Most of us know that a huge aspect of successful gardening is having great soil but for many, it might seem daunting to learn how to do it.
In general there are two ways of growing food: To feed the plants with fertilizers or to feed the soil and then the soil feeds the plants.
Although it might seem easier and quicker to feed the plants instead of the soil, and there are some gardening techniques that require no soil at all like aeroponics or hydroponics, the benefits of building up the soil for the long term are many.
Building your soil increases the available nutrients for your veggies which in turn creates healthier produce for you to consume. Building your soil also creates a life cycle and adds biomass. There’s one little thing however that brings it all together and that’s soil micro-organisms. Without them, your plants cannot absorb the nutrients in the soil.
What are Soil Microbes?
Microorganisms are bacteria, fungi, protozoas, actinomycetes and algae that live in a thin layer in the soil. They help break down organic matter, are responsible for the mineralization of raw elements, and deliver nutrients to the plants root systems. They have great influence on soil fertility as without them you have nothing to convert that energy.
Incredibly, a single gram of healthy soil can contain over a billion beneficial bacteria.
Just like healthy bacteria and microbes are good for people’s general health and well-being (which is why fermentation is a current hot trend) micro-organisms also increase the vigor and health of your plants so they can better defend themselves against pests and diseases.
However because large-scale conventional agriculture focuses on quick chemical fertilizers and destroy top soil (which contains all those lovely micro-organisms) the earth is losing our high quality top soil at an alarming rate (and that top soil takes a thousand years to make!). The loss of top soil is thus creating a massive loss of highly beneficial micro-organisms.
The great thing about gardening is our ability to help increase micro-organisms and build up the soil.
Feeding Soil Microbes
- Composting– decomposition of any kind is key to helping the micro level of the natural life cycle. Composting fits perfectly in the garden for this reason because of the break down of organic green and brown matter. As composting requires micro-organisms to breakdown the nutrients, the more composting you have the more micro-organisms required and created.
- Vermicomposting– worm composting is fantastic for adding enzymes into the soil and recycling organic waste products. The worm casting are a great natural fertilizer. From Vermicomposting.com: ‘The resulting matter has 6-8 times more micro-nutrients than the original matter they ate. They also clean the matter of disease pathogens as they process the material through their body. The world’s perfect nutrient is created. Worm casts are a chock full of nutrients. Much more than ordinary soil. Compared to average topsoil, worm castings have five times more nitrogen, 7 times more phosphorus, and 11 times more potassium. The pH is also a perfect balance of 7.’
Source: Fix.com Blog
- Humus– the more humus in the soil the better the environment for the micro-organisms to thrive.
- Cover crops– are green manures and plants that get turned into the soil which require breaking down afterwards.
- Permaculture- these principles always focus and take into account the natural life cycle from micro to large to reduce input to your garden. I highly suggest learning more about permaculture so you can create your own closed loop life cycle systems.
- Adding organic matter to the soil– constantly adding compost, mulches, animal bedding, cover crops and decomposed manure every season will make sure there’s always new matter available for the micro-organisms to consume.
- Trench composting: See image below from Fix.com