Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web, Revised Editionby Wayne Lewis, Jeff Lowenfels
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Smart gardeners know that soil is anything but an inert substance. Healthy soil is teeming with life — not just earthworms and insects, but a staggering multitude of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms. When we use chemical fertilizers, we injure the microbial life that sustains healthy plants, and thus become increasingly dependent on an arsenal of artificial substances, many of them toxic to humans as well as other forms of life. But there is an alternative to this vicious circle: to garden in a way that strengthens, rather than destroys, the soil food web — the complex world of soil-dwelling organisms whose interactions create a nurturing environment for plants. By eschewing jargon and overly technical language, the authors make the benefits of cultivating the soil food web available to a wide audience, from devotees of organic gardening techniques to weekend gardeners who simply want to grow healthy, vigorous plants without resorting to chemicals.
"Sure, it's a gardening book, but it has all the drama and suspense of an extraterrestrial thriller. A cast of characters without eyeballs or backbones. Battle scenes with bizarre creatures devouring one another. Only this book is about as terrestrial as it gets." —Debra McKinney, Anchorage Daily News “A breakthrough book…well worth owning and reading. No comprehensive horticultural library should be without it.” —American Gardener “Exceptional…A brief, clear overview of scientific information with which every gardener should be familiar.” —Monterey Herald “Digs into soil in a most enlightening and entertaining way.” —Dallas Morning News “Required reading for all serious gardeners.” —Miami Herald “This intense little book may well change the way you garden.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch “All good gardeners know healthy plants start with healthy soil. But why? And how? In Teaming with Microbes Lowenfels and Lewis reveal the new research in the most practical and accessible way.” —The Oregonian “Read this book and you’ll never think of soil the same way.” —Seattle Post-Intelligencer “The authors have given gardeners an inside scoop on the scientific research supporting organic gardening.” —Pacific Horticulture “Sure, it’s a gardening book, but it has all the drama and suspense of an extraterrestrial thriller…Read this book and you’ll never look at soil the same way.” —B & B Magazine “[This book] is a must read for any gardener looking to create a sustainable, healthy garden without chemicals.” —Virginian-Pilot “It takes readers underground to meet the critters that live if you let them under the garden.” —Rockland Courier-Gazette
Read an Excerpt
The images in this book have forewarned you: you may find things in your soil that, upon closer examination, will scare the daylights out of you. (In general we advise against putting anything under an electron microscope. At that level, all life has teeth!) The point is, when you get a good look at some of the microarthropods present in soil, you may never want to put your hands in the soil again. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss; however, in this instance a little knowledge is not going to hurt you and will actually help you be a better gardener. Just remember, you put your hands in the soil before you knew what was there and never got hurt.
You will want to repeat the following procedures with soils from each of your gardens and lawn areas, and even around specific trees and shrubs. We have done this dozens of times in our own yards, and what we find never fails to astonish us.
Start by digging a hole in the soil at issue, about 12 inches (30 centimeters) square. Use a spade or trowel — it doesn't matter, and measurements don't have to be exact. Put all the soil you dig up onto a tarp or in a box so you can then sift through it, looking for the bigger animals you might find in the soil: worms, beetles, insect larvae — any living organism you can see with the naked eye and pick up without having to resort to tweezers. Keep track of what you are finding.
None of us are trained at identifying all the organisms in our soils, and frankly the variety of them is so great as to be beyond the scope of this book. Do your best in making identifications. Seek help from others. In time you will become sufficiently proficient for the purpose. This is new stuff, and just being exposed to it will make the learning experience easier. It didn't take us very long, and it won't take you long to become familiar with soil food web organisms.
Meet the Author
Wayne Lewis is a lifelong Alaskan gardener. He has worked with Jeff Lowenfels on many projects over the past 25 years, including the now national Plant a Row for the Hungry program, which encourages gardeners to donate a portion of their harvest to charitable organizations in their community.
A popular national garden writer and leading proponent of gardening using concepts of the soil food web, Jeff Lowenfels is the former president of the Garden Writers of America. In 2005, he was inducted into the GWA Hall of Fame, the highest honor a garden writer can achieve. His is the author of Teaming with Nutrients: The Organic Gardener's Guide to Optimizing Plant Nutrition.
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