Mmm, cake. Growing good plants is about cake. Well, it’s about getting your soil to look like rich, black, crumbly, chocolate cake.
When your soil is cake, the plants can make biscuits. From the sun. The plants photosynthesise solar radiation to create proteins, starches, fats and sugars to make tiny, underground biscuits for the bacteria and fungi they’re in symbiotic relationships with.
It’s more like liquid carbon than biscuits, but we’re giving these mysterious little life forms personality. Bear with.
When your soil is loose, dark and fluffy, it’s full of thousands of different bacteria and hundreds of different fungi, and it’s these micro-critters that actually feed the plants. As long as the plants are giving their mini mates some sweet liquid-carbon loving, their bacteria buddies and fungi friends will provide the plants with added water and nutrients, and protect the plants from attack by bacteria baddies and not-fun fungi.
There’s a huge amount of activity going on in the rhizosphere (the narrow zone of soil directly touching the roots) and that’s where you can have an impact. If you pile on the compost, green manures (cover crops) and mulch, you’ll create an environment where lots of microorganisms want to live.
Just like the infinite connections of life above ground, the same exists below ground – in tiny size but huge amounts. In one teaspoon of soil, it’s guessed there are some six billion living creatures hanging out. A lot are probably eating each other, but some of them must be just chilling? Protozoa, amoebas, nematodes, springtails and mites eat the bacteria and fungi, while in turn, worms, beetles, millipedes, centipedes, ants and spiders eat the smaller creatures.
This intricate soil food web is destroyed by digging and tilling (one of the many reasons industrial agriculture is one of the main things fucking with our planet), so try and disturb the soil as little as possible. It’s also the lazy thing to do – it’s a win-win.
So the secret to growing good plants is: sit about, make cake and share biscuits. Sweet.