Underneath the soil there exists a vibrant, complex world of creatures and plants vying for survival. This underground ecosystem is called the soil food web. Tiny bacteria aid in the decomposition of organic matter, protozoa feed on this bacteria, nematodes consume the protozoa, which are consumed by yet larger organisms and sometimes even fungi (pictured below).
The plants and trees we keep in our backyards do not just survive, but thrive amongst this ordered chaos. They are at their best when the soil food web is at its most complex. That is why there is a growing movement in the world of gardening, farming, and lawn care that cultivating healthy, strong plants is synonymous to cultivating a complex and natural soil food web.
If you were to think of the soil food web as a building, bacteria and fungi would be the foundation. As with any other soil organism they aid in increasing soil porosity and increasing movement of water, but bacteria also provide many unique services to the soil that allows it to be classified as the foundation: release of plant available nutrients, regulation of PH, and formation of symbiotic relationships with a wide variety of plants. As for fungi, it plays a large role in the decomposition of bio matter as well. Many fungi form mycorrhizal associations with plants, a mutualistic symbiosis in which both the plant and fungi benefit. When such an association is made, different plant species can become fused together by the mycorrhizal root system, and nutrients are shared all around.
Protozoa are the next step up on the food chain. These are single celled predators that consume bacteria. When the bacteria are consumed, their stored nutrients are released as plant-available nutrients into the soil. They also work to keep nematode populations at manageable numbers through competition as well as predation. Nematodes are a species of roundworms that consume bacteria, protozoa, fungi, other species of nematodes, etc. They also aids in the release of plant available nutrients, and help spread of nutrients to different areas of the soil.
Soil organisms at this size (visible to the naked eye) play a large role in the upkeep of soil porosity, as well as, of course, the release of plant available nutrients through predation. Earthworms especially are nothing if not extremely beneficial to plants, provide food for fungi and bacteria through their waste, cultivate a better soil structure, aid in the balance of PH; the list goes on. However, a healthy worm population cannot exist without phenomenal soil conditions including lots of organic matter, soil porosity and a variety of microbes. That’s where the smaller organisms come in, paving the way for these highly beneficial, larger organisms.
There is many different ways to cultivate and maintain a soil food web. While there is a lot to learn, we can help with a few key tips to help get you started.
- Dont Disturb the Soil
Almost every aspect of a living soil can be disturbed or even destroyed by digging or tilling. Many soil amendments, organic fertilizers, mulches and composts are able to be top-dressed. Our proprietary soil amendments applicate through root injection, leaving minimal impact on the soil structure.
- Minimal Synthetic Fertilizers, If Any
Most fertilizers these days boast high NPK content. NPK is beneficial to plants, therefore high NPK chemical fertilizers may seem to make plants grow fast and large. However: underneath the plants, the soil food web is being destroyed. Salts contained in most NPK fertilizers dehydrate soil organisms causing extreme soil acidity, and the excess nutrient runoff can even cause eutrophication in waterways. Its best to use fertilizers and soil amendments that benefit the soil, rather than just trying to force feed the plant chemicals. Alpine Custom Blend is a good example, as it contains beneficial microbes that help cultivate a healthier, more complex soil food web, and Alpine75 Bio-Mineral Tea introduces 75 trace minerals and nutrients into the soil, strengthening and feeding the microbiology.
- Mycorrhizal Inoculants
Mycorrhiza is a microbial fungi that forms a symbiotic relationship with over 80% of plants. People have begun implementing this in their garden, introducing and maintaining mycorrhizal associations with their plants. Our newest product mycorTea contains eleven different species of mycorrhiza, and a relationship between any of them and your trees will prove endlessly beneficial. The benefits range from more than tripling the root zone to even increasing the plants defenses against pests and diseases.