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April 14, 2016: Superheroes in the Garden; Soil microbes at work for you.

April 14, 2016: Superheroes in the Garden;
Soil microbes at work for you.

By Hilary Kemsley.

In the pitch dark and invisible to the human eye, billions of soil microbes feed your plants, attack organisms programmed to destroy roots, and remove harmful wastes and gases; they also stabilize soil, and suppress plant diseases. As Red Green might put it – Microbes aren’t handsome but they’re handy.

Protozoa, bacteria, nematodes and fungal hyphae are just four of the multitude of microbes working interdependently in complex systems called microbial food networks or webs.

The variety of soil microbes is astonishing. Soil scientists, or pedologists, and their colleagues have used electron microscopes to discover, study and categorize 50,000 species of protozoa alone.

Gardeners are familiar with NPK labels that show the ratio of nitrogen to phosphorous to potassium in commercial fertilizers. A high middle number promotes flowering, they tell us, and a high percentage of nitrogen is good for grass. But the power and industry of microbial food networks on plant production is not as well known.

Scientists believe that the impact of naturally occurring microbial webs surpasses the effect on plant growth from additions of manufactured nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Besides, microbes are free.

To determine how many microbes are in your own garden is impossible. Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis in Teaming with Microbes, The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web explain the numbers like this: “A mere teaspoon of good garden soil contains a billion invisible bacteria, several yards of invisible fungal hyphae, several thousand protozoa, and a few dozen nematodes.” All you have to do, then, is count the number of teaspoons of soil in your garden, and multiply. Easy-peasy.

Pesticides and herbicides kill microbes. No microbes means farmers and gardeners alike must supply – either artificially or naturally – every morsel of nutrition their crops or flowers require to produce the desired results.

If soil microbes are essential to healthy plant growth, what can gardeners do to encourage them? The scientific answer is beyond the scope of this article, of course. But below are three simple actions you may want to consider.

Choose to garden organically. Tons of information is available on the web about how to do this. Trust me, it is not complicated.

Keep yer wellies on the pavement when the beds and lawn are soggy. Each step we take in a water-laden garden squishes out of existence millions of microbes. The deeper and more numerous the footprints, the more extensive the damage.

Rototillers are a thing of the past. Today’s soil and agriculture experts nix the traditional turning over of soil to enhance a garden. Tilling the soil, along with spreading any weed seed efficiently, rips apart fragile microbial systems. Left undisturbed, these natural food distribution and waste management factories become increasingly robust. And so do your plants.

Motto 2016: Do less for Success… In the garden. Sounds perfect to me.

like sand grains stuck on a rock in appearance

Friend or Foe?

Photo Caption: Microbes at work as seen under an electron microscope. A more in-depth explanation of microbiology, its processes, and their contributions to soil makeup, can be found on-line at phys.org . Photo source: http://phys.org/news/2012-12-contribution-bacterial-remnants-soil-fertility.html.

Hilary Kemsley is a professional Design and Gardening Consultant. Living and working in Westboro Village for over 30 years, Hilary can be reached at kemsley@sympatico.ca .

[Ed: Coming Gardening events:
Check out our 2016 Spring Gardeners calendar for all manner of garden related community events.]


Please Note: Image is reproduced under fair dealing provisions only, Not a Newswest Copyright item. Image is the property solely of its owner. Do not copy without reviewing the terms on the phys.org website..

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