Soil Microbes (Probiotics)
From Chapter 5 of "Healthy Garden Healthy You" by Milo Shammas
Soil is alive! In the beginning there was life, and life was in the soil. Understanding the life in the soil is as important for a gardener as digging in the soil. In addition to parent rocks and minerals, complex webs of microorganisms interact to perpetuate life for each other as well as plants and any subsequent consumers in the food chain. The great digesters of the earth, invisible to the naked eye, constantly break down organic material into a more usable form that plant roots can identify, absorb and incorporate for new growth. Below our feet lie the wonders of a variety of living organisms hard at work converting complex organic compounds such as tannins, lignins, proteins, carbohydrates, cellulose and pectin into simpler, more usable forms plants can absorb for growth. Nutrient compounds must be broken down. All organic materials must be digested through microbial digestive enzymes for nutrients to be available to the plant roots. Without microbes, organic nutrients would simply sit in the soil and add nothing to plants.
Soil microbes also help physically change the soil structure. They bind soil particles to better facilitate water and air infiltration. Different microbes perform different tasks. Besides producing enzymes that simplify the molecular structure of complex organic compounds, microbes release "humic glues" that bind organic soil particles to mineral soil particles and help to stabilize it all. They create semi-stable soil aggregates, in lay terms, the soil every gardener dreams of: easy to work with, dark in color, teeming with a wide variety of biological life and giving off that wonderful, distinctive earthy smell.
The microbes are on the pathogen patrol to clean up our soils. They produce antibiotics to suppress fungal pathogens. Fungus can be a good friend or a troublesome enemy. Beneficial mycorrhizal fungi are one of our best friends for the health and success of our plants. They are able to succeed in the garden under all kinds of growing conditions. Conversely, some of our worst enemies in the garden are harmful pathogenic fungi such as pythium and rhizoctonia (damping-off), root rot and wilt organisms such as fusarium and phytophthora. Healthy plants can fall victim to the devastating effects of pathogenic fungi that can quickly destroy an entire garden. Conventional approaches to fungus control rely on fungicide drenches and soil fumigants. Yet, for millions of years we have had natural control of harmful fungus through a process called "general suppression." Probiotics suppress disease by releasing antibiotic compounds such as phenols and penicillin. They also proliferate bacterial and fungal microflora that suppress pathogens through antagonism, competition, predation and induced resistance.
General suppression naturally controls pathogens without the human interference of harsh chemicals. Healthy soil is full of beneficial bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi. Pathogenic fungus flourish in damp, wet conditions where they do not have to compete with other organisms. Pathogens rarely take over a healthy soil, which has a balanced mix of organic components. These hold many beneficial microbes to suppress fungal pathogens naturally without harming plants, people or pets.
Healthy soils properly inoculated with probiotics can fight off pathogens that harm plants. Productive soil promotes plants survival so that pathogens will not multiply in great numbers. Beneficial microbes fill up the available spaces in the soil so that pathogens cannot become established. Think of a parking lot. If every parking space is occupied, there is no space to park another car. Similarly, if all the available space in the soil is full of beneficial microbes, there is no room for destructive pathogens. When you create an environment rich in beneficial microbes, fungal diseases do not have a chance to become established. Probiotics naturally kill & control fungal pathogens, keeping your soil and plants healthy throughout the year.
Healthy soil should contain no less than 10 million bacteria per gram. As plants grow, they require more nutrients, as do microbes in the soil. As the weather warms, both plants and microbes respond at a similar rate. This self-regulating cycle is an established natural process. As microbes become more active in warm weather in the soil, they digest organic materials and convert them for plants to absorb. As the weather cools, both plants and microbes require less nutrition. Since fewer nutrients are being released in the soil, the soil builds food reserves in cooler weather.
The particular contents and physical characteristics of soil depend on its native rock source, shape of the land, climate, native vegetation, environmental history and how long the native rocks were subjected to weathering. Around the globe, infinite combinations of these features produce different ecological systems. Where you live affects how well your garden will grow. Even in a favorable growing area, local activities may affect your gardening experience. For example, if you bought a house in a beautiful new development where soil has been disturbed or layers removed during construction you probably have poor soil. Often such soil is lifeless and consists of heavy, compacted mineral soils that are intended to support the weight of a house.
To know how to develop healthy plants while preserving the diversity and balance of an ecosystem, we must first understand the soil system. While we still have much to learn about the deep interactions between the soil and plants, research has come far enough to understand the basic components and functions of the living communities beneath our feet. Despite the wide variation in the complexity of each soil system, most have one major thing in common. On top of broken down rocks, they all contain living and dead organic matter.
Microbes are essential to the health of all productive soils. Increasing biological activity and building up existing bacterial populations in the soil make your plants and garden resistant to diseases, frost and insects while adding maximum growth and health potential. Your soil is alive; don’t treat it like dirt! Learn to work with and nurture the natural bio-diversity of your soil.
Milo Lou Shammas
Founder and Formulator