STEPS TO BECOME A SOIL LIFE CONSULTANT
To become a Certified Soil Life Consultant (or Advisor if you prefer), requires the completion of four Steps.
Step 1: Completion of the “Life in the Soil Classes”
These classes give the background knowledge that allows rapid conversion of dirt back into soil.
Time line: These classes (including quizzes) take 60 hours to complete online. You can also watch the optional recorded webinars for more detailed information which will require additional time. We recommend giving yourself two to three months to digest the information more completely.
The four classes are:
Life in the Soil Class
The underlying principles and consequences of what the soil food web is and how these organisms do their jobs to help plants, thus reducing and in most cases removing the need for inorganic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.
Compost is all about the organisms using the organic materials added to a compost pile. Temperature, moisture, selection of the correct balance biology oxygen exchange, structure, foods, turning (worms, pitch forks or machines?), all must be understood and managed to make good thermal, worm or static compost.
Compost Extract/Tea Class
How to make the liquid forms of compost (compost extract and compost tea).
You will learn how to become efficient with using the microscope to access whether the biology needed to help your crops is present or not. With continued practice, you may be able to do these types of assessments in ten minutes. You will be able to determine whether you have “real compost” with the right organisms to fix your agricultural woes or simply a material some people may call “compost”, but is it lacking the necessary biology.
Read More About Step 1
At the end of each lecture, open-book quizzes are given. Most of the questions come directly from the lecture material, but 10% of the questions require putting facts together to make a decision about management, while 5% of the questions require some thought.
Classes can be taken online where students are given a personal password that allows access to the lectures and quizzes for a full year. Online classes are available at (link). Alternatively, in-person classes are given once a year at the AMMA Center, in San Ramon, CA, run by Common Ground.
If you take the online or in-person classes, in order to be accepted into the Certified Soil Life Consultant program, the quizzes from the online classes must be passed with at least a 90% or better average score. If you have taken the in-person classes and if the 90% or above average is not achieved, then the online classes must be taken at a 50% discount, and quizzes must be passed with a 90% average score or better.
Continuation of Step 1: Submit an Application
Once Life in the Soil, Compost, Compost Tea, and Microscope classes have been passed with a 90% average quiz score or better, then practical demonstration of what was learned is needed. Students may submit an application to progress to Steps 2-4 of the certification process. Click here to submit your application
Upon acceptance into the program, students will be assigned a mentor who will provide oversight and guidance as student progress through the final Steps of the Certification Program.
Joining a Certification Student Skype Group
We have a Certified Soil Consultant Training Group on Skype where a conversation, in the form of questions and answers, is nearly always on-going. All trainees and consultants can join in at any time. Moderators are Dr. Carole Ann Rollins and Dr. Elaine Ingham
Step 2: Make Compost
The knowledge of how to make good compost is imparted in the compost class (see Step 1) must now be put into practice. There is an art involved in this science of how to make compost, or to put it in another way, practical troubleshooting also needs to be learned.
The correct process of composting is very easy to compromise. Students learn to pay attention to all of the factors involved in making balanced aerobic compost where the indigenous beneficial organisms are present. A critical component of this Step is to document, not assume, that the needed biology is present in the compost. Three compost pile must be made. Templates and guidelines will be provided.
Read More About Step 2
Using the instructions given in the Compost Class, think through the process you want to use to make compost. Talk with your mentor about the process; will you choose thermal composting, or worm composting, and why? You will receive a template for calculating the amount of starting materials you might want to consider. A table for recording data about your compost pile will also be given to you. You will have the microscope spreadsheet for doing assessments of the compost you produce to determine if the biology you require to improve your soil and grow the crop you want is present.
Our concept is that the first pile is a learning pile, where you learn things about the process which you now adjust in your second pile.
- Was high N adequate?
- Did you have high enough temperatures for the right length of time, and if not, how will you adjust the recipe for your second pile?
- Did moisture stay at good levels?
- How many times did you need to turn?
- What did your microscope tell you each time you assessed the pile?
You continue to learn whether you have all the factors right with your second, and so usually, there are a few smaller adjustments when going to the third pile.
Constant assessment of the biology in the piles should be made. When you make a pile that you consider has excellent biology to do the job of converting dirt into soil, send a sample into the lab at the farm. We then have a Skype conversation with you, your mentor and the lab person who looked at your sample, and make sure everyone is getting the same results. Samples might have to be re-done is there is a serious discrepancy, and possibly a bit of training will need to be performed. But passing Step 2 requires agreement on the documentation that your compost contains good biomass and balance to fix the dirt in the system you want to work in.
Step 3: Make Extract and Teas
Using the aerobic, full-food-web-compost produced in the previous step, compost extract and compost tea must be made. As with composting, extraction of the full set of aerobic food web organisms into the extract water must be documented. With compost tea, growth of bacteria, fungi and protozoa in the compost tea must be documented. Three compost extracts and three compost teas must be made. Templates and guidelines will be provided.
Read More About Step 3
Using the instructions given in the compost extract / tea class, and using the compost you finished in Step 2, make compost extract and then compost tea. As with compost, practice on a couple extracts and when you feel confident that you know how to make a good extract, send a sample overnight mail to the farm, then compare your assessment with the assessment of your extract done at the farm. Agreement between assessments is needed to pass this part of the training. Continue on with compost tea, but discuss which foods to use in the tea with your mentor, and then see if the organisms the grow in the tea fit your predictions! Again, agreement between the lab and you will be needed to confirm that you made a good compost tea before passing marks will be given.
Step 4: Convert Dirt into Soil
A real-world project to convert dirt back into soil must be completed through a whole growing season. Success must be documented with regards to improvement in plant production and health. You will be given various tools and resources, including detailed instructions and an example of a biological treatment timeline, as well as data table templates for some of the most relevant assessments and considerations to be done.
Read More About Step 4
You will be given access to various tools and resources, including a recording made by Dr. Ingham of what is involved in this practical project. Nature doesn’t usually give us a perfectly normal piece of land to work with, however, so you have to keep your eyes open to make sure nature doesn’t surprise you. It is important to remember to take assessments of the various factors BEFORE you start working to improve the land, as well as during your project and at the end. How to appropriately document the improvements in plant growth, as well as an explanation of the various resources you will have access to are discussed in the recording provided by Dr. Ingham. Some of the documents included are: tables, planning process, and F:B ratios of typical crop, shrub and orchard systems.
Having a clear idea of the methods and data you will use to document that your project converted dirt into soil from the outset of your project is critical to demonstrating the validity of your project and that biology made the difference.
Then get out there and do the work you’ve planned. And adjust the plan as needed when nature sends you some surprises.