Here we are! We are back from our hiatus of managing through life and working really hard and turning back our attention to my Soil Series that I have been talking about. So far we have covered the importance of taking soil samples, various soil nutrients, and other odds and ends! In this article we are going to talk about soil biota, the life found in the soil, and how we can support that life by adding different types of soils to build up the individual ecosystem.
I have been in this industry since I was nineteen and my number one pet peeve is when people call soil “dirt”. To me, dirt has always been known as lifeless grime that collects just about anywhere. Soil is full of life and an ecosystem of its own. Soil is nutrient rich and supporting all kinds of life. Dirt cannot do any of that.
The Soil Biota is known as the living diversity that benefits plant roots and the environment. The Soil Biota is intertwined in all food webs as well as nutrient cycling. Nutrient cycling is the process of energy being moved between living and non-living parts in the environment. Soil Biota consists of the microorganisms and soil animals. Some of the microorganisms are fungi, bacteria, Protozoa, and nematodes. You have earthworms, beetles, mites and microarthopods. These beings are responsible for various biogeochemical cycling, which is the process of how the essential elements are moved to be utilized by organisms. Two great examples of this would be the water cycle and the carbon cycle.
We are not just enriching our plants when we add soil amendments; we are enriching the whole soil community. There are so many different type of products out there to add to our soil to benefit the Soil Biota. We are going to cover the basic three: top soil, humus, and compost. Top soil is the upper layer of soil with the highest amount of organic matter. Top soil varies from region to region when it comes to texture and color. When we add top soil back into our garden, we are adding back nutrients for our plants and creating a better home for most microorganisms. Adding top soil will improve poor soil by rebuilding the natural balance in the soil’s ecosystem. Compost is the natural process of decay of plant matter and vegetable waste. Adding compost to our soil is adding rich, organic matter back into the soil. Compost helps in retaining water and establishes vegetation since its high in nutrient for our plants. Top soil and compost sound really similar by definition. My best rule is that top soil is great for new plantings, grading your lawn, and fixing holes whereas compost is great for adding extra organic matter. Natural top soil is very organically rich where as bag or bulk top soil may not have that same nutrition factor like compost. Humus is also rich, organic matter for the soil. But what sets humus and compost apart is that humus is breaking down even more by anaerobic organisms, which is your protozoans and bacteria. The microorganisms take in the top soil or decaying matter and turn it into the humus allowing it to be utilized by plants and other beings in the soil. Humus is the end result of all decomposition.
When we add any soil based products, we are benefitting this microscopic world we cannot see. One gram of soil can hold billions of bacteria! Bacteria in the soil utilizes the oxygen found in the soil. We have fungi, like mushrooms and mycorrhizae that help with decomposition and having a symbiosis relationship with plants to utilize nutrient. There are earthworms that add castings to the soil to make it nutrient rich and even microscopic worms that help break down decomposing material as well. You can find various arthropods in the soil such as grubs, millipedes, centipedes, and mites. They aerate the soil as they tunnel through it, feed on decaying animals and plant materials to add nutrients back into the soil, and add to the top soil over time.
This complex ecosystem sustains different types of life beyond what we can see. The natural life in the soil sustains everything above the soil. I always tell my customers, when our plant roots are strong, everything above the roots are strong too. Excellent soil is important to our plants because of the life in the soil. Thank you so much for reading the importance of soil life and what we can do to enrich it! We have a few more articles to go before our Soil Series comes to an end! I would like to open up a discussion for any type of soil questions at this time. Please use the contact me page or the comments to send me your soil questions. Thank you so much!