Now we get to meet the residents of our soils. You might be shocked to learn there can be billions of them in a handful of good garden loam. The residents include the worms and bugs you can see, plus more worms and bugs you cannot see with the naked eye. There are very few of those, however, numbering in the tens of thousands in your little garden. Next come the fungi, bacteria, and viruses. Thousands of different kinds, millions each of most, billions of some.
Some work against each other, but the level of cooperation at the microscopic level amazes the people who get to watch on electron microscopes. All sorts of invisible critters feed one another, trade water and minerals for sugars and other foods. They provide transportation, purification, waste disposal, and negotiate contracts between grouchy neighbors. They work together to keep enemies in check, or even to make friends of the enemies. Or eat them. And they also tend to the plants in the garden.
So many little critters live in the soil it can be overwhelming to try and sort them out. . . especially since we can’t see them. But we don’t need to see or hear them to know they’re doing their jobs and staying in balance. Figuring out the microbes is as simple as watching the garden.
In fact, plants are nearly helpless, even somewhat pathetic without the various microbes that feed and water them, allow them to breath, moderate the nutrients and nurse them along. I might even suggest that tending to the microbes is the most critical critical aspect of gardening — especially over a long time and many seasons.
Like a pet, soil needs good food and water, adequate shelter, exercise, some sunshine, interaction with others, and plenty of fresh air.
This series may get deeper and more involved, but the next article simply considers the easiest and most effective ways to keep your microbes and worms happy so you can enjoy great soil, a beautiful garden, and good food for your table. It will also address the differences between plants and trees, and ways to improve your soil for either one.