Building Soil Health With Microbes

“Essentially, all life depends upon the soil … There can be no life without soil and no soil without life; they have evolved together.” – Charles E. Kellogg, USDA Yearbook of Agriculture, 1938 

Microbes are amazing. I was suspicious before, but now after a four-day workshop with Doug Weatherbee I know there is an invisible world that is truly fascinating.  Doug Weatherbee is a certified Soil Foodweb Advisor who teaches a four day workshop called “Making More with Microbes: A Soil Training Program.”  Those four days changed my understanding of everything, including my own body. We were introduced to so many ideas that were new to me and discovered a wide range of ways that microbes impact our lives. I will attempt to share some of what we learned here.As humans we are only made up of only .07% human genetic material.  The rest of us is microbial. We are individual ecosystems with bacteria living in and on us. These unseen organisms break down our vitamins, form a body of armour surrounding us keeping harmful microbes out, digest our food and more. Without them we cannot survive.

If you would like to find out more, here is a TED talk with Bonnie Bassler all about bacteria and how they communicate.

Fungi

Only 10% of terrestrial species diversity can be seen with the naked eye, the other 90% is microbial. There is a huge network of microbial communities working in the soil. Doug’s workshop gave us the groundwork to be able to work with microbes as allies, creating healthy microbial communities in our soils. Giving nutrients to microbes rather than using soluble fertilizers that feed plants directly, we are able to create an environment that allows microbes to do what they do best.  That is, to create a complicated microbial network.  Roots excrete exudates full of amino acids, sugars and proteins that feed bacteria. In turn, these bacteria become food for the amoebae flagellates and so on until a complex environment is built up. This environment is capable of fighting off root-eating nematodes and pathogens, storing nutrients and moisture and resisting erosion. In this way it supports the growth of incredibly strong, healthy, disease-resistant plants.

An awe inspiring episode of this kind of heroic behavior is found in the predatory fungus called Arthrobotrys anconia. It excretes the same hormone that distressed plants do to attract predatory nematodes. Once the nematode is lured in, it is captured using the Arthrobotrys anconia’s constricting ring and devoured.

Arthrobotrys anconia catching a nematode.

After learning the basic structure of soil and the life of microbes, we moved on into the practical application of these ideas, which involves making microbe-rich composts both static and turned, vermi-composting, compost teas and extracts.

I’m really excited to incorporate these ideas into my gardening to hopefully grow the healthiest and largest tomatoes. A big thank you to the Ecology Action Center for hosting such an incredible mind expanding workshop.

Written by: Rebecca Singer

For more information please visit these websites.

Soil Foodweb US

Soil Foodweb Canada

Compost Microbiology and the Soil Food Web

The Soil Foodweb: It’s Importance in Ecosystem Health.

Interview with Doug Weatherbee on Sustainable World Radio

Book

Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardner’s Guide to the Soil Food Web. Written by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis.  ISBN-13: 978088192771

 

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