I didn’t give it much thought, either… but after reading Teaming with Microbes, I have a new appreciation for the incredible complexity of nature.
Ever heard the organic gardening advice “feed the soil, not the plant?”
This book explains why.
Around the roots of your vegetables, shrubs and trees, there’s a vast web of microorganisms living sometimes in competition, sometimes in cooperation, and sometimes in symbiosis.
Fungal nets stretch out from the roots of a pine to capture nutrients the tree cannot… bacteria create feeding frenzies that heat up a pile of grass clippings… mushrooms spring from the wood they’re breaking down into compost… tiny mites and nematodes constantly turn the soil and release nutrition… it’s a wild world. Lowenfels and Lewis encourage you to harness that world on behalf of your plants.
If you’re the type of person that gets bored by science, I should say that you won’t like the first part of this book… but instead, I’m going to say you’re a moron. Science is awesome.
One part of Teaming with Microbes I found particularly interesting was the difference between plant communities and how some prefer bacterially dominated soils… and other prefer fungally dominated soils. It makes sense when you consider the difference between an annual vegetable garden with its constant plant turnover and the relative stability of a forest. The former is a live-fast-die-young place where bacteria reign… the latter is a place where vast nets of mycellium invest themselves into unturned soil.
And speaking of soil turning, one of the takeaways the authors want you to get from this book is: DON’T TILL! This is emphasized multiple times through the text. Though I don’t buy completely into the “no till” approach, I do understand the reasoning behind that philosophy better after reading Teaming with Microbes.
If I were to pick a downside of this book, it would be that it suffers a little from the same ailment as health books often do: a reliance on “bought-in” supplements, in this case fungal and bacterial mixes designed to help your plants. Though a lot of emphasis on creating “compost tea” is given, the idea of further going and buying expensive fungal or bacterial cultures doesn’t sit well with my survival gardening ethos. Neither does the emphasis on constant compost tea drenches of the soil or regular soil microorganism analyses. Too much work for me. (Though I do REALLY want a microscope now.)
Overall, the information in this book is eye-opening and consistently entertaining. I found myself wanting to go deeper after reading, which is one of my criteria for a good book. It left me daydreaming of ways to bring more life into my soil, particularly in my compacted and sad front yard.
Teaming with Microbes is a very good book. You can pick up a copy here.
If you buy it through my link, I make a few cents. Maybe if you buy 100 copies I can afford a bigger compost tea sprayer…