How many diggers, rooters, scratchers, recyclers and producers does your garden support?
Healthy soil hosts a mind boggling array of microscopic sized, soil dwelling creatures whose activities may seem more inspiring to horror movie writers than peace loving gardeners.
In a teaspoon of healthy garden soil one may well find predators with huge scissor hands that chop their victims in half with one snap, things that eat other creatures alive from the inside out, and carnivorous fungi that wrap strands of themselves around their worm-like nematode victims, dissolve them in a sort of chemical soup and slurp them up for dinner. There are creatures that like nothing better than devouring rotting stuff and others that live off enzymes, gas and poop released by other living things. And that is just for starters….
Before you reach for the disinfectant let me quickly add that all this life is necessary in healthy soil. It is what makes soil naturally healthy and fertile. One could say living things actually build the soil and its fertility. (see also https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/human-health-depends-healthy-soil-valerie-payn?trk=prof-post)
Through their activities, soil dwelling creatures alter soil fertility, soil texture, physical structure and acidity levels, influence how well plants absorb nutrients, affect the sort of nutrients plant roots absorb, change the way water and air circulate in the soil, increase soil stability, free up nutrients from gases, rock minerals and organic matter, build humus, produce antibiotics that protect plants against diseases and certain pests, and even decontaminates soils of dangerous toxins. (see alsohttps://www.linkedin.com/pulse/intricate-dance-soil-life-valerie-payn-valerie-payn?trk=mp-reader-card)
These are some of the vital roles living creatures play in the formation of healthy soil:-
Decomposers and recyclers turn organic waste and minerals into plant absorbable nutrients. These include fungi and lichens, various microbes, fly larvae or maggots, many beetles, termites and ants, millipedes and centipedes, worms, cockroaches and earwigs.
Producers turn rocks, sunlight, air, water and minerals into nutrients that other creatures depend on for survival. Lichens, mosses, algae, actinomycetes, bacteria, fungi and plants are all producers. Producers have a huge impact on soil conditions, as well as on other life in the vicinity. Lichens, for instance, produce acids that dissolve rock. The lichen absorb and concentrate these dissolved rock minerals, making them available for other living creatures to feed on.
Parasites and predators are the soil eco-systems natural crowd control agents. They keep the soil eco-system stable by preventing any one group of creatures breeding up to much and overwhelming the system. These useful creatures also keep plant eating pests at bay. If your soil eco-system lacks enough parasites and predators you might suffer frequent pest outbreaks amongst your plants, especially of root damaging pests. Predators and parasites include slime moulds, protozoa, certain fungi and bacteria, some nematodes and worms, various insects, birds and small animals.
Diggers, rooters and scratchers are Nature’s soil tillers. Their digging, scratching and burrowing activities loosen the soil, create channels that water and air can flow through, improve soil drainage, prevent soil compaction, circulate nutrients and prevent toxins from building up. Their activities make it easier for seeds to germinate, for roots to penetrate deep layers, and for plants to access nutrients. Various birds, insects, worms, small animals, microbes (and some vigourous gardeners) all fall into this category.
To create a vibrant soil eco-system use mulch, compost or green-manures to build up soil humus levels, and reduce or eliminate your use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
Read more of Valerie Payn’s articles on ecological gardening here: https://www.linkedin.com/today/author/valerie-payn-903a9515