Organic Gardening Goal 3: Soil Life – To optimize and maintain the long term biological activity of soils.
“It starts with the soil”. You’ve heard the saying. It’s repeated so often in both organic gardening and conventional gardening circles that it’s a bit of a cliche. Many people even repeat it without really knowing what it means.
But it’s true. And while it certainly includes the sand, silt, clay and mineral components of the soil, equally as important is the biological component of the soil – the soil life.
Soil life includes bacteria, of which there are hundreds of millions in one small gram of healthy soil. There will also be millions of fungi and other microorganisms, in addition to worms, beetles and other insects that are crucial to the overall mood of the 24/7 party that is taking place below your feet.
These little dudes do everything. To keep things simple, I’ll give you a list of just 5 of the most important benefits of soil life. I hope you’ll read it. They:
- Rearrange the soil so that it has optimal air and water-holding capacity.
- Take nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form that plants and other creatures can use.
- Directly spoon-feed vitamins, minerals and water to plants.
- Turn fallen leaves and all other organic garden materials into humus.
- Eat disease-causing organisms for breakfast, second breakfast and all the way through supper.
If you could shrink yourself down by about half a million times while doing some organic gardening, you would have a chance to take a walk through the cities that are being built in your soil right now. You would see that the soil is being rearranged with big pore spaces where there is air for partying and smaller pore spaces where there is water for drinking and bathing.
You would see special bacteria working hard to convert ammonium to nitrite and nitrate, all forms of nitrogen. This nitrogen is fed to other organisms and plants as a vital precursor to protein creation. Good thing for you that this is happening because you need some of this protein. If this process wasn’t happening, we wouldn’t be here. Yay, soil life!
Other bacteria and fungi actually buddy up with certain plants, largely around the tips of the roots, and do a bit of bartering. They have a top-notch transportation system to bring vitamins, minerals and even water to the plant from near and far. The plant gives them carbohydrates in exchange. The fact that these guys decided to be friends is the basis for all life on earth. They need each other. We are thankful that they met because it makes organic gardening possible.
Other guys are busy chewing, shredding and digesting leaves into smaller and smaller pieces, until it eventually becomes humus, a small and incredibly important component of a healthy soil city. This humus helps give the city life instead of just being compacted rock, and it is exceptionally good at holding onto food and water.
And while they are all perfectly pleasant guys and gals, they do also spend a lot of time eating each other, so that in this town, nobody gets too much clout, not the club root (Bank CEOs), or Pythium (music critics), or potato scab (TV evangelists). Of course we need all of these diseases, too. They’re part of soil life in a healthy ecosystem and are actually good in small amounts.
So what can we do to optimize and maintain the long term biological activity of our soil communities, our soil life? That’s what this website is largely about. For now, I just wanted you to know just a little bit about what is going on down there because it is important to have appreciation for all of our friends in the soil.
And in fact, a quick way to effectively shrink yourself down is to get your hands on a microscope or go to YouTube for some videos that show a microscope view of these microorganisms. Here are a few very short videos on the website of a business I started several years ago, now run by my friend Christina: The Organic Gardener’s Pantry Soil Life Videos