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

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”

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

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Notice: Recommended Standard Methods for use as Soil Health Indicator Measurements

The Washington State Soil Health Committee recently commented on The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Notice: Recommended Standard Methods for use as Soil Health Indicator Measurements.

If you would like to comment, you can do so by following this link.

Here is the letter:

Continue reading “The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Notice: Recommended Standard Methods for use as Soil Health Indicator Measurements”

San Juan Native Tree Farm in Autumn Colors

Here is a native tree nursery in its autumn finery. When these bare-root plants were rescued they were skinny brown sticks. Now they are growing amazingly well, bursting with color and life. They will be transplanted by the Master Gardeners in the San Juan Islands to provide low-cost restoration throughout the islands, bringing native plant DNA to places where it has been removed. At the same time, these young trees will enrich the soils wherever they are planted for generations to come.

The Native Tree Farm is a program that was started by the Washington State Soil Health Committee in San Juan County. The project aims to distribute, at no cost, surplus native bare-root trees that would otherwise be destroyed at the end of the nursery season.

You can read the full story on the nursery here.

San Juan Native Tree Farm in Autumn Colors

San Juan Native Tree Farm in Autumn Colors

Save the Date: Healthy Soils, Healthy Region Workshop

Several regional organizations are coming together March 12-14, 2019 at the Pendleton Convention Center for a hands-on workshop and training seminar.

“The Healthy Soil, Healthy Region Workshop is a region-wide approach to bring together agricultural professionals and producers from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho for a 3-day workshop to improve awareness of existing, new, and evolving regional soil health practices and assessment methods. The workshop will provide hands-on training on soil health practices, improve understanding of the practical barriers producers face when implementing soil health practices, and increase familiarity with tools that can be used by producers to make decisions related to soil health. We will also strive to get the various groups working on soil health in the region on the same page regarding sampling protocols, method selection, and the current state of the science.”

Registration opens November 1, 2018: http://csanr.wsu.edu/healthysoils/

Fill out our conference planning survey: http://bit.ly/HSHRSurvey