Soil Composition

Paul Lowe 19th Jan 2012

Seaweed, humic, fulvic acid, molasses and organics are all biostimulants, but what biology are you stimulating? What biology do you desire? And how can you ensure you are creating the biology for your needs? In this article, I will explain the functions of different microorganisms, how the ‘soil food web’ works, how this can be encouraged, how you can ensure biology is present and how to get the best out of your soil by utilising soil biology.

Simple! Well not really, the living ecosystem below our feet, the biology and the heart of healthy soil is a complex subject. Add this to what we do to create a great playing surface and the subject gets even more complicated. Soil has an incredible diversity of organisms, this makes up the soil food web. They range in size from the tiniest one-celled bacteria, fungi and protozoa, to the more complex nematodes and micro-arthropods, to the visible earthworms, insects, small vertebrates. These organisms eat, grow, reproduce and move through the soil. They decompose organic matter (thatch, humus, dead organisms) creating food for the plant. They use nitrogen and other nutrients, that might otherwise enter groundwater, and give the nutrients back to the plant. Many organisms protect the plant from pathogens and other soil organisms that prey on our much loved pitches and greens.

Compost tea is fast becoming the backbone of many a greenkeeper’s management programme, with the intention geared towards reduced chemical and fertiliser inputs, and species conversion towards the fine bent/fescue swards. It’s the simplest and most cost effective way of introducing life into the soil. This biological soup is teeming with diverse life, all eating and reproducing. Living the dream!

However, some will argue that compost tea is unnecessary, and all that is needed is to use a quality stimulant.

If you have a quality compost tea and back this up with a quality biostimulant … bingo, you have the perfect combination. Introducing the right biology and stimulating the right biology. By introducing the diverse biology into the soil you have a guarantee, you are also able to redress the balance when chemicals, salt fertilisers etc. are applied.

In healthy soils, there are four main microorganisms that affect our soil and plants: bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes. They all have a job to do; they are interlinked in many ways and all rely on each other. They have a symbiotic relationship with the plants, providing food and protection. They provide competitive exclusion towards other pathogens; after all, most pathogens are opportunist, and beneficial microbes will restrict that opportunity. They will eat organic matter, turning this to available nutrients for the plant. They will even eat each other and turn this into available food for the plant. They will be breeding in a microscopic orgy of lust. They will be moving through the soil searching for food and lovers, creating air spaces for roots and air to move into, making soil aerobic and friable.

So, let’s look at the soils that host the biology. Firstly, soil needs to be aerobic to harbour healthy soil biology. If the soil smells – contains anaerobic blacklayer – then this needs to be addressed. This is Mother Nature’s way of telling you that the soil is biologically poor. And, if our soils are biologically poor, thatch will not degrade into organic matter and humus, organic nutrients will not convert into available plant food; disease pathogens will take advantage and the grass plant will suffer. So, the first port of call is to address the anaerobic problem.

I still believe in the old ways, and I believe that the way we manage our soils has a direct impact on the plants we grow. This philosophy has been tried and tested since the time we started to grow plants. The only difference now is that we have more of an understanding of our soils and, as a result, we have the soil food web.
What function do the different species undertake?


This single celled organism is a prolific reproducer. What it lacks in size it makes up for in numbers – one billion bacteria per teaspoon of healthy soil. It feeds on simple carbohydrates (sugar) and has an association with annuals, including Poa annua. Sugar-based bio-stimulants, like molasses, will feed bacteria.

The Benefits/Actions of Bacteria
– Decompose simple organic matter
– Recycle, solubilise and retain nutrients in the rootzone
– Protect the plant from disease
– Produce by-products that promote plant growth (enzymes, vitamins, hormones)
– Support Poa Annua

Bacteria will reproduce at a massive rate, it’s relatively easy to produce and encourage – aeration and some simple carbohydrates will soon see them appear in abundance.


Fungi is very different. This has an association with perennial plants like Fescue Bents and Rye. Fungi prefer complex carbohydrates, like organic matter, lignin, seaweed, humic acid and fish hydrolosate. Fungi take longer to naturally recolonise than bacteria. A bit like the grass it is associated with.

The Benefits/Actions of Fungi
– Decomposing thatch
– Nutrient cyclers
– Soil structure builders
– Plant protectors
– Support perennial plants

Fungi is more fragile and susceptible to chemicals and high salt fertilisers. But, once established, they have many more benefits.


Protozoa are single-celled animals that feed primarily on bacteria, other protozoa and soluble organic matter. These play an important role in nutrient cycling, due to their fantastic appetite. One protozoa will eat 10,000+ bacteria each day, for example.

Obviously, with all the food the protozoa consume, they produce waste. This waste is excreted as NH4 (ammonium), which is then available to the plant. They are also an important food source for other soil organisms like earthworms and beneficial nematodes. So, for nutrient recycling, protozoa is king.


Nematodes get a bad press, but they are, in fact, very beneficial. Nematodes are microscopic worms. Like all worms, they move through the soil making channels, eating and reproducing as they go. There are around 20,000 different species that are known, however there are four different types:
– Bacterial feeders
– Fungal feeders
– Root feeders (Parasitic)
– Nematode feeders (Predatory)

Like protozoa, nematodes play an important role in releasing nutrients in plant available form. So, why do nematodes get such bad press. This is because we have an imbalance in the soil. Root feeders are the problem, sucking all that sugary goodness out of the roots. In healthy soil you will find thousands of nematodes of all different types. However, in unhealthy soil, you will only find rootfeeders. Predatory nematodes will normally keep rootfeeders under control, they love the sugary rootfeeder, they will eat them over any other type. If the rootfeeder has no predators, it is left alone to continue chomping away at our root system


So, what biology do you want to stimulate?

Bacteria = association with annual plants = stimulate with simple carbohydrates, molasses
Fungi = association with perennial plants and grasses = stimulate with complex carbohydrates = humic, seaweed, organic matter etc.

Scientifically, we know so much more now. We know the operations and benefits of bacteria, different fungi, protozoa, nematodes etc. For me, it’s all about creating a healthy balance and a diverse ecosystem.

In the real world of greenkeeping, we need salty inorganics at times, we need chemicals, inert sand dressings/sandy soils and, of course, compaction; not great for our ecosystem! Compost tea is simply a great tool to apply biology, then we can feed the biology with the correct biostimulant, we can reduce the chemicals, salt fertilisers and aerate sensibly… then we can keep the ecosystem. Many are enjoying great success by bringing life back to the soils and working with nature.

Paul Lowe, Symbio. Email:

Read more articles in Consultancy, by Paul Lowe or from January 2012.

Read more articles from Issue 40 – December / January 2011 / 2012


There are 37 comments on this article

2 Weeks ago by ian macmillan

Nice Article Paul and we all have so much to learn. Catch up next week. Best Regards, Ian Mac

2 Weeks ago by ped ro

That is a very good article a lot of people will be impressed by it. Me personally, well I’m not convinced to say the least.

Take a step back, look at the bigger picture. Where does 99% of the products we use come from? Simple, Agriculture.
The big companies don’t spend millons on R&D to keep golf courses and football pictures looking nice, they spend it to keep the worlds food production up.

Now I know what I am about to say probably isn’t very politically correct but…….

If, natures way, biostimulants, compost teas etc was the way forward every farmer and grower in the world would be throwing them on by the bucketload, and the fact is they don’t.


2 Weeks ago by Martin Ward

Ped ro

In fact very few of the products used in fine turf come from agriculture apart from fungicides. I suspect very few turf managers use ammonium nitrate, rock phosphate, sewage sludge and manure on their pitches or greens

In the last 90 or so years intensive agriculture has developed by the application of inorganic fertilisers (mineral salts) which increase yields at the expense of depleted soils and massive use of pesticides to control fungal and insect pests. High salt index fertilisers also need more water and water is in very short supply in many parts of the world that need intensive agriculture to feed increasing populations
A lot of the research on genetic modification of crops is not done to increase yields but to maintain existing yields on the poor quality, depleted soils many farmers now have to work with.

The agricultural community is now being forced by legislation to look at alternative methods, The EU has recently implemented water, soil, fertiliser and pesticide directives all targeted at changing the way farming is done. It is widely recognised at government and local level that soil and water quality must be improved.

The organic farming movement already works with healthy soils and conventional farmers are quickly taking on board the benefits to be gained from restoring the natural processes that use atmospheric nitrogen to feed plants, reducing water inputs and working with the microbial populations that protect against disease.

Luckily grass is a simple crop to research and in this instance sports turf managers are ahead of the game.

2 Weeks ago by mackay Last edited 2 Weeks ago

I think there is a place for biostimulants, teas etc – and it’s difficult to argue witht he testamonies of some very experienced users but until convinced otherwise I’m afraid I agree with ped ro.

2 Weeks ago by mackay

Good, informative article though!

2 Weeks ago by Mike Last edited 2 Weeks ago

I’ve dabbled, and had some successes along the way.

The main thing that I have taken from my experiences is that nothing gives more bang for your buck than simple cultural practices, everything else is supplemental. Without the right ‘cultural’s’, all the biostimulants, or anything else for that matter will range from having severely hindered efficacy to downright no response at all. In saying that, once the fundamentals are nailed down, some of the things discussed in the article can get you that extra 10% that you may be looking for.

2 Weeks ago by ped ro

Sorry martin, got to disagree with what you say about fertilisers.

Rigby taylors Organic Mascot Delta range contains chicken litter
Headlands Organic C Complex contains cow sh*t
Not to sure about Farmura but I think the clues in the name.

Everyone is going mad over organic fertilisers but what do they contain? These are the only ones I know that declare it on the label.

What about the sludge that comes from slaughter houses?
Sorry I mean blood, meat, horn and bone meal, that’s all organic.

Don’t want to worry anyone or anything but I believe (may be wrong) not all of it is sourced in the UK.

Anyone for a bag of BSE or Anthrax?


2 Weeks ago by Philip Harrison

Excellent article Martin. Thanks very much.

I agree with what Mike says, good cultural practices are the key to quality fine turf. If you have a continuing thatch problem then throwing on some thatch eating fungi will not cut it. You must look to the root cause of the problem first and address this first before undertaking a biostimulant program.

To Ped ro, it is true years ago that the production of sports surfaces was heavily linked to agriculture. Thankfully we have moved on from that and we now see the big difference in that we are not trying to produce a high yield crop.
We should be looking to a healthy soil and plant in order to produce quality surfaces exactly as Martin and others have said.

The two industries, Agriculture and Sports turf, are chalk and cheese.

As for some of the organic fertilisers you mentioned, I would never let them near any of my greens!!! Anything like that is only good for growing potatoes not fescue and bent.

2 Weeks ago by ped ro Last edited 2 Weeks ago

Looks like I’m not winning any friends with my thoughts.

Philip, I take it you are a Symbio fan from your comments, and Martin I take it you are connected to Symbio with your email address.

With the comments above that you have both made I would suggest that you both have a read through symbio’s products.

I’ve just been having a browse though symbios products on their website, guess what?

Mycogro complete organic fertilser says on the contents that it contains ‘approved’ chicken manure.

Fish hydrolysate? I believe this is also added to Symbio products. Is that not just a fancy name for ground up fish bones, scales and guts etc? The bits no one wants after Captain Birds Eye has finished with it.


2 Weeks ago by mackay

I appologise, I was really focussing on some of the teas rather than simply the bio ferts. Farmers go mad for slurry and ‘organic’ fertilisers, though I doubt many would manage on these alone given the yields they require. Nothing wrong with some of the manure products on turf either – in fact the micro-organisms and soil beasties thrive on material that has passed through the gut of an animal and I’m all on board with that. But compost teas and some of (not all) the biostimulants? I’m not so sure that the cost outweighs the benefits, or even if the benefits are not a result of or achievable with things like increased aeration etc as Mike alludes to above.

….But then a lot of sportsturf is on a sand-dominated playing surfaces and a bit different to some of the richer soils.

Will organics supply me with 180kg/N/ha (or more) in a cost effective manner? What is the N requirement for a premiership football pitch these days? What happens to all that lovely ‘extra’ soil biology when I need to apply an insecticide or want rapid green up with a cost effective iron product?

But don’t listen to me – I’ve got a nematode problem! I’ll be visiting the Symbio stand at Harrogate and you never know, I might be born again……

2 Weeks ago by aturnbull

Hi Paul & MartIn

Good article and look forward to meeting up again next week with your good selves.

Hi Ped ro. I am a former Golf Course Manager and it was my short experience in supplying seaweed derived products to farmers in Northern Ireland and my partnership with Ian Mac, the first to reply to Paul’s article, that transformed my ideas in turf management. If you are at Harrogate next week I am sure that we will meet up and I look forward to the chat.

Hope to see you around too, Mackay.

Best regards

Andy Turnbull

2 Weeks ago by mackay

Seaweed? I love cold-pressed seaweeds!

2 Weeks ago by A J

Hey big fella,
great article. Interesting reading comments. Look forward to a bit more listening next week from all involved with soil biology.


Grow in grace………..

2 Weeks ago by ped ro Last edited 2 Weeks ago

I’ve nothing against Symbio and I know the healthier our soils are the better our plants will be. All I want is suppliers to be straight with us.

Martin tells us that no one would spread manure on their turf anymore yet symbios fertilisers contain it. There has been research done by Penn State University in the USA to show that turf treated with ammonium sulphate fertilisers had showed no signs of Algae. According to their website Symbio contains ammonium sulphate (a good old agricultural fertiliser). Could any benefits not be caused by this rather than all the bacteria?

If you’ve got good healthy soils and put extra bacteria in, why do you have to add more every few weeks/months? Why do they not survive and multiply? If it was so healthy it surely should stay there. Is doing that healthy?

These are just a few of my thoughts, there’s plenty more, but let’s just say I’m a bit unsure.


2 Weeks ago by aturnbull

Well Ped, next week is about increasing your knowledge and experience. See you around.

Best regards

Andy Turnbull

2 Weeks ago by gregevans

Hi all

I find this bio subject so interesting and see so many positives but if i’m honest still not convinced. Ped for me has made very valid points and I have yet to read accurate solid independent data to back this subject up. Thats not to say its not out there, just haven’t found it yet.

I look forward to next week and i’m sure we will all learn more on this subject.



2 Weeks ago by ped ro

I’m all for learning new things, I just want to make sure what I’m learning is correct.

I’d sooner learn new things that have been independently and scientifically proven.


2 Weeks ago by Paul lowe

Hello Ped

Micro biology has been researched for as long as we have had microscopes. You will find a massive amount of independent – scientifically proven research on soil biology if you look. I could send you some info if you like?

The idea of the article is to simply explain the different species and the roles they play. Roles like decaying matter etc and what different bio-stimulants… stimulate!

The article also explains that we have a need for inorganic fertiliser. But it’s all about balance! What are you putting back in the soil?

There was a great article in Pitchcare recently about seaweed. He explained about the old ways of using COMPOSTED seaweed in sand dressings, other courses used leaf mulch. This was full of living fungi and soil life. So soil biology is nothing new, greenkeepers used life in top- dressings/ feed in Old Tom times, in fact soil life is as old as life supported the earth.

See you in Harrogate

2 Weeks ago by Mike Last edited 2 Weeks ago

Paul – interesting you mention the seaweed and leaf mulch – these are two practices that I currently use with very good results. We routinely collect fresh seaweed off the beach following storms, wash it, and compost it – we also make a foliar spray from it too. All leaves from both sites are collected and composted down in bin bags for a couple of years – this is used in planters around the sites with very good results.

If nothing else, all of the above is free to those that have a readily available source, so it would be foolish not to try it.

2 Weeks ago by Paul lowe Last edited 2 Weeks ago

Brilliant Mike, The fact that it has been broken down and the decaying process is in full swing it would be interesting to see it through a microscope!

2 Weeks ago by Mike

We are currently working with the science dept at the schools. Have given a couple of talks to the students on chemicals, history of ddt etc, and how things are evolving with lower risk/environmental burden products – we aim to progress into soil biology, involve students with practical projects such as making compost teas, analyzing them under the microsopes in the science labs etc.. all very interesting!

One thing about the decaying process of seaweed when we are making foliars… by christ does it stink! Takes a brave soul to be on the ‘stirring stick’!

2 Weeks ago by has 2 mow


Have you tried aerating when you mix your seaweed, just wonder if the smell comes from it being anerobic.

As for the independent trials. the best you can get is your own, unless you believe all sale literature, you can make a simple brewer for around £30 to £60 depending on the size you want.

2 Weeks ago by Mike

Have tried with and without aeration, Mark – little difference to the strength of the smell, but it does go away sooner, which suggests to me that that aeration does speed up the decomposition.

1 Week ago by Martin Ward

Ped ro I can understand the uncertainty because soil biology is a relatively new science and practitioners and researchers are learning more every day.

There are limited sources of organic nutrients most readily available sources are cattle and pig slurry, blood, bone hoof and horn, chicken waste, fish waste and concentrated molasses solubles from sugar beet and cane. Nearly all organic fertilisers use these raw materials as the primary source of NPK. Symbio like most other companies that use organic feeds use the traditional blood and bone chicken manure, fish and sugar as the source of NPK. There is a wide range of treatment processes and mixtures used to differentiate products. Symbio also uses inorganic fertilisers including ammonium sulphate for the simple reason that it is the best source of inorganic nitrogen for amenity turf. The MSDS sheet for any fertiliser should describe the content In broad terms

In agriculture the waste treatment companies supply the farms with waste from the treatment plant and every country dweller is familiar with the smell of “muck spreading” However before any of these are used on amenity turf they are treated by various processes to make them acceptable for the turf industry. I cannot think of any turf manager that spreads untreated manure or sewage sludge on a playing surface.

Most agricultural nutrient comes in the form of ammonium nitrate and potassium chloride whereas the turf industry mostly uses urea and ammonium and potassium sulphate and potassium nitrate which are much too expensive for field crop use.

See these websites for the DEFRA/EU line on the future of soil management

Why do you have to keep adding biostimulants and microbes? – Luckily BTME is next week and there will be plenty of opportunity to discuss the issues but put simply the USGA spec green and 80/20 rootzone was designed for chemical management. There is not enough organic matter to support the microbiology a plant needs for natural growth. Eventually degraded thatch will provide much of the humic and fulvic substances needed to support soil biology, additions limited to replacing what is used or removed. Until a healthy rootzone is achieved the pump must be primed with the correct microbes and food to maintain an excellent playing surface during the transition.

1 Week ago by Andy Church

I am surprised that nobody has mentioned calcium.

As I understand it there are many benefits in the application of calcium.
Strong plant cells give a greater resistance to disease and aid the plant in withstanding heavy ware and extreme weather conditions.
Strong calcium levels in the soil are the foundation of a productive and fertile growing environment, whilst strengthening the plant cell walls more effectively than any other element.

I would be interested in your views.

1 Week ago by Ken Barber

I love it when people with narrow minds stand on there little private soapbox in comfort of their home or office and criticise people with open minds ! People like Paul, who has the courage to write about something he have learnt through personal experience or research and who is passionate about what the believes in.

Ped ro….. Only 18Okg/N/ha? No wonder you have a nematode problems…. I reckon your producing that grass factory just to keep up with the little fellows appetites!

I like so many others am not supported or paid by any of the companies you speak of. There is a growing number of people who have used compost teas, organic sources of nutrient or bio-stimulants, who are getting very good results, while saving money on pesticides, nutrient input in the process ……. And there is plenty of evidence to support the theories Paul speaks of. Like Has2mow said “As for the independent trials. the best you can get is your own.”

I am a greenkeeper who over the past 40 years has always looked outside of the box. Always looking for something different, something that will produce more healthy/consistant growth. I am not saying that I apply every new concoction or magic potion brought onto the market, far from it, but I have always had an open mind. As an avid compost tea user, In the last 3 years have have a witnessed a dramatic change in the health and quality of my greens and how they have naturally changed from predominantly Poa annua to perennial bent/fescue. Yes I have been over-seeding as well, but I always did that and saw little evidence of sward species change. Why now? because I have built a more diverse population of fungi/bacteria, instead of predominantly bacteria. Which has naturally created a environment that the perennial grasses can flourish in.

Mike speaks of cultural practices and the importance of such practices and how they stimulate growth. RIGHT ON THE BUTTOM MATE! ….. But why and effect do cultural practices have? Did it not occur to you the all that aeration has created a more suitable environment for the soil biology to proliferate? How lucky you are to have such natural resources as seaweed on your doorstep.

I’ll not waffle on any longer …… Since I have probably upset enough people who like to sit on the fence and get a sore bum, whilst the like of Paul tries to stimulate a little interest.

Funny thing …… I noticed that greg attended all the seminars related to soil biology that I was at. We all know he is a sceptic, but still I don’t think it would take much to tip him off the fence onto the side Paul speaks of…… Especially if he was to have his budget slashed and couldn’t spend all those 1000’s of pounds to bury his greens in sand!

Good talks from both Andy and paul…. well done!

Go get Paul!


The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under who’s shade you do not expect to sit.

1 Week ago by Mike Last edited 1 Week ago

KB – all that aeration that you speak of is the reason that I invested pretty much my total annual budget in additional aeration equipment – that was a deliberate move to help nature along the way – rather than waste money on repeatedly applying any type of products, I went the other way and have given cultural practices their chance… i’m not disappointed. Given the nature of our soil texture, the ‘little fella’s’ needed a helping hand. We went from solid spiking twice per year and little else, to carrying out surface aeration fortnightly, with deep slicing on a monthly basis, frequent light harrowing etc – thatch levels are decreasing before my eyes, infiltration rates have improved markedly and overall turf quality is much improved against this time last year. Now consider that the only product I apply to my outfields (aside from one pitch which is my trial pitch) is a once yearly selective herbicide, no fertilisers of any sort, no fungicides, no insecticides, nothing. Then consider the stressful environment, particularly with the salt issues, and the answer presents itself to you.

I would add that i’m currently trying to source suitable milling plant to help me along with processing the seaweed that we are able to source.

1 Week ago by Ken Barber Last edited 1 Week ago

Good on ya Mark!
With a regular program of cultural practices, especially aeration, the results you speak of are typical of what I would expect. I am assuming your pitches are built on natural soils, which gives the soil biology a natural base in which to thrive …… It is so much harder to achieve this when a predominance of your root-zone is a inert material like sand.

I would also expect that you do not require little or no pesticide or fungicide input, since the soil biology will be so much more diverse. Nematode problems for example, are less likely to occur since they are kept in check by the predatory nematodes that thrive in a healthy ecosystem. as well as disease pathogens will be competing for space and food source because of that natural soil biology.

But hey…… these are just assumptions!


The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under who’s shade you do not expect to sit.

1 Week ago by Mike

75% of our playing fields at the main site might as well be pure sand, Ken, and it is hard to keep it going with the levels of use and reliance on cultural’s alone in those areas, but i’m confident i’ll get there with some tinkering here and there (maybe with some gypsum to help with the salinity, but we’ll see on that one at a later date). The other 25% of our playing fields are a lovely organic textured soil, and is sheltered from the coastal winds… completely different ball game… I can’t keep on top of the cutting in that area!!

I have only been on this programme since the middle of last summer, so the results of getting the best out of a spring programme when the soil life is getting into full swing will hopefully bring marked results, and that without a single penny spent on any products to get the grass going!

I’m all for what Paul says above, but one thing that I would say is that before ‘buying natural’, try natural, and by that I mean perfect the cultural’s before buying anything, be it synthetic or organic.

1 Week ago by Ken Barber

Totally agree mike. I have been a cultural’s fan for decades and used inorganic ferts for a similar time. But using inorganic’s during that period always had problems with disease incidence or pest problems.

I can recall a period when I was working on a heathland course for around 5 years and I was lucky to have dear old Jim Arthur as my agronomist. (1983-1988) I followed his recommendations to aerate regularly and use organic ferts. I implemented a cultural program of aerating every Monday morning with a Sissis multi-slit, with 8″ inch knives. Only thing that stop the program was when it was too wet, frosted or under snow (sunny Sussex). My organics were mixed on site and applied spring and autumn. One preventative spray for fuzz was all that was required. Over those years the grass species changed to a predominance of bent/fescue. I never forgot that time and used to remind myself often how cheaply greens could be managed and great results achieved. Those greens were 100 year old push-up’s and prior to these cultural practices, used to go under water after a heavy shower and were infested with Poa annua.

I learnt a lot during that period, and went from there the East Sussex National and had a budget that would blow your mind. I learnt even more when managing that course, especially at Penn State! All these years later and there isn’t a day go by when I haven’t learnt something new and I am still learning!

That’s what makes this industry so rewarding!

Get off the fence boy’s and think outside the box!


The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under who’s shade you do not expect to sit.

7 Days ago by gregevans

Good morning all. Especially to my old mate (who I have yet to meet) Ken.

Travelling back from Harrogate (which I really enjoyed) I’m thinking about what I learned. I attended Andy’s and Paul’s talks (well done to both) as I as much as anybody is intrigued with this bio theory/method whatever you want to call it. What I take out of both talks is that it has raised more questions than answers. Especially on sugars and microbes.

For anybody who is interested the following post was put on facebook and I read it this morning about microbes.

The thing I can’t get my head round is when all the bio boys talk about the great Jim Arthur and converting poa greens to fescue and bent. Correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t Jim big on sulphate of ammonia and iron? Hardly the compost tea route.



7 Days ago by Ken Barber

Hi Greg, You were sitting almost on my lap during Pauls talk! …… well almost tuching knees! lol

I nearly introduced myself but decided agaibnst it in case I was on your hit list!

Yes, Jim was a fan of the sulphates and yes too much will have a negative effect on soil biology with all that salt. But it doesn’t stop many of us from using them in small amounts. In fact I have applied to apps of iron sulphate this winter to help harden the plant during this unusually mild winter. If you look on the Symbio website at some of the fertilisers, some contain small portions on iron and ammonium sulphate. Again, little harm will occur to soil biology if it is used as an occasional application in small propotions.


The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under who’s shade you do not expect to sit.

7 Days ago by gregevans

Ken, why did you not introduce yourself? We may not agree but it would be good to meet face to face.

I think the big question is how much sulphate of ammonia/iron is too much? No one can come up with that answer. Again a lot of theories but no concrete evidence.

The point I make out of all this is that some points are being made without a balanced view. Bacteria for annuals and fungi for perennials is one such area. Every talk I go to they say poa annua = bacteria and fungi = fescue/bent. What about perennial poa? The way its portrayed is if you have poa you have a soil full of bacteria, but what seems to be true is if you have perennial poa you can have a combination of both. Again I wish they would say that because the way its being portrayed is another negative for poa and its freaking the young guys out who have to manage poa based greens!



7 Days ago by Ken Barber Last edited 7 Days ago

Next time I will make the effort.

My thoughts only here but….. Every site is site specific….. nothing new there, but if we first look at soil biology in general, regardless of whether it is bacterial or fungal dominant.

If a soil has good biology i.e diverse, it is more likely the plant will grow healthier since each part of the whole soil food web inter reacts with each other, which in turn effects things like soil structure with the cementing together of soil particles, creates air space for roots and water to penetrate. Each plays a role in processing and converting nutrients into available forms that the plant can take up. There is a continual chain where each different life form becomes another meal and is passed through and become available nutrient to the plant. Most activity is around the fine root hairs, thus creating air space and food source to the plant. They compete for space with disease pathogens in and around the plant and/or consume pathogen spores, are antagonistic against pests in various ways. I could go on and on…… Now imagine if you use high salt fertilisers, soil biology won’t live long. Same as if I was to give you salt water to drink instead of fresh, you wouldn’t last long. But if I was to give you a little dose of salt water, you would soon get over it. Remember, soil life is dying and multiply by the billions every second, so I may knock them back a little by applying a light application of high salt fertiliser, but they would soon bounce back. That is assuming I have maintained a healthy environment for them to thrive. We re-apply soil biology because of the pressures we place on our sports turf i.e. compaction, cutting height, pesticides and fertilisers etc. Nobody is saying that you don’t apply any of these, but it will have a negative effect. I believe there are some negatives in being too aggressive with thatch removal, such as deep scarifying or Graden type machines, since it will have a negative effect on the sensitive fungal mycelium that grows through the thatch….. But that’s just my take on it. I have found that reglar aeration is sufficient and the soil biology does the rest.

I also believe that turf managers who have a thatch problem have it because they have failed to maintain a healthy root-zone through a lack of cultural practices such as aeration or they have over applied with their fertilisers or excessive irrigation. This sort of management can only result in shallow roots, heavy thatch, limiting air exchange, filtration rates and soil biology…… then the slide downhill is inevitable….. I could go on but I imagine your eyes are starting to get heavy!

Now back to the bacterial or fungal dominance theory and what it creates in terms of sward species. We know there is strong evidence that bacterial dominant soils suit annual plants and the more fungal dominant a soil becomes the more suitable the environment becomes for perennial plants. Right at the top of the fungal dominant scale would be plants like conifers. Many of us have dug around established pine trees and exposed cottony white mycelium by the shed load….. Fungi in a very visible form!

In answer to your question about perennial poa….. Which I know is all you care about since that is what you are focusing on, which is fine by me! As Paul stated in his speech, it will thrive better in a soil that has a portion of fungal activity. I don’t believe it has to be an exact percentage but somewhere between 30 – 50% would see stronger plants in my mind.

Nobody is trying to scare the younger greenkeepers about Poa and its management. I think it is more about getting people to think outside the box…..Poa greens are ok…. lord I’ve managed enough of them over the years. But Poa has its down sides especially Poa annua since it needs high nutrient input, high water requirements, seeds heavily, causing poor putting surfaces and susceptible to anthracnose and fusarium. It is as expensive to manage as creeping bentgrass.

Lets be clear here, it doesn’t matter whether you are maintaining perennial or annual poa, bent or fescue….. they all need a specific soil biology in order to maintain healthy environment.

I have followed my current road with compost teas etc. for over 3 years. I decided this route because I had such a small budget and I could only make small improvements year-on-year, but my greens were not improving at all. I was spraying 8 fungicides per year and the poa was thriving. I have always managed low thatch levels, but now my roots and deeper my poa is getting out competed by the bents and fescues and I average two fungicide applications per year…. Not only cost effective but the greens are improving by the month.

I think I said enough.


The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under who’s shade you do not expect to sit.

6 Days ago by Tomas Nilsson

Hello there gentlemen.
My name is Tomas and I’m one of the Swedes who hopes that your national fooball team looses big this summer in Ukraine:)
Againt Sweden that is.
(Not pehaps so likely but one can always hope)
We’ll enough putting my head in the Lions mouth….or perhaps not?
Very nice site this and I must say the knowledge some of you guys display are of high standards to say the least.

love this new(?) talk about soil biology. This is after all what we have been trying to do for a very long time, but only with mechanical practises. You aerated, checked pH, good drains, and all of theese practical things but not looking further than our noses.
Talking Swedish greenkeeping here. A lot of mumbo-jumbo products have been out there that promise that: If you buy this from us, your soil balance will be restored.
You guys have been using seaweed, compost, sugars for a looong time.
We did, but got lost on the way.
For this I blame shifty salespersons. (like my self)
Coming to the club on their Tinker wagons selling tonics.

Do not agree on all what is said here but most.
The people that I bevilve are in forefront on products are not Farmers. To much potassium chloride and other cheap fertilisers. But in greenhouses. Thouse guys are in general very good and need to manage on an higher level.
We have developed a lot of products for them that are now doing a very good job in the golf industry.

And mr Church! Agree to this. Calcium!!! More calcium to the people.
Most of our lab tests when people got problems are due to low calcium readings. Important here to use the right way of testing!

The notion that we get 90%poagreens because of eccesive fungicide use are a mind opener. I do not know if this is the whole picture but I will follow you guys and learn:)

Have a good one:)

6 Days ago by Ken Barber

Welcome to Pitchcare Thomas…… Hopefully, we will all continue to learn.

You will have to keep all those fingers and toes crossed to have any chance against the LIons……. ROOOOOOar! or is it Meow?


The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under who’s shade you do not expect to sit.

6 Days ago by Tomas Nilsson

Will put my nose where it do not belong as much as I can here.

Have a nice weekend one and all.