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Soil health

Microbes in soil
Winter 2017

The microbe whisperers

Tarah Sullivan is fiercely insistent that we are all interconnected. The Washington State University soil microbiologist and ecologist says that understanding those connections is key to a healthy future.

“I know it sounds a little hokey,” the mother of two daughters apologizes without backing down: “Microorganisms connect everything everyday in every way. We absolutely could not survive on the planet without active and healthy microbiomes, in humans and in the environment.”

Sullivan’s work focuses on how microbial communities in soil impact heavy metal biogeochemistry. Many metals are important micronutrients for both plants and animals—but too much of a good thing can make plants sick. … » More …

Palouse Ridge Golf Club in morning
Fall 2017

Game changer

A small, brownish dry spot is visible on the ninth fairway at Palouse Ridge Golf Club.

Superintendent Mike Bednar is unbothered, which might seem a bit surprising given the course’s enviable reputation among national golfing groups.

“This is designed to play hard and fast,” says Bednar ’92, ’04, explaining Palouse Ridge needs to be a bit on the dry side to deliver the kind of gameplay challenge that’s kept it atop national rankings ever since its 2008 opening. “We’ve got an irrigation system that lets us water only when and where it’s necessary.”

 

The design isn’t just about gameplay, though.

As water becomes … » More …

Fall 2011

When soil goes sour

Ammonia based fertilizer, which provides nitrogen, can offer a great boost to even an otherwise not so healthy soil. But ammonia fertilizer, which depends on petroleum for its manufacture, is becoming very expensive. The consistent high yields of wheat on the Palouse depend on applying about 100 pounds of fertilizer per acre, with that fertilizer currently costing $50-80/ton. More significant, however, is not the cost, but the long-term effect of applying so much fertilizer.

Soils on the Palouse before farming were generally neutral, with a pH of 7, says Rich Koenig. Since then, the pH of the soil has dropped in some cases as much … » More …

Fall 2011

How you contribute to soil health

If you contribute your daily bodily wastes to a municipal waste treatment plant, you are more than likely directly benefiting Washington soils.

According to Puyallup soil scientist Craig Cogger, each person in Washington produces about 60 pounds of biosolids per year. “Biosolid” is a euphemism for human waste and other inputs once they have been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. For the past 15 years, Cogger has helped spread biosolids on wheat land in Douglas County and studied the effect.

That effect has surprised him.

“We have seen a remarkable increase in organic matter,” he says, “despite the fact that the amount of biosolids … » More …