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

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!

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

North Central Washington Cover Crop Tour October 4th, 2018

Hear from farmers about cover cropping and grazing in dryland wheat. There will also be updates from RMA, NRCS, and WSU on soil health and animal nutrition.

The Field Day will take place on October 4th, 2018. The tour will start at Cavadini Partnership in Bridgeport and end at the Double J ranch in Okanogan. Following the tour, there will be beverages and a BBQ.

Please RSVP by September 22nd. To RSVP, email rachel@okanogancd.org.

 

Tardigrade Are Soil Stars that Can Survive in Space

This interesting article mentions one of the soil stars, the Tardigrade, which has survived space travel. In fact, 68% Tardigrade came back to Earth alive after being launched into space without spacesuits!
Here is the excerpt about them from the article on alien microbes:
“Little, if anything, is (publicly) known yet about the actual characteristics of the “alien” bacteria. The fact that they were found on the outside of the ISS, in low-Earth orbit, is intriguing, but nothing conclusive can be said until it can be determined they didn’t originate from Earth itself. There are many different kinds of microorganisms on Earth, and it is possible that some could get lofted into low-Earth orbit. They are already known to exist in the upper atmosphere and it’s also known that at least one type of microorganism can survive in space itself for some periods of time – tardigrades (water bears). In 2007, some living tardigrades were sent into space on the outside of a FOTON-M3 rocket for ten days by European researchers. 68 percent of them survived the trip, including coming back to Earth. Perhaps there are some other tiny earthly bugs which could do that as well.”
Read the full article from EarthSky here.

Washington State Soil Health Project Reports 2017

These are the first reports for the eight new contracts for 2017-2020 and for the continuation in 2017 of the first round of projects, which received additional funding. The results are encouraging and, in some cases, fascinating. By demonstrating positive outcomes, these results will promote better soil practices in our state.

Palouse Rock Lake Conservation District:
A new project to measure and compare moisture retention in cover crop fallow and direct seed fallow.

This study is a home run. By comparing moisture retention every four inches up to 48” in side by side cover crop fallow and direct seed fallow, the study has these results so far:

  1. No net loss of moisture in cover crop fallow as compared to direct seed fallow
  2. Decrease in soil temperature in cover crop fallow, which benefits soil organisms
  3. Suppression of weeds without herbicides
  4. Reduction of soil compaction, which enhances moisture absorption and retention
  5. Reduction in soil erosion
  6. Early signs of possible increase in yield

San Juan Conservation District:
Continuation of biochar project begun in 2016. Following up on the original six-farm test plots, in which biochar was added to soil, the yield will be evaluated in the spring of 2018. In addition to the test plots, biochar kilns were designed and provided to forest landowners on each of the four ferry-served islands. Workshops were offered on each island to demonstrate how to make biochar from forest waste. Online instructions are available for making biochar at home.

Biochar was added as an alternative to the slash burns in the County’s draft Solid Waste Management Plan.

The San Juan CD also starts a new three-year project to introduce no till-direct seed practices to the county, including use of cover crops to improve soil health and limit use of chemicals.

Underwood Conservation District:
Completion of original 2015-2016 project to monitor soil moisture in test plots in an orchard, using a control plot, a plot with compost, and a plot with compost and mulch

Results so far show no significant difference in moisture. We are waiting to hear if there is any difference in productivity (yield). We have questions about the 2017 workshop: how may attended, who were the presenters, and what did they present?

Washington Environmental Council:
Continuation of Nisqually Community Forest project which aims to create a template for sustainable forest practices in Pacific Northwest forests.

  1. The project has linked sustainable forest practices with improvements in both water quality and quantity
  2. DOE’s Clean Water Revolving fund was changed to allow sustainable forest projects including forest land purchases
  3. First certified Carbon Project with 520 acres saved from clear-cutting with Microsoft buying the carbon credits
  4. Set up protocol and step-by-step process for creating and selling carbon credits to offset the cost of land purchases
  5. Demonstrating that by growing trees longer, e., longer harvest rotations, the forest is more resilient and stores more carbon over time; older forests also provide better wildlife habitat

    Whitman Conservation District:
    Experiments with various cover crops in the Palouse to identify those best for fall and for spring and to determine whether pelletized compost adds extra yield or other ecological benefits. This will be evaluated in the spring of 2018.

Washington State University: Soil Health Field Day
Soil Health Field Day in Davenport at the experimental farm. Well attended with dozens of farmers and conservationists. Highlighted soil differences between no-till and conventional test plots.

Washington State University:
First year of three-year study of soil characteristics in irrigated agriculture in Eastern Washington.

  1. 60 soil samples were studied from 30 growers to establish a baseline.
  2. Some of the results were surprising, for example, that the amount of soil fines was inexplicably low in many sites.
  3. Several “exemplary soils” were discovered, which were also surprising. More research will be done to discover the secret of those exemplary soils
  4. This study includes a process of evaluating which soil health measurements are of value, and which are not.