A healthy soil is a living system, replete with important, “good guy” organisms. Whether it is vegetables, fruit trees, flowers, or forests, a community of living organisms (microbes) will exist. This soil food web consists of bacteria, fungi, nematodes, arthropods, protozota, earthworms, insects, and small vertebrates.
These organisms serve many functions:
1. They decompose organic compounds, including plant residue, manure, and some pesticides.
2. They transform the minerals into the proper forms for uptake by the plants. Think of them as the digestive system (stomach) for the plants. Its like this -- the microbes are the servants but they eat first, then the plants are served.
3. They fix nitrogen, enhance soil porosity, and prey on crop pests.
4. They hold nutrients in reserve, improve soil structure, increase water holding capacity, and increase carbon sequestration
5 Earthworms can actually turn over the top six inches of soil in 10 to 20 years, often moving large amounts of soil up from the lower strata and organic matter down to deeper layers.
These advantages and more are strong reasons for gardeners and farmers to go organic. Strong pesticides and chemical fertilizers impact the soil organisms negatively and work against the development of a healthy soil.
The numbers of the various soil organisms in a soil will depend on the crop and past
management practices. Bacteria and fungi will generally make up the bulk of the organisms. Forest soils have more organisms than prairie soils, followed by agriculture soils. In agriculture and garden soils, the
numbers increase with increased organic
matter, minimum tillage, and with the use of organic amendments.
The numbers of living organisms in healthy soils is astounding. A teaspoon of agriculture soil can contain up to 1 billion
bacteria, several yards of fungi, several thousand protozoa, and 20 nematodes. Add to that 100 arthropods and thirty
earthworms per square foot, and you have an acre of soil with the living biomass that weighs a ton or more.
Tomato Time: Those 15 inch tall tomatoes (in 2 gallon pots), that I planted in early May are growing at phenomenal rates. They are now 5 feet tall, and loaded with tomatoes. I am trying a new cherry tomato called “Riesentraube.” It looks like it will be PROLIFIC. Here on June 17, I estimate 600 tomatoes already on the plant. Will keep you posted.