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Why Microbes are the New "IT" in Gardening!

Close-up of soil microorganisms and their description.
Soil Micro-Organisms at work

Stop into the parking lot of any nursery in America, and what do you see… bags and bags and pallets upon pallets of soil products - Potting Soils! Planting Mixes! Composts! Mulches! Why?

Because most people don’t make great compost at home, and even if they do make a decent compost, they don’t make enough. Every year gardeners across the country replenish their pots, raised beds, containers and in-ground beds with more and more soil. Why?

Because the microbes in the soil break down organic matter every single day that they are active in the garden. Microbes are most active when the soil temperatures reach 68-72 degrees, but are active for you cold climate gardeners as soon as the air temp reaches 40 degrees. Did you know that the soil temperature even on a cold, sunny day can be 10 degrees warmer than the air temperature? Which means at 50 degrees the microbes are breaking down organic matter and doing their job in your garden.

Who are these microbes and what are they doing in my yard?

Let me introduce them to you. To start off your microbial team we have bacteria. They are basically, the start of life on this planet. They are unicellular cells without a nucleus. There can be millions to billions of these guys in a gram of soil! For even the smallest of yards, that’s a whole lotta microbes!!

Related to bacteria are actinomycetes. They are groups of bacteria who decompose the complex polymers that are found in dead plants, animal and fungal material. They are the guys who give us that “earthy” smell in soil. Many of them help create antibiotics! They are aerobic and form spores that are those powdery white looking growth in our decomposing compost piles.

Actinomycetes aid in the growth of mycelium, the vegetative (mushroom) part of fungi that search for water and nutrients.

Speaking of fungi, they are the long, slender filaments that have adapted to create the pores necessary for soil to exist. They decompose organic matter by releasing enzymes from hyphal tips that break down decaying and decomposing material, and also absorb nutrient.

Lastly, we have larger decomposers, protozoa. Like our unicellular organisms that decompose organic materials, as well as chow down on lots of bacteria, which releases nutrients for your plants to eat which closes the microbial loop.

Pretty amazing stuff, huh? So just remember, we’re not dealing with dirt anymore, we’re dealing with living soil. Be not only a gardener of plants, but learn to be a gardener and steward of these beautiful microscopic creatures that really do all of the heavy lifting in your garden if you’ll let them. How do we do that?

How can we become stewards of the microbes?

We quit using the synthetic, chemical and salt-based fertilizers that will kill them. We start learning the no-till method of gardening, so that we don’t disturb the beautiful microbial colonies that are forming in our plots and in our pots. We buy organic products to amend our precious soil with. Here is a BIG tip for all of you gardeners out there. It is the microbes that will repair all of the damage that we do to the environment with toxins and pollutants.

Give the the best chance to thrive and survive by using clean, diverse forms of organic matter to munch on and decompose. Use the BEST compost you can use for them too.

Hand holding earthworm from home composting system.

© Randy Ritchie

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