Living Soil Series: A healthy garden is a diverse garden

Updated: Jun. 3, 2021 at 4:29 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Plant biodiversity can have a long list of benefits for farmers and gardeners.

“Biodiversity means, take a look at what you are putting in the soil, and how diverse are your seeds and your plants?” Tracy Robillard from the Alaska Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) said.

Robillard said to maximize the diversity below ground, you have to diversify what’s above the soil.

“Just one teaspoon of healthy soil contains a billion living organisms,” Robillard explained. “So the more variety of plant species you can get growing above ground, the more diverse root systems and chemical processes will take place underground to feed that complex web of soil microbiology.”

Soil scientists say a healthy and diverse ecosystem can better withstand an array of disasters. Disasters like climate change, pollution, insect pests, and disease all may be mitigated with plant biodiversity.

Bryce Wrigley is a barley farmer in Delta Junction. He plants a 16-variety cover crop on his fields during fallow, or rest years, to attract and feed a diverse array of organisms.

“It’s important to keep that food source there,” Wrigley said. “If you deplete it, it’s just like any other above-ground ecosystem. If there is no brush, then the moose population goes down. If there are no rabbits, then the fox population goes down. So if you don’t have the food source for the microbes, then the microbe population goes down.”

Wrigley said the first year he planted the cover crop, he went out to the field to identify which seeds sprouted.

“All of a sudden, I became aware of this hum. You hear it all around you,” Wrigley said. “I thought, ‘That is weird. I have never heard that before.’ I walked across the field road into a field of grain, and it was silent. It was quiet. I walked back over into the cover crops, and there was a constant buzz. I just fell in love with that.”

Wrigley was sold. He said he also plans on putting a pollinator garden in this year. These gardens are planted with flowers that provide nectar or pollen to a wide range of pollinating insects.

The NRCS says gardeners can benefit from bio-diversity too.

“In a garden setting, you may have a variety of root vegetables, your potatoes, carrots, onions, [and] you may have other non-root vegetables, your lettuces, your kale,” Robillard said. “You may also want to put in some pollinator habitat around your garden.”

Stay tuned as we continue our “Living Soil Series” and go over the principles of regenerative agriculture. Friday, we will look at what a ‘living root’ is and what benefits it can bring to your garden.

If you missed an episode of our “Living Soil Series,” check them out here:

Episode 1: Living Soil Series: Minimize ground disturbance for better garden harvest

Episode 2: Living Soil Series: Keep your garden soil happy by keeping it covered

For a deeper look at the Wrigley Farm, please visit our story: Regenerative Agriculture: Delta family farm hopes to address food insecurity, help the environment.

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