Teaming With Microbes: Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web

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Authors Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis are experienced Alaska gardeners. That, in itself, shows they don’t mind a challenge! They have been instrumental in the Plant a Row for the Hungry program, and also call claim the title of amateur microbiologists. The revised edition of Teaming with Microbes, The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web provides a wealth of new ideas to gardeners who have not yet explored the soil food web concept.

Soil Food Web – Symbiotic Relationships

Lowenfels and Lewis explain the idea of a soil food web (as opposed to a food chain that many may remember from biology class). From there they take a quick overview of all things scientific pertaining to garden soil. Basic soil science, along with the different categories of microbial life forms are discussed. Each type of tiny creature – from archaea to nematodes to fungi – get a chapter. The relationship of these creatures to plants growing in the soil is given a thorough, but understandable-to-mortals explanation.

The second half of the book informs gardeners about ways to use this knowledge to improve the health of garden soil, and thus, to improve the health of garden plants. Not just vegetable gardening, but lawn care, perennial bushes, and trees, according to Lowenfels and Lewis, can benefit from healthier soil.

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The authors describe ways to test soil for microbial life. They mention taking soil to a lab for testing, but also have suggestions for gardeners whose budget may require a do-it-yourself approach.

Organic Gardening – Mixing Old and New

Lowenfels’ and Lewis’ techniques hearken back to time-honored organic gardening practices. Some things that were done in times past, but not completely understood, make more sense in light of new research. But, this is not just a compendium of old-fashioned methods. Some of the authors’ recommendations are old standards with a new twist, such as “actively aerated compost tea.”

The author’s ideas are condensed to nineteen principles that are summarized at the conclusion of the book. They also provide an extensive list of references and resources including reference books for further learning about soil biology, websites, and places to purchase supplies.

The absence of footnotes or endnotes – specific citations for particular information – is somewhat troubling. However, scholarly books are listed as resources. Curious readers will certainly wish to explore this fascinating subject more deeply.

The book is very readable. It does include scientific names of various plants, fungi, bacteria, and more. But most terms that are unlikely to be familiar to an average reader are clearly explained. The book will find a wide audience especially with the increasing popularity of backyard gardening.

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