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Washington State High School Students Study Tardigrades

Last week, Lynn Bahrych delivered 30 living tardigrades to the science classes at the Friday Harbor High School on San Juan Island. The tardigrades will be studied and hopefully “cultured” in the classroom as part of a campaign to have the tardigrade designated as Washington State’s “Micro-Animal.”

On November 12, 2019, following the delivery of the tardigrades, Lynn and a volunteer marine biologist and videographer, Dr. Michael Noonan,  joined Sam Garson, the Friday Harbor High School science teacher, to introduce the project to his science class. Mr. Garson had prepared slides for the classroom microscopes, as well as a worksheet  (titled “Behold the Mighty Water Bear”) and video introductions of the tardigrade and the research being done on it now to study evolutionary development (”evo devo”).  

Not much is known for sure about tardigrades, so these students might be able to contribute something new to the field. Tardigrade ecology is in its “infancy,” according to experts. Exciting new ideas may come from the three classrooms across the state participating in this project. In addition to the Friday Harbor High School on San Juan Island, the Riverday School in Spokane, and the Roosevelt Middle School in Olympia are studying the enigmatic “moss piglet” or “water bear.”

For the state designation of the tardigrade, there are three state legislative sponsors at this time; Representative Jeff Morris of District 40, who is the primary sponsor,  Senator Debra Lekanoff also from District 40, and Representative Marcus Riccelli from Spokane.  Once the bill is filed in Olympia, other legislators will be invited to sign on.

This is the education and outreach project for the Soil Health Committee for 2019-2020. The goal is to raise awareness of soil health across the state by focusing on a charismatic animal that lives in soil and, in ways we are only beginning to understand, contributes to soil health.

A few fascinating facts about tardigrades:

  • In 2008, two “super-predator” Tardigrade species were discovered that suppress nematode communities despite being greatly outnumbered by the nematode populations. This may be very good news for producers with nematode issues. That is, unless the tardigrades also eat beneficial critters, which is why more research is needed.
  • In 2015, Japanese scientists found “high expressions of novel tardigrade-unique proteins,“ including one that suppresses radiation damage When inserted in human cultured cells, this unique tardigrade protein suppressed X-ray damage to human cells by 40%.
  • Tardigrades work as a “pioneer species” by inhabiting new developing environments and attracting other invertebrates, including predators looking for food.
  • Tardigrade species have been found in fossils 530 million years old and are often described as the champions of climate change, having survived the last five mass extinctions.

Earn Income for Enriching Your Soil

This program is available to agricultural producers through 2019 who sign up on the indigoag.com website.


In June of 2019, an international project was launched to pay farmers by the acre of cropland to adopt “regenerative growing practices.” It’s called the “The Terraton Initiative.” 


In the few months since it started, ten million acres of cropland have been enrolled by producers willing to use one or more regenerative practices, for example, cover crops, crop rotation, no-till, reduced pesticide, and fertilizer, or integrated livestock management. Producers receive a minimum of $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide sequestered in their soils, as measured by remote sensing and breakthroughs in data science. It is now possible to make accurate, efficient, affordable measurements of soil carbon levels by remote sensing methods.  The producers who have enrolled their cropland in this program will not only build healthier soil, which will increase their yield but will be paid a bonus for doing so. 


For more information on this new program, go to indigoag.com

New Findings in Plant Root and Fungal Interaction Help to Resolve the Complexity of Soil Carbon Cycling

The general background of this research is that a major part of the global carbon pool is stored underground, in our boreal forests, in the form of organic matter. It is only now becoming clear how plant roots contribute to the formation of organic matter, especially to the concentration of nitrogen in it. The latest research on soil nitrogen shows that some plant roots promote high concentrations of organic soil nitrogen, thus contributing to for formation of organic matter, where carbon is stored. 

Read the article from Phys.org

Washington Grown Season 6, Episode 12, Segment 3 – Washington State Soil Health Committee

Here’s the segment of Washington Grown featuring farmer Dale Gies and Harold Cross with the Washington State Soil Health Committee.

The part of the episode featuring the Washington State Soil Health Committee was shot on October 3rd, 2018. It was filmed on Dale Gies’ potato farm outside of Moses Lake, WA. Dale plants mustard before planting potatoes as a way to control nematodes instead of using commercial fumigants. Here’s some behind-the-scenes footage from the day of filming.

Girl Meets Dirt

At a recent Orcas Island Farmers Market in the San Juan Islands, our Committee Chair, Lynn Bahrych, ran into Girl Meets Dirt. Girl Meets Dirt is an established business on Orcas. They make organic jams, shrubs, and spreads from heritage fruit produced at old orchards that they help maintain. Girl Meets Dirt helps the orchardist do the pruning and soil enhancements for the fruit trees. Then they harvest and process the fruit. Girl Meets Dirt creates new and delicious jams from the ground up, starting with soil health improvement. This is why we decided to share a bit about them!

Klickitat County Washington Cover Crop Trials

Our friends at NRCS Pullman have been doing cover crop trials. The NRCS Pullman Plant Materials Program staff started a forage cover crops field trial in the Columbia Hills on a dryland wheat/fallow cropping system. They were evaluating cover crops planted in fall or late winter of the fallow year for establishment, growth, forage production and weed control.  A Great Plains no-till drill was used to plant several cover crop mixes and several varieties of winter peas.  The winter planting was done on March 7, 2018, and the fall planting was done on September 11, 2018.  Monitoring was conducted periodically throughout the growing season.  


Click here to read the full report. Below are some pictures from the trials. A special thank you goes out to Soil Health Committee Member Allen Casey for sharing.

Electricity “Eating” Bacteria and Soil Health

Bacteria, which are one of the essential organisms in healthy soil, have been shown to  “eat” electricity and transfer it to metals or other solid surfaces, producing a stream of electricity. An experiment by WSU scientists has revealed electricity-consuming bacteria living in a Yellowstone Park hot spring.

For the first time, scientists made a successful in situ collection of bacteria living in hot springs in Yellowstone National Park and using an unconventional source – electricity – for food and energy.

Thanks to EarthSky.org for publishing an great article about this:

“These bacteria eat and breathe electricity”

Washington Grown Episode: Underground

This episode of Washington Grown went underground! The crew visited Urban Eden Farm in Spokane to learn about some of the crops they grow underground and how they care for their soil. They also talked with members of our Washington State Soil Health Committee about what farmers are doing in the state to improve soil health. Keep watching until the end, because they make a delicious beet salad at Salare and get a unique burger recipe from a viewer as well! Finally, the Washington Grown crew visited 2nd Harvest to learn how they are bringing food security to the area as well as helping clients learn how to prepare healthy food.


The part of the episode featuring the Washington State Soil Health Committee was shot on October 3rd, 2018. It was filmed on Dale Gies’ potato farm outside of Moses Lake, WA. Dale plants mustard before planting potatoes as a way to control nematodes instead of using commercial fumigants. Here’s some behind-the-scenes footage from the day of filming.

Governor Inslee Discusses Soil Health and Farming

In March of 2017, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee discussed soil health and farming in the state of Washington.

“One of the great blessings of the state of Washington is our farmland and preserving it is not only iconic for the state of Washington but necessary for our survival economically.” Says Governor Inslee in his opening remarks.

If you do not want to watch the entire session, you can skip ahead. The section about soils starts at 19.28 and runs through 22.24.

Thank you to Results Washington and TVW for supplying the video.

Washington Grown Video Shoot – Behind the Scenes

On October 3rd, 2018, the television show “Washington Grown” filmed on Dale Gies’ farm Dale Gies is a potato farmer outside of Moses Lake, WA. Dale plants mustard before planting potatoes as a way to control nematodes instead of using commercial fumigants. These are some clips from the day of filming.

Washington Grown Video Shoot