Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis (Timber Press, 220 pp., $24.95)
by Susan Mulvihill
If you’re looking for a book that will help you transform
your garden, I’ve found it. I recently finished reading Teaming with
Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis (Timber Press, 220 pp., $24.95)
and can’t wait to change some of my longstanding gardening practices.
I’ve long maintained that we gardeners take our soil for
granted. It’s just there. We buy plants
or start them from seed, and just plant them into our gardens without realizing
our soils need a little bit of TLC.
We also were taught long ago that we should rototill or turn
over our soil at the start of each garden season. Little did we know we were disrupting
the established soil structure that helps air and water to move through it.
I’ve been an organic gardener for many years now but fully
understand that many folks use chemical fertilizers, insecticides and
herbicides in their gardens. While I knew these products were bad for the
environment, I really didn’t realize the harm they were doing to the network of
microorganisms in our soil (which the authors refer to as the “soil food web”).
As an organic vegetable gardener, I often use organic
fertilizers for certain veggie crops. It turns out this isn’t necessary.
In “Teaming with Microbes,” the authors divide the book into
two main sections. In the first, they take the reader on a fascinating
exploration of the types of “critters” that are in our soil -- most of which we
are unable to see without a hand lens or fancy microscope.
I got to learn about bacteria, archaea (really cool
microorganisms that often live in inhospitable environments and play a key role
in the nitrogen cycle within soil), fungi, algae and slime molds, protozoa,
nematodes, arthopods (critters like spiders and beetles), earthworms,
gastropods (snails and slugs), and reptiles, mammals and birds -- all of which
play a vital role in the health of our soils. How cool is it to learn something
completely new and to see images of each of these?
The second part of the book breaks down how you can apply
what you learned in the first part to make your gardens grow better than ever.
The authors first explain what compost, mulches, compost
teas and mycorrhizal fungi do for the soil and plants. Then they discuss the
specifics of this as it relates to maintaining your lawn, trees, shrubs and perennials, and growing
annuals and veggies.
They’ve even included a garden calendar so you know what to
Lowenfels and Lewis maintain that by discontinuing the
practices of turning our soil over each year and using chemicals, and by applying
compost, mulch, compost tea and mycorrhizal fungi, our gardens will be healthy
and productive. And, if you haven’t realized this yet, this means less work and
less expense because we won’t be rototilling or shoveling our soil and we won’t
be purchasing expensive fertilizers and chemicals. Wow.
I heartily recommend everyone read “Teaming with Microbes”
to gain a better understanding of the amazing soil food web out there and the
far-reaching implications it has to change our gardening practices. We have everything
to gain from it!