Healthy soil is a rich, living environment with millions of busy microbes competing for available water, food and space. Sometimes the microbes eat each other and sometimes they get along just fine. Either way, it’s difficult to grow a viable crop without an active population of microscopic soil dwellers.
Microbes, consisting primarily of bacteria, fungi and a few other tiny organisms, are often thought of as invaders that pose a threat to crops, animal and people. While it’s true that some microbes are bad, most are essential elements of a healthy growing environment.
Here is a quick rundown on a few of the most common microbes found in healthy soil:
are an amazingly diverse group of microscopic, single-celled organisms. They are plentiful and multiply rapidly. In fact, one teaspoon of healthy soil contains at least a million bacteria, and maybe up to a billion.
may be primitive plants, but most are the underappreciated good guys of the plant world, working hard to break down plant matter, decompose soil pollutants, discourage pests, fight pathogens and improve uptake of nutrients. A teaspoon of soil usually holds many yards of fine, multi-shaped fungal filaments.
reside primarily on the surface and upper layer of healthy soil and produce their own food via photosynthesis. These tiny plants hold soil together and help process plant matter.
are microscopic, worm-like organisms. It’s true that some are harmful, but they are greatly outnumbered by good nematodes that eat decomposing plant matter, distribute beneficial fungi and bacteria through the soil, and eat harmful root-feeding nematodes. One square foot of soil contains millions of the little guys.
look much like fungi, but they’re actually a unique type of bacteria with a number of important roles in healthy soil, including production of natural antibiotics that detoxify soil and help fight root diseases. If your soil smells rich and earthy, you can be sure that actinomycetes are hard at work.
are single-celled organisms that release critical nutrients like sulfur, phosphorus and nitrogen, thus making them more available to plants. Protozoa are also a good food source for beneficial types of nematodes. How many protozoa in a teaspoon of soil? Thousands!
Microbes work hard and tirelessly to keep soil healthy. Exactly what do those millions of amazing microbes do? For starters, here are a few of their many jobs:
- Enhance moisture availability and improve water absorption and retention, even in sandy soil.
- Increase resistance to pests and disease by suppressing harmful pathogens.
- Reduce erosion and prevent runoff.
- Prevent compaction by keeping soil loose and arable.
- Improve soil structure by decomposing organic matter.
- Retain nutrients around plant roots.
If anyone knows the importance of microbes in the soil, it’s the folks at PittMoss. Their growing media products are not only great for enhancing plant growth but they also provide outstanding air exchange, water availability and distribution of food for microbes, creating an excellent microbial environment. And any gardener knows that great soil means healthy, happy plants.