- [Narrator] On this Volunteer Gardener, Annette Shrader visits with a backyard gardener utilizing best practices to achieve success. Soil building, success of planting, and trellising, contribute to the yield. Tammy Algood visits with a pair of new gardeners who enjoy the fellowship and knowledge found in a community garden. Sheri Gramer combines the right ingredients to create a thriving closed terrarium garden. And Julie Berbiglia highlights the most unusual way to test soil quality. It's the "Soil Your Undies Challenge" that's happening at Vanderbilt University. Join us. Sunflowers are pretty in the summer garden, but did you know they are also toxin accumulators? - I'm sure you notice as you drive through the countryside, there's a process going on in the fields, it's called no-till, but let's take this no-till process into our own home gardens. It is very feasible and Joeleen is gonna tell us from her experience, experience being the best teacher, tell us about what you're gonna do to make this garden a no-till process. - Okay. So we have clay soil, and it's very hard to grow anything in, but it holds all this great nutrients. So we started to bring in organic matter, we brought in sand to help break up that clay soil for drainage. - [Annette] So under here, there's nothing but clay soil? - It's clay. And then we started to bring in some mulch and some compost, and that just helps us feed it. - So is there a particular mulch? - There's not, we just look for the most organic. We don't want any kind of fillers or additives. We're just trying to reproduce nature. - And so, you have done your own composting and you've bought compost even from a local resource. That's a good thing to know about it. Okay. Now what you have planted here, what are you going to want this no-till to have in it, to grow your vegetables as far as microbe, and all of that? Tell us that. - Well, we wanted to stay like nature. We don't wanna interrupt anything that's happening under the soil. So, you know, there's a lot of good fungus and microorganisms that live under there. And the second you till it, you bring up that weed seed to the top, you have more weeds and then you're killing those microbes with sunlight. So what we're doing is just layering it, killing those weeds seeds, and then eventually we'll come in and do either all watermelons or peas, or you just dig it with your finger and you stick the seed in and you water it. And that's all you have to do. - You know, you're bringing back a memory for me, "The Victory Gardens," I watched it years and years ago. And they said on that program, "The ideal soul for any Gardener's dream "is to be able to go out and take your finger, "plunge it into the soil and plant your seeds." And that's what you're going for. All right, and around this area, you're utilizing some other things. For instance, you've planted beans. What are they doing for you here? - [Joeleen] These fix the nitrogen in the soil. And if we go through and plant tomatoes, tomatoes are gonna suck that nitrogen out. So you're gonna follow it with peas. - [Annette] Well, you can start in the Spring with peas. - [Joeleen] You can, you can start peas actually in February. - [Annette] Yeah. And behind us, what is your purpose in planting okra? Is that something that's gonna do something for you? - [Joeleen] Okra is just a Southern favorite. The sunflowers are gonna bring pollinators and they are toxin miners. So they pull any toxin that's in your soil out. So with it being the back of the fence- - [Annette] The sunflower? - [Joeleen] The sunflower, yeah. - [Annette] Oh, that's good to know. - So we planted on the back of this fence line, the sun rises here and sets over here. So, in theory when these get tall enough, they'll all face out towards the front of the garden. And then when they drop, we'll feed the chickens. - [Annette] In your estimation and how long will it be before you believe that this is going to be maximum ready for no-till? - [Joeleen] It'll be ready this year. - [Annette] Oh, it will? - It will. - [Annette] Well, it's obvious that you are a grower. And I think that interestingly, along the outskirts of this area that you're gonna do no-till, there's some vertical garden that I'd like to look at a few things that you have. - [Joeleen] Okay. - [Annette] This is a perfect example of pole beans. Now, do you have any advantages that you really like, or are there any disadvantages? - [Joeleen] There's no disadvantages in growing this vertical. I just love that I can come in and clean up the bottom and keep it free of pests and the leaves that fall. And vertically, it can get just so tall and then it just flops over the back. So it gives me more space. - [Annette] So these are the kind that don't get shaggy. And I actually can see what will happen with the pole bean. Do you see it starting to grow new little shoots down here? - [Joeleen] Yes. - [Annette] By having those leaves off, you're gonna get another set of blooms and another set of vines coming off just like right here is doing. So you're gonna provide a second crop from that. When you grow your tomatoes this way, the process of removing leaves from the bottom, do you find that really does help? - [Joeleen] It does help. It helps with circulation, blight, soil bouncing up onto the leaves and causing other things that aren't so great for them. - [Annette] Yeah. And for sure the air circulation is so important. - [Joeleen] It is. And I can plant under there. - [Annette] True. Well, now, you're trying another experiment on your garden. Let me go talk to you about that. - [Joeleen] Okay. - [Annette] I'm interested in this Joeleen, tell us about it. - This is a warm bed with potatoes growing in it. It's my first year trying these, they're getting close to getting to be ripe because they're starting to die off. And in the center is- - [Annette] Under this. - [Joeleen] Under that is the worms. - [Annette] Okay. And what are your plans for them? - The worms hopefully will produce enough worm castings for us to harvest. And the worms themselves reproduce really quick, so we can scoop them out and add them to our beds. - So they can travel, do their thing into the potatoes, or they can go down? - [Joeleen] They can go down into the clay soil and come back up to eat. - [Annette] I like the looks of this. What is it? - [Joeleen] These are sweet potatoes, grown vertically, hopefully. - [Annette] So you're gonna harvest downward? - [Joeleen] Yes. - [Annette] From these sweet potatoes? - [Joeleen] Mm-hmm. - [Annette] Well, they are beautiful there. And you know, if people let them grow out on the ground, then they have issues with weeds growing up. But this is aesthetically pleasing. And I hope you have a good harvest, you said board guard? - [Joeleen] Yes. - [Annette] Okay. I wanna know the results from this because- - [Joeleen] I will let you know. - [Annette] For the eye, it's beautiful. - [Joeleen] It's my first year trying it. I just need to utilize all the space I have. So I wanted to keep the vines up off the ground. - So you see, you are a perfect example of if you don't grow it and experience it, how are you gonna know what you're gonna do next year? And don't ever get discouraged because when we try things, it doesn't mean it's gonna work. But obviously you have found the key to what is working in your gardens. And you've taken knowledge from all resources. - [Joeleen] I have. - [Annette] I applaud you because not everyone does their research the way you have, and you are showing great results. Thank you for giving us the knowledge that you have today. - [Joeleen] Well, thanks for coming and sharing it with me. - [Sheri] Terrariums have been around for a long time, many years. In fact, they're coming back into Vogue again. We have a whole new group of people that are interested in making terrariums, and we're gonna visit with Lindsey today, and she's gonna show us the ins and outs of terrarium building. - So there's several different ways to build a terrarium. The way we do them in the store is with sand, gravel, and soil. You can pretty much build a terrarium in any type of vessel that has a lid. For it to be a self-contained ecosystem, it has to have a lid. Therefore, it keeps its oxygen in its inside and creates rain for itself. - So what's it called if it doesn't have a lid, a dish container? - A dish garden, yeah. And those just have to be watered weekly like every other house plant. you can typically build yours with gravel first or sand first. My sand is a little bit finer right now. So I'm gonna do sand so that I get to see the different levels within my terrarium, making it aesthetically pleasing. - So the purpose of the sand and the gravel is really just to keep it drained well then? - Yes, basically acting like the layers of the earth. - And some people use charcoal, and you use that too? - Yes, the only reason you would use charcoal is to keep the skunkiness out of your terrarium. And initially when we build our terrariums, we only water them in the beginning, and they're good for six to eight months. So the only reason you would use the charcoal is if you weren't taking care of it correctly 'cause- - It was over watered. - Yes, it was over watered and you get a skunky smell. So therefore that is what the charcoal does. - [Sheri] Just good quality potting soil? - Yep, this is just Miracle-Gro, it's got a little bit of fertilizer in it. It's just basic house plants. So after you get your layers, so one of the rules of thumb is when you're building a terrarium is you choose plants based on your size because your plants do not want to touch the sides, 'cause that's where the moisture rolls down the glass. And when the moisture rolls down the glass, if the leaf is touching the glass, it will take a mold and go all the way to the plant. - [Sheri] So as the plant material grows in there, if it starts touching the sides, you can go in there where the pair of scissors and trim it off the sides, I assume? - [Lindsey] Yeah, like just giving it a little haircut. - [Sheri] Okay. - [Lindsey] So that is a little Button Fern, and this is a Plumosa Fern. These two thrive off lots of humidity, so they're perfect in a terrarium. - [Sheri] So it's important to, as you're saying, to pick plants that thrive well with high humidity. - [Lindsey] Correct. So there's the two plants. - [Sheri] I love that Plumosa, that's one of my favorites. - I know they're so dainty and pretty. - Anything Special about the moss? - [Lindsey] This moss was foraged from the Tennessee River. It's just your everyday moss. You find it in the funnest places when you're going on hikes. So you just place it in there, like so. - [Sheri] So sometimes you might get a snail or a little bit of a bug? - So yeah, sometimes you will get fun friends in there. Snails are really fun to watch, but just be careful to watch them closely because that's a really expensive snack for them. You could wake up one morning and then all your plants would be gone. So now that we put the moss, sometimes it's really fun to come back and grab some gravel. - [Sheri] So you could put in beach glass, driftwood, anything that- - Oh, yes. I've done some terrariums with little girls. And instead of doing natural stone, we did aquarium stone, which was bright pink and that's just gives it a different look. - And you're gonna put a cute little mushroom in there I'm guessing. - Yep, we can always accessorize anything. So you're going to add the little mushroom. - [Sheri] Lindsey, I'm curious, what sizes do you use, any size? - [Lindsey] I mean, you could go big to go home or you can go super small. I've done little tiny closures with one tiny Fern and, or even just moss with a little- - [Sheri] Always glass? - [Sheri] Always glass, yes. Plastic doesn't give the effect that it needs to keep the oxygen in and therefore make it rain on itself, creating the ecosystem. - [Sheri] Okay, great. All right. Well thank you for sharing Lindsey. - [Lindsey] Awesome, thank you. - How do you feed the need to garden when you're in the middle of an urban area? Well, you come to the Farm in the city community garden, and that's where we are right now in the middle of downtown, Nashville. And I have two great Volunteer Gardeners with me, Kawema and Jonathan. And you all have a plot here in your community garden. - We do. - I love it. So tell me how you got started with this Kawema. I'm assuming you were the spearhead for this. - At first, yes. I started really with flowers in front of the house because I just love flowers. And then I heard about the community garden and I had walked past, seen it, it was beautiful. It was a little bit intimidating, but I thought, "Yeah well, let's see what it is," Came and talked a lot, but she's so warm, so welcoming, so encouraging. Just like, "Oh no, it's for beginners." And so, I came up and started and Jonathan moved next door and started helping me with the flowers out front. And I told him about the garden and said, "What do you think?" And he's like, "Yeah, let's do it." And I said, "Okay, as long as you know "I don't know what I'm doing, "and we are learning this together." So about a year and a half, two years ago, we started with seeds and that didn't work. Like nothing grew, but we were still excited. So this year we decided to start with plants. - You know, we all have those garden experiences where you think something's going to grow and it just doesn't happen. - [Kawema] Just doesn't happen. - I like to wait patiently. Like we waited a long time for these to grow. And I love getting out with somebody that I met and I can talk to her. I just love coming outside, seeing nature and more. I just love looking at gardens and stuff like that. - I love that you're patient with the process because you have to be for gardening. And tell us about what you're growing. 'Cause obviously you have marigolds here and they're beautiful. Tell me what else you've decided to grow in your area here. - [Jonathan] We decided to grow three variates types of peppers. We have shards, yeah, that's only what we're growing now. - [Kawema] And some basil. - Oh, and our basil. - [Tammy] Oh yeah, basil. Are you learning that you like produce just as much as you like flowers? - I do. The flowers give me more instant joy, because you can plant them and there they are and they're gorgeous. But these give me another kind of joy and like Jonathan said about being patient and waiting on them to grow. And when you see that first pepper come out, it's just like, you just couldn't tell me anything that day. It's like, "I grew a pepper! We grew a pepper!" - Tell me about what you will do. Will you expand your gardening with this? Or do you think that this is just about the space that you need for gardening? - Well, I was thinking, and we would've to talk a lot about that because I'm thinking we might need another plot just so we can grow some different things. 'Cause as I was researching I saw you can't grow certain things together. And we had to decide if we wanted tomatoes or peppers, because from what I read, it said don't put those in the same place. So I'd like us to have some options, but we'll see, we don't wanna be greedy. I really would like all of these plots to be taken up. And if that is the case, that is absolutely fine. And we will continue to function in this space. - So now do you look at yourselves as seasoned gardeners? - [Kawema] I wouldn't say seasoned. I wouldn't say seasoned. - [Tammy] But it's fun, right? - It's fun. - [Jonathan] It's fun. Stay in the house all the time. I like to go outside, get some sun in my skin and like to garden a lot. - Way to go Jonathan. I appreciate your passion for it. And that you were stepping out of your box into this box and making it so that I'm gonna learn by doing. So, we appreciate that and I hope the lesson is that you can do it. - You can do it. - Don't be intimidated. - Ain't that what we said? If we can do it, anybody can do it. We didn't know what we were doing, and here we are. - And it's producing and it's beautiful. So thank you for stepping out and doing that and we appreciate you being part of our show. - Thank you. - Thank you. - Well, there are all kinds of ways to test your soil, but my favorite way to test soil that I've just found about actually got started in about 2018 out in Oregon and well, we're digging up our special test device now. Chris, what you got down there? - We have a pair of cotton underpants that we buried about two months ago. - Oh my gosh, it is the "Soil Your Undies Challenge." And let's see what's coming out. Okay. So what I'm seeing here is a pair of very large underwear with a little bit of a rip in them. And what is this telling me about this soil? - This is telling you that there's very little microbial activity in this particular site. This pair itself was not very well degraded. And so in fact, looking at previous examples, it's almost entirely intact. So the whole concept was to look at soil health and get to people to understand how the practices that they're doing, the traditional practices, can actually over time, degrade the soil. And so the whole concept of soil health gets people to think about the way that they're managing their land so that when they're looking 10 years down the line or 20 years down the line, they're improving the overall soil quality. And that's not just about the nutrients, it's about having a robust microbial community, so we talk about microbiomes. And the idea of proliferating communities that can help to withstand disease and drought, helps to overall boost the productivity of these soils. - Okay. So we do often talk about soil is alive, so that's what you're getting at, right? - Exactly. - All these things living in the soil and you're saying there's not a lot of living here apparently because the undies are intact. - That's absolutely correct. - While dirty. Okay. So, now this is interesting. We are actually at Vanderbilt's Peabody, beautiful lawn here, it looks gorgeous to me. We're under these amazing old Oak trees. And I would look at this soil down here and I'd think, "Hey, that looks good." But according to the undie test, nothing's going on down there. - Yeah, that's right. So, one of the things that we think is that first of all, this lawn that we're looking at right here was way over here. There's a lot of activity that's happening on these lawns. And actually, we decided to save a little bit more and mulch it and let it sort of rest, right? So, not only do they have less lawn to work with, they actually enable trees to be able to proliferate their roots, because human traffic actually hurts their roots as well. And so, one of the things that they did is they actually sprayed an herbicide to get rid of the lawn. So that's one factor. And another factor is that the fact that this has been sitting under human traffic, and other types of traffic, means that this soil has become quite compacted. And so the physical properties of the soil, aren't that great. Even though looking at it, it looks like a pretty healthy soil. If you look at the color, even the texture, it actually looks pretty good. But again, if you can't get water and air exchange, then you're not gonna have this prolific microbial activity, which on overall would degrade the undies. - Wow. This is fascinating. Okay. So, I would've thought that if they're using pesticides, that would certainly make a difference, but herbicides, does that come a surprise? - It does come a surprise and it's one of the ideas that has to do with like the fact that you're creating a microbiome, that phrase that I mentioned earlier, and it's not just about the things and the nutrients that the microbes are eating, but also the things that are eating the microbes. And so, and things that the microbes eat. So for example, if a microbe is relying on that tiny, fine root that at it once had, and the herbicide was applied to it and those roots are no longer there, then they can no longer exist in that community. And so, the idea of having as many different substrates as they can feed off of as possible can help foster a vibrant community of microbes. - Very interesting. So we might be starving our microbes, which is unfortunate. I understand that here all over Vanderbilt, you have planted some additional undies that we need to go and look at in different conditions. - Yeah, that's absolutely right. Be really careful 'cause you can rip them in the process really easily. Yep. We lost the little leggings, that's all that's left. - Chris, where did your undies go? Okay. So this area is not very far away from the first pair. - It's not. - And it almost, I mean, this soil, I would say looks worse 'cause it's clay, it looks sort of compacted. So, what do you think? - Yeah, that's absolutely right. So if you look at the structure, it really is a lot, as you say, it's a lot more clay rich, you can see by the color there and the blocky structure. It's not really that type of granular structure that you're looking for that enables water to flow through and nutrients. But as it is, we see that there's quite a lot of microbial activity going on here. So the question is why? Why is it happening here and not there? And so, again, we talked about compaction, this soil is fairly compacted. It's definitely a different soil itself. The fact that we're having these large clay chunks in there. This means it's different, right? - Well, now this does have grass growing in it. - It does. So not only does it have grass growing in it, but you can see some of the leaf litter that's been mulched onto the grass itself as a part of what they do to manage this lawn. They regularly will mulch the leaves in and allow the organic matter to settle in, create some organic acids that can be a substrate for microbes to break down. - Okay. So if I buried undies in my yard and this happened, I'd be pretty happy, right? - You should be pretty happy, absolutely. - Okay. Well I think we need to go find more undies. - All right. Let's do it. - Well, Chris, look here. Once again, we've got, yeah, degraded undies. - [Chris] That's right. - Down here, this is interesting, we've got some clay and stuff. So this is something I could do at my house, couldn't I? - Absolutely. And that's one of the ideas of this experiment. It's something that everybody can do and contribute to the scientific community, right? Just by doing this experiment at your home, we're learning more about how your yard practices are helping to foster communities of microbes within the soil. - Well, and it seems to me it could be a really fun and inexpensive way to sort of test out my own soil. So, how long and what kind of undies do I need to have in the ground? - So the most important part is that these are a fresh pair of cotton underpants. Has to be cotton. Also the fact that they need to be free from bacteria. So that's why we don't wanna reuse any underwear because if you were to inoculate it with bacteria that are already there, it would change the experiment. So, that's really the only thing you need to do. And the important thing is that you bury them for two months and give them time for the soil processes that to take place. And we typically do it during growing seasons, right? Once the winter comes around, the soil temperature will decrease and microbial activity will decrease as well. - All right. I imagine that then, if I dig my undies up in my yard after about two months and they end up pretty much looking a little bit new but soiled, that I need to take some time to learn more about soil microbes and plant some cover crops and do other things. - [Chris] Yeah. There's plenty of things you can do to improve your soil. - [Julie] So Chris, this program seems to be really spanning a lot of departments here at Vanderbilt. I know you have students involved, but you have some other departments doing research too. - [Chris] I do. Yeah. This is part of the Ascend Initiative that was a chancellor funded study, where we decided to get a bunch of scientists from around campus and different disciplines to sit down and talk about research that we could do collaboratively. And this is a great example of that project, where we're working with microbiologists, soil ecologists, geologists, to better understand, like in this case, the soil health, right? And so what Allison's doing is she's sampling the soil to be able to find different types of bacteria, in this case, actinomycetes, is that correct, Allison? - Yeah. - Actinomycetes, and they might be present. And you may have heard of actinomycetes, because they have actually been used to create antibiotics. So these bacteria not only can help to break down things like underwear, the soil and plant roots, but also give us treatments for different types of disease. - Well, Chris, thank you so very much for coming out here with me today and talking about soiling our undies for science. - Thanks so much as I really enjoyed talking to you and talking to you about the research we're doing around here, and I love the work you're doing and Volunteer Gardener, so. - Well, this is something that, remember, anybody can do. It's citizen science, it's obviously a lot of fun and it can tell you a lot about your soil health.
June 23, 2022
Season 30 | Episode 22
Annette Shrader visits a backyard gardener utilizing best practices (soil building, successive planting, and trellising) for a healthy garden . Tammy Algood visits a pair of new gardeners who enjoy the fellowship found in a community garden. Sheri Gramer combines ingredients to create a thriving closed terrarium garden. Julie Berbiglia highlights a most unusual way to test soil quality.
Watch Clips from this Episode
Soil Your Undies: How healthy is your soil?
A campaign was launched in December 2018 by Oregon farmers working with Soil and Water Conservation Districts. The Soil Your Undies Challenge was now a thing. It's a simple way to measure the microbial activity in the soil. Julie Berbiglia visits the campus of Vanderbilt University in Nashville to see the results from their participation in the challenge.