Understanding healthy soil biology is quickly becoming the “next frontier” for science exploration. Michigan State University professor of nematology George Bird reminds us that “Like the oxygen we breathe, no life can exist without soil.” Similarly, soil cannot function without life.
While soil scientists have long understood the physical and chemical properties of the ground we garden in, new research is unlocking secrets of the “living component” of soils that make them able to regenerate and function as a living ecosystem. So, what does this mean? Do we need a bunch of earthworms sliding around to make our soils healthy?
According to Bird, a large percentage of the living component is microscopic, not visible to the naked eye. Like magic, organisms such as bacteria, fungi, nematodes, flagellates and actinomycetes work in harmony with one another to release, or mineralize, nutrients and make them available to plant roots. Often these very organisms become the “gatekeeper” of essential elements to enter plant roots. What Bird describes as “gardener’s friends,” these diminutive creatures work in tandem with plant roots and each other, allowing the soil to respond to management practices in a predictable manner and preventing soil degradation.