Teaming with Microbes - The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis (2010 hardback 220 pp Timber Press $30.50)

Revealed: the world beneath our feet, an infinite complexity of life - from bacteria and fungi to arthropods, worms, larvae and so much more. We ignore it at our peril. And alas, peril is upon us in degraded soils, polluted runoff, poisoned waters, pests, disease and impoverished food.

Established gardening, farming and forestry practices have been profoundly disruptive to the sophisticated but fragile network that links the roots of trees and other plants. Digging is best avoided, rototilling is positively warned against, chemical fertilizers kill off beneficial organisms, so does machinery (by compacting the soil), and removing fallen leaves is a task that should be forgotten.

“All these human practices affect the soil food webs in your yard and garden,” explain Lowenfels and Lewis, both experienced garden writers based in Alaska. “Once a niche is destroyed, the soil food web begins to work imperfectly. Once a member of a niche is gone, the same thing happens… The gardener must step in to fill the gap, or the system completely fails. Rather than working against nature, the gardener had better co-operate with it.”