bio stimulants. To support this interest the KILB will facilitate the development of a ‘Biochar community of practice’ and a ‘DIY bio stimulant community of practice’. If you would like to participate in these communities of practice or want more information about the topics discussed or help with soil testing please contact the KILB – Regional Agricultural Landcare Facilitator on 0437 172 877 or email Cassandra.Douglas-Hill@sa.gov.au. This project is supported by the Kangaroo Island Landscape Board, through funding from the Australian Government.
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