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close this book Intensive vegetable gardening for profit and self-sufficiency
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Open this folder and view contents A dictionary for soil study
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View the document Soil microbes and the soil workshop

Soil microbes and the soil workshop

Soil microbes are very tiny living plants and animals that cannot be seen by the naked eye. They are best seen under a microscope. Without these soil microbes, agriculture could not exist.

We can imagine that the soil is a workshop for soil microbes. Within a soil there are many different kinds and groups of microbes, each performing a special job in the soil's workshop. The operations of all types of soil microbes are necessary to the support of healthy plant life. The work of soil microbes is the basis of agricultural productivity. Soil microbes work in many ways. Some break down complex organic matter into foods that plants can use. Microbes which bring about the decay of organic matter are most familiar. For example, when plants or animals die their dead bodies, by the work of microbes, fall apart and give back to the soil and air most of the elements taken from these sources for life. These elements are then used as food for other forms of life. This is known as the life cycle. Life is supported in a continuous cycle:


Figure 2.6 THE LIFE CYCLE

Other very helpful soil microbes capture nitrogen from the air and change it into food for plants. Some microbes, called nitrobactia, change certain nitrogen materials of the soil into forms easily used by plants. Other microbes lock up and store nitrogen surpluses, and then release them slowly as needed by the plants. There are even microbes (predaceous fungi) which attack and eat nematodes (very small worms that eat plant roots ). These microbes are only found in soils with -humus. Health producing vitamins and disease fighting antibiotics are produced by microbes and plants in a healthy soil.

The skilled gardener can learn to judge if his soil's microbes are healthy or not. One way to do this IS by the smell of the soil. A healthy soil microbe population will give the soil a very satisfying smell that cannot be found in badly eroded or depleted soils. If earthworms are abundant in soil, one is assured that the soil microbes are also present and healthy. More experienced farmers can detect their presence by the spongy feel of a good soil.

Soil microbes multiply at a fast rate whenever the right kinds of foods are made available to them. Practically all of the beneficial, helpful soil microbes feed on organic matter in one form or other. By building up the organic matter and humus of the soil and applying mineral fertilizers, the farmer and nature join hands to produce abundant healthy food. The more skill the farmer developes in handling his organic materials the more service he will get from his soil microbes.


Figure 2.7 THE SOIL'S WORKSHOP