In their book, The Hidden Half of Nature, authors David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé show just how intertwined the health of our gardens is with the microbial world. Here are some of their tips for taking care of the beneficial microbes in your garden soil.
1. Cover Up Bare Soil
Helpful microbes in the soil, like the fiber-fermenters in your gut, love to feast on dead plant matter. To them, it’s food, and if you provide it, they will come. Then they transform the organic matter into plant manna. No need for back-breaking labor, just place a cozy layer of mulch to a depth of 2 to 3 inches right on top of garden beds.
2. Get Creative With Making Mulch
Beneficial soil microbes thrive on dead plant material from wood chips to coffee grounds. Just as in the kitchen, experiment with ingredients. Many things you may consider garbage, soil microbes consider pay dirt. (Hint: Arborists and your coffee shops will often give their copious waste goodies away.)
3. Keep Your Leaves In The Fall
Consider it organic matter delivered for free. Unless you have an inordinate amount, simply collect leaves and stash them to use later in the spring or summer, or rake them onto the top of your beds right away.
4. Cease And Desist With Using Leaf Blowers
Blowers are like a re-enactment of Dustbowl days from the 1930s, eroding topsoil and harming beneficial soil life and roots near the ground’s surface. Raking, sweeping and easing up on tidying up your garden are alternatives. Plus, these practices provide an added benefit—peace and quiet.
5. Lay Off The Synthetic Chemical Fertilizers
Unless you have specialty ornamentals that absolutely require them, synthetic fertilizers are no good for your garden. These products are prone to disrupting the interactions between plants and the beneficial soil microbes that form the backbone of a plant’s defense system.
Excerpted from The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health (W.W. Norton & Company, 2015) by David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
About the Authors: David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé are the authors of The Hidden Half of Nature, inspired by their experience restoring the soil on their city lot in Seattle. Read more on their website Dig2Grow, and you can follow them on Twitter @dig2grow and Facebook.