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Digging Deeper: Unveiling the Secrets of Soil Science in Greenhouses

Greenhouses hold a fascinating secret beneath its roots: soil science. While the role of greenhouses in the agriculture sector is still evolving, their ability to contribute to the growth and health of plants is clear. In this week's podcast episode on The Grower and The Economist, we invite Eileen Mullet, a recent Soil and Crop Science graduate from University of Wisconsin, to share her experience working in the university greenhouse. So grab your gardening gloves and join us as we delve into the rich, nutrient-packed world of soil science!

University greenhouses have a different purpose than production greenhouses, but equally as important. Eileen shares that the manager was looking for someone reliable during the school year and Peter agrees that the most important person is the one holding the hose! Landscaping experience proved to set some expectations in the greenhouse for Eileen, which we have heard about in prior episodes on Landscaping of Edible Crops and Goatscaping. She talked about how greenhouses are soilless, but was able to experiment on a few projects with 50/50 Compost & Topsoil mix. Eileen exclaims,

Diversity is the way to produce soil health.

Different plants take different nutrients from the soil; for example, sunflowers tend to have deeper roots and use minerals from deeper in your soil. If you allow the sunflowers to decompose, you are bringing those minerals to the topsoil and making them more available for other plants. Nitrogen is a common nutrient that growers will add to their garden in the form of fertilizer. There are many different forms of nitrogen, but only 2 or 3 are included in a soil test. It is key to understand which nutrients are in your soil, but also which are plant accessible.

We get a snapshot of a day in the life of a Soil Science student with a background of the six soil classifications and even recent studies on characteristics of Kernza, a cross between a grain and wheatgrass in hopes of achieving the yield of grain and longevity of wheatgrass. Eileen underscores that perennials have a longer cycle, but they tend to produce less than annuals and annuals produce more seed, but tend to have a lower germination rate than perennials.

One major takeaway is that through all the various systems, there is always an equilibrium point. Eileen brings a passionate perspective on how much we don't know about the natural world and that there needs to be a balance. There are many benefits of organic matter in soil, but too much can actually cause soil to burn. It will be very exciting to see what Eileen gets into!

Listen to the full podcast and catch weekly episodes on all farming topics here.

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