I never expected soil to be exciting… never considered that it might save our planet or have any relationship to my moods and well-being. What a shock to learn that the microbes that inhabit healthy soil affect everything that happens in the world. They make oxygen, draw carbon from the atmosphere, enhance the nutrients in food crops and help the microbiome of bacteria in our human guts keep us healthy and feeling good.
This secret world of microbes in the soil is called mycorrhizae (my-co-rye-z). They form vast networks of mycelia, the white webby stuff you often see when you dig a shovel-full of soil, that enable plants to communicate with each other and with the bacteria and fungi living in the soil.
These micro-organisms feed plants and trees by converting inert minerals into nutrients that the plants need. Plants send a request for nutrition and the microbes make it happen. They connect plants with each other and help them feed and nurture others in their community.
This is especially true of trees, which can recognize their own babies and selectively nurture them. Mycorrhizae help pull carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the roots of plants. There are scientists who believe that by feeding the soil with compost, we can create powerful carbon sinks that will absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere and help alleviate the problem of global warming.
Then there is the effect of mycorrhizae on the vitality of plant crops. When we grow our food in healthy soil, the diversity and health of the bacteria in our guts is enhanced. This helps us digest our food more effectively and can affect our moods and emotional health.
Many studies show that our emotional responses to life are the result of communication between our brains and the bacteria that live in our guts. Having a healthy gut microbiome makes a big difference in the way you perceive and deal with the world.
So, these microscopic critters affect every part of life on our planet. It makes sense to keep them happy. In your garden, you can do this by trying to disrupt the soil as little as possible. Add compost to the soil, but don’t dig it in. Keep the soil covered by planting cover crops or mulching. Avoid chemical fertilizers. They are “fast food” for plants and short circuit the miraculous relationship between mycorrhizae and roots.
I hope you will explore this miraculous world of the mysterious and unseen and share what you learn to others. To save the world, we must save the soil!