There are more organisms in one tablespoon of healthy soil than there are humans on the earth. That’s right, good soil contains a complex biological community. These local life forms range in size from the tiniest one-celled creatures, such as bacteria, fungi and protozoa, to the more complex nematodes and micro-arthropods, to the visible earthworms, insects and small vertebrates. This community of life is called, “the soil food web”. It is this web of life that cycles nutrients while protecting plants from pests and disease. If that isn’t enough, these little critters also hold water and create structure in the soil.
In the natural order of things, plants take their energy from the sun and mix it with carbon from the atmosphere to create sugars and proteins. These sugars and proteins are food, both for the plant who created it and for its biological partners in the soil food web. The plant donates some of its food to the biological life forms in the ground, and in exchange, the soil critters gather up nutrients in their local environment, the soil, and transform them into something the plant can take in. Both the plant and the soil are well fed and they each gave something in return. It’s the ultimate “local food diet”!
For many years, humans have focused on feeding plants. With our best intentions of keeping our plants healthy, we have actually broken the links and connections in the soil food web. As we saw in the local food diet just described, it makes sense why we’ve seen an increase in plant disease, pest problems and a loss of topsoil at an alarming rate. At its worst incarnation, this neglect of the soil has meant less carbon in the ground and more in the atmosphere, thereby contributing to global warming.
We can turn this around. By feeding the soil, we’ll have healthier plants, including higher yields and better nutrition. Sounds good, right? As you wrap up this year’s garden and start planning next year’s, consider steps to create an active soil food web, right in your own yard. For example, now is a great time to spread some compost and/or mulch on your garden beds. Feeding your local soil can indeed have a direct effect on the health of our planet.
-Jesse Frank, Ceres Edible Landscaping
Ceres Edible Landscaping wants to help you grow food and maintain your garden as a healthy and ecologically diverse ecosystem. We provide garden consultations, design, installation and organic maintenance services from a permaculture perspective. Call Nora for an appointment: 250.748.8506.