IMG_1685What do Soil Microbes do?

The soil food web comprises of millions and millions of microscopic organisms ranging in size from the tiniest one-celled bacteria to the more complex nematodes up to the larger visible earthworms and insects. Worms and soil microbes change the soil into a loose, crumbly, biologically active soil which resists erosion and soaks up water like a sponge. Soil organisms help release and recycle nutrients from the soil. This makes for healthier plants which provide their own disease and weed protection.

What do microbes do that makes them worth worrying about, let alone worth trying to manage?
In simplified human terms, the microbes are primarily in charge of food preparation for the plant. Beneficial microbes also help defend the plant against pathogenic microbes. We do not tend to think of fertilizer as requiring “preparation” before it can be utilized by plants, but with the exception of nitrogen, all other nutrients require “microbial preparation” before they can be absorbed by the plant’s root system. In the same way humans get their calcium from milk or cheese as opposed to limestone, plants get their minerals from by-products of a microbe that digested a particular mineral rather than getting it directly from inorganic minerals. 30% of the daily total of plant glucose production is exuded unto the root-zone to attract and feed beneficial microbes. The plant sacrifices 30% of its glucose to feed the microbes that assist the plant in the process of nutrient solubilisation and absorption.

Microbes also breakdown organic matter and are responsible for making the carbon, phosphorus, sulfur and many other nutrient cycles function. In short, without microbes, the plant cycle would end. Managing microbiology is perhaps the hardest concept to master in the System largely because the microbes themselves are too small to be seen – bacteria for example are 4/100,000 of an inch wide. It is particularly hard to manage something you cannot see. Because managing the microbiology is so important we will attempt to help you visualize your team of microbes. In the right environment species multiply and come into a proper balance, the theory being to promote the environment for this to happen. Correct nutrient balance in the soil as well as active carbon provides the soil structure for aerobic microbes to flourish.

The claims of benefits usually include:

• Increased plant growth

• Higher Brix levels (more “energy” in the plant)

• Better plant nutritional quality

• Increased fine feeder root formation

• Particular benefit for legumes (e.g. in pasture)

• Increased chlorophyll content (for photosynthesis)

• Lower free nitrogen content in plant tissue (higher quality)

• Reduced pest and disease pressure