The more we learn about the natural world, the more we find out about its elegant solutions to problems we labour clumsily to address. Thus it is that unimaginable zillions of organisms in the soil decompose organic matter, sequester carbon and nitrogen, promote porosity and aggregation, prevent erosion, purify water and create fertility.
In Part 1, I wrote about these creatures that make up our “micro-herds” of hidden helpers. In our ignorance, we gardeners and growers disrupt their processes, exhausting both ourselves and the soil. How do we do this?-We compact.
Machinery, as well as human or animal foot traffic, leads to compaction. Soils are most vulnerable when they are wet. Compaction destroys the soil’s delicate structure, decreases its ability to absorb moisture, pollutes waterways by increasing runoff, starves micro-organism populations and increases greenhouse gas emissions. For gardeners, the lesson is, work from the side of your beds, stay on the paths. -We disturb
. The soil’s flora and fauna are organized into very specialized and inter-connected communities, the majority living within a couple of inches of the surface, but a large proportion to be found in the “rhizosphere,” the area around the plants’ roots, which exude proteins, sugars and carbohydrates to attract microbes and fungi that will help the plants absorb nutrients. The micro-communities in the soil aren’t layered so much as “nested,” with multiple interconnections up and down and sideways, between decomposer and recycler, predator and prey. When we dig or till, we wrench the specialists away from their appointed tasks into environments where they can no longer serve or even survive – and it takes precious time and energy for these communities to rebuild. -We poison.
Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides destroy the natural balances in the soil.Read more