Soil Health – A Quick Low Cost F:B Ratio Analysis

A tenet of biological farming with the soil food web is “Feed your soil and the soil will feed your plants”.  Applying management practices that develop and maintain desired microorganism levels and diversity, will feed the plants by cycling nutrients they need.  From a business standpoint, it’s important to know that applied material and labor are having the desired effect because the input costs impact the bottom line.  SymSoil’s Soil Testing Lab in Fairfield can do this analysis for you, but often a quick test is sufficient to monitor your soil.

But there is an inexpensive and rapid DIY test to assess and monitor the soil microbe biome and health of your soil, including the Fungal to Bacteria Biomass ratio.

What to measure and why

When soil organisms are nurtured, they benefit the whole system by cycling nutrients critical for plant growth.  Microorganisms like bacteria and fungi form the base of this food web – digesting and assimilating nutrients from decaying organic matter.  Slightly larger organisms like arthropods contribute by shredding the material – breaking it down into smaller pieces for faster processing.  The bacteria and fungi are consumed and excreted over time by their predators – nematodes, protozoa, earthworms.  This is the key to nutrient cycling: assimilation and immobilization followed by metered release that provides sustenance to plants.  Measuring the level of bacteria and fungi in your soil indicates how many microorganisms you have, to intake and hold on to nutrients – confirming there are enough of them to work at a useful rate, and that you have the correct fungal to bacterial ratio for your plants.

A rapid test for Total Biomass

The microBIOMETER® is one test which enables you to test your soil yourself, which saves the time required to ship samples to a lab and wait for results. Developed to enable anyone to do their own soil testing, this for anyone monitoring microorganism levels in soil. 

MicroBIOMETER comes as a complete package. Using their mixer and tubes, the sol sample is agitated in a solution designed to separate the microbes from the soil particles they normally adhere to.  A few drops of solution-plus-microbes are then applied to a membrane spot, which captures the microbes. 

Using your smart phone, and the MicroBIOMETER app, you snap a picture of the membrane, which sends the image to company. The software uses the image and compares the color intensity of the captured microbes with a built-in color intensity scale to determine the level of microbes in solution. While the company says you get your results in 20 minutes, if your are linked to wifi, we have found the service much faster – more often 2 to 3 minutes.

This type of measurement is useful for the following:

  • Comparing microbial biomass in soil after planting different cover crops, to evaluate which crop is most effective
  • Tracking microbial biomass levels over time to confirm the effectiveness of amendment application, or to confirm when amendment is needed (or not)
  • Evaluating compost quality
  • Determining an appropriate dilution for compost extract or tea
  • Determine if plants have been successfully colonized by AMF (arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi)

The advantage of the microBIOMETER test is speed and low cost.  From sampling to having the numerical data on your phone takes around 20 minutes and costs $10 per test.   This makes it practical to test multiple samples, such as multiple locations on a field, for a richer data set.  The microBIOMETER® test also returns data about the fungal to bacterial ratio in soil, a topic for a future blog post.

SymSoil is now offering the newest version of the MicroBIOMETER, with an introductory package with three test. Click here to purchase. This video explains the how their test combines optical recognition based on size and color from dye to rapidly assess the fungal to bacterial biomass ratio (F:B).

Soil Food Web
Soil Microbe Biome

The higher trophic levels are crucial to nutrient cycling and plant health. SymSoil offers laboratory services which include protozoa counts, fungal potential (fungal spore counts), assessment of pathogens and other insights from microscopy.

But the F:B ratio has proven to be the single best, stand-alone assessment of soil health, land fertility and now, is available as a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) quick test.

Once you have a handle on the state of your soil, SymSoil offers amendments to enhance your soil food web as needed: Robust Compost, V50, and Fungal Infused Biochar.

About SymSoil® Inc.

SymSoil is an evidence-based, soil health company with products and services to improve the profitability of all growers, based on a deep understanding of soil biology.  The company has soil amendments for agriculture that restore the full-spectrum of microbes that provide the right food to the plant roots, improving plant health, and making food more nutrient dense and flavorful, the way nature intended. SymSoil has products and services for growers using regenerative agriculture methodologies which improve profitability. SymSoil was named one of 2019’s AgTech Companies to Watch. Accredited Investors can learn more about SymSoil as an impact investment here.

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