Book Review: “Teaming with Microbes – A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web” by Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis

My first time with the book review on video: It’s a lot of work but worth a try.

Learned a lot of bacteria and fungi and how they affect the plants – the symbiotic relationship among them. Very interesting. This is a must read for any one aspiring to be have a green thumb – gardener.

The book starts out with the basic science of the food web – how the roots secretes exudates to feed the microbes which in turn feed the the root. The nutrients come from the microbes in the organic world instead of the N-P-K petroleum-based fertilizers.

The food web from USDA.
USDA Food Web

Chapter 2 goes into the soil science – informative but not very interesting.

Chapter 3 covers the bacteria. Now that’s the half of the magic. The two groups: aerobic and anaerobic bacteria. The good soil smell comes from the volatile chemicals given out by the actinomycetes – particularly adept at decaying cellulose (long chain of carbon-based glucose that gives plants structure) and chitin. The Nitrogen cycle is introduced here.

Chapter 4 covers the fungi. The job of fungi is still mysterious to many scientists and it’s a huge topic by itself. I think this chapter added more confusion than clarification. I’ll find other sources to dig deeper.

Chapter 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 cover the Algae and Slim Molds. (Not much there). Protozoa (single-cell organism that eats bacteria), Nematodes (nonsegmented, blind roundworms), antropods (flies, beetles, and spiders), earthworms, and gastropods (snails), reptiles, mammals, and birds.

Part 2: is about applying soil food web science to yard and garden care.

I got the most out of the compost tea making. But for the most parts the following 19 rules are the key points:

1) Some plants prefer soils dominated by fungi; others prefer soils dominated by bacteria.
2) Most vegetables, annuals, and grasses prefer their nitrogen in nitrate form and do best in bacterially dominated soils.
3) Most trees, shrubs, and perennials prefer their nitrogen in ammonium form and do best in fungal dominated soils.
4) Compost can be used to inoculate beneficial microbes and life into soils around your yard and introduce, maintain, or alter the soil food web in a particular area.
5) Adding compost/ compost teas and its soil food web to the surface of soil will inoculate the soil with the same soil food web.
6) Aged, brown organic materials support fungi; fresh, green organic materials support bacteria.
7) Mulch laid on the surface tends to support fungi; mulch worked into the soil tends to support bacteria.
8) If you wet and grind mulch thoroughly, it speeds up bacterial colonization.
9) Coarse, dryer mulches support fungal activity.
10) Sugars help bacteria multiply and grow; kelp, humic and fulvic acids, and phosphate rock dusts help fungi grow.
11) By choosing the compost you begin with and what nutrients you add to it, you make teas that are heavily fungal, bacterially dominated, or balanced.
12) Compost teas are very sensitive to chlorine and preservatives in the brewing water and ingredients.
13) Applications of synthetic fertilizers kill off most or all of the soil food web microbes.
14) Stay away from additives that have high NPK numbers.
15) Follow any chemical spraying or soil drenching with an application of compost tea.
16) Most conifers and hardwood trees (birch, oak, beech, and hickory) form mycorrhizae with ectomycorrhizal fungi.
17) Most vegetables, annuals, grasses, shrubs, softwood trees, and perennials form mycorrhizae with endomycorrhizal fungi.
18) Rototilling and excessive soil disturbance destroy or severely damage the soil food web.
19) Always mix endomycorrhizal fungi with the seeds of annuals and vegetables at planting time or apply them to roots at transplanting time.