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Book Review: Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web

Teaming with MicrobesA book on soil microbiology may not grab you as a good read but you might be surprised. Teaming with Microbes makes soil and its inhabitants into a fascinating subject that entertains while it informs. Organic gardeners as well as average homeowners will find a wealth of information that will aid them in growing healthier plants without the aid of chemicals.

The book is divided into two parts. The first deals with the characteristics of soil and the soil food web. The emphasis is on the relationships between different soil organisms and how these relationships effect plants. Did you know, for example, that plants exude carbohydrates into the soil that stimulate beneficial fungi and bacteria? The authors explain how bacteria, fungi, archaea, algae, slime molds, protozoa, nematodes (round worms), arthropods (such as insects), earthworms, snails, reptiles, birds, and mammals, form complex relationships with each other which result in the unique substance we call soil, or dirt. Kill off one organism in this complex web or relationships with a chemical and you change the nature of the soil and its ability to produce vigorous healthy plants.

The second part of the book considers the application of soil food web science to the yard and garden starting with the premise that a healthy, functioning soil food web leads to soils with better nutrient retention, soil structure, defense against disease, and pH maintenance. Nineteen rules are presented to guide the gardener in using the soil food web. One of the most interesting facts the authors point out is that some plants prefer fungi dominated soil while other prefer bacteria dominated soil because of the difference in availability of nitrogen created by these two microorganisms. Management of nitrogen availability is essential to growing plants and that means paying attention to the fungi and bacteria in the soil. Specific tools for managing the number and kinds of soil microorganisms in your lawn and garden are discussed including compost, mulch, compost tea, and mycorrhizal fungi. The problems created by adding chemical fertilizers are pointed out and specific suggestions are given for growing perennials, annuals, shrubs, trees, vegetables, and lawn grass. A chapter giving the seasonal changes and needs of the soil food web direct the gardener towards a soil maintenance program.

All gardeners wishing to improve their soil can learn from this book. The material is basic to understanding the nature of soil and its relationship to healthy vigorous plant growth and is presented in an easy non-technical style so that even a novice can comprehend it. Photographs and diagrams illustrate the text and add to the overall enjoyment of the book.
To buy Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web from Amazon.com click here.