Nutrients in the soil are essential to healthy plants, especially plants we eat for food. This recent infographic from the FAO does an excellent job of conveying how to amend soils to improve soil and plant health. Unfortunately, what is missing is who is actually making those nutrients and driving the system! SOIL MICROBES. Amending the soil feeds the microbes who recycle these components into usable nutrients.
It’s estimated that there are about 100 million microbes in 1 gram of soil. That’s bacteria, viruses, microscopic fungi, and archaea. These microbes are essential for recycling dead plants and animals into the macro and micronutrients for living plants, and in turn, ourselves, to use. An excellent collaboration the Earth Microbiome Project examines the microbiome of many different places on Earth. Currently, I’m reading The Hidden Half of Nature by David Montgomery and Anne Biklé, which explores the importance of microbes in general, especially in soils and plants. A review on that book later.
There are many good resources on the soil microbiome and plant root (rhizosphere) microbiomes and the scientific literature is vast. One excellent way to comb through the microbiome literature is Elizabeth Bik’s Microbiome Digest. Here’s a link to papers she has seen recently on the plant, root, and soil microbiome. Though I usually focus on the human microbiome, microbes are everywhere and are key drivers in our world’s nutrient cycles. Let’s not forget the invisible portion of our world that does so much work.