Soil Health Series | Soil Microbes

Over the next few weeks we will be posting an article about the pillars of healthy soils and crops and the foundation of food production in modern agriculture. Each area is as important as the other and while we often focus on one or two if these pillars (often Mineralisation and Soil Structure) we neglect the others which have the result of degrading our soils and restricting performance. The Pillars are:

  1. Building Humus
  2. Soil Microbes
  3. Soil Structure
  4. Mineral Fertilisers

Soil Microbes

Soil biology are an often the forgotten component of any farming system but they are one of the most important. A rise in the beneficial microbes in the soil increases the amount and types of mineral nutrients, antibiotics and enzymes provided to the plant roots. More nutrients increases plant production, root growth and eventually humus levels, since most humus is formed from the conversion of organic matter by microbes. Soil fertility is also improved enhancing the strike and performance of your crops.

Characteristics of a Health Soil

The soil is alive with billions of organisms designed to 

play a role in soil health, fertility and plant production. Most of the organisms that live in the soil are beneficial micro-organisms such as fungi, bacteria, protozoa and nematodes. The roles that these organisms play and their interactions with each other provides plants with many of the requirements that they need to survive and flourish, which includes:

  • Nutrient solubisation and availability
  • Disease and pest suppression
  • Improving soil fertility
  • Building of soil structure.
  • Fixing atmospheric nitrogen
  • Converting organic matter to plant nutrients
  • Decomposing organic residues
  • Improving root structures
  • Breaking down pollutants in the soil

By allowing and fostering a health and function soil biology you will not only create and ideal environment for your plants and crops to flourish but you will also lessen the need to use fungicides, pesticides and insecticides as the plants  natural defences will improve. In addition you will be feeding the soil which in turn to feeds the plant also potential reducing the fertiliser inputs required.

Factors that affect healthy Soil Biology

Factors that can reduce the soil biological function:

  • Cultivation
  • Use of chemicals - use of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and many chemical fertilisers
  • Excessive moving and handling of soil
  • Extreme weather

How to create a healthy and functioning Soil Ecosystem

It is very important that all the organisms that a plant requires are present and functioning and they are fed and stimulated. Ensure there is a ready and ample supply of organic matter being recycled into the soil. This is the food for the microbes. Biologically friendly fertilisers help soil biology thrive and provide another food source. Increasing microbial diversity in the soil is also very important. This enhances the breakdown of organic matter with both bacteria and fungi playing an important role and biological activity in general creating a healthier soil environment where microbes are stimulated. In order to get microbial diversity in the soil we can plant mixed pasture swards, use biologically friendly fertilisers or add biology directly through bio-stimulants or other biological inoculants like EM. EM works by getting the natural processes to function, the way nature intended by stimulating biological activity in the soil. EM will not only add to the microbial population, but will also stimulate resident microbes. This stimulation can lead to increasing the resident nitrogen fixation capacity directly through the increase of N fixing bacteria, and indirectly by increasing clover growth, increasing mycorrhizal activity and other fungal and earthworm activity.