The Soil Food Web: The prerequisite for Healthy Soil and Plant Growth
Healthy soil is the basis for lush plant growth and a fertile garden. But did you know that below the surface, a whole world of micro-organisms are active that are essential for creating a fertile soil? Called the "Soil Food Web", this intriguing ecosystem plays a crucial role in recycling nutrients, improving soil structure and protecting plants from disease. In this blog article, we dive deeper into the Soil Food Web, learn about the key players and discover first steps on how to optimise this system for healthy soils and thriving plants.
What is the Soil Food Web?
The Soil Food Web refers to the complex network of micro-organisms, such as bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa and other small organisms, living in soils. These organisms all have specific roles and interactions within the ecosystem. Bacteria and fungi break down organic matter into nutrients, fungi also help break down complex compounds and create favourable soil structure, nematodes feed on bacteria and fungi, and protozoa also feed on bacteria. This food chain and interactions between different organisms form the foundation of the Soil Food Web.
Why is the Soil Food Web important?
The Soil Food Web is vital for soil health and plant growth. It helps release and recycle nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, which are essential for plant growth. In addition, the Soil Food Web improves soil structure on the one hand by breaking down organic matter and forming humus, and on the other by forming a crumb structure in the soil, making it more airy and permeable to water. Moreover, certain micro-organisms in the Soil Food Web can suppress plant diseases by forming antagonistic relationships with harmful organisms. In short, a healthy Soil Food Web results in healthy soils, resilient plants and increased yields.
How do you optimise the Soil Food Web?
Promoting a healthy Soil Food Web starts with creating the right environment and conditions for micro-organisms to thrive. Here are some practical tips for optimisation of the Soil Food Web in your garden / your business:
- Reserve the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides for emergencies, as they can be harmful to soil micro-organisms. If desired, allow the soil to "kick off" fertiliser over the term of 3 years.
- Work the soil as little and shallowly as possible. A seed furrow or planting hole is never a problem. It makes sense to break up compacted layers once.
- Add organic material to the soil, such as compost or vermicompost, to increase nutrients and organic matter levels. This is a good food source for the benign microorganisms.
- Promote good soil structure by regular mulching, which adds organic matter and helps retain moisture. Mulch is also food for the micro-organisms and helps maintain a good (moist) living environment.
- Avoid overwatering, as too wet soil can promote the growth of anaerobic microorganisms and disturb the balance of the Soil Food Web.
The Soil Food Web is a fascinating ecosystem that is essential for healthy soil and optimal plant growth. By understanding how the various micro-organisms in the Soil Food Web work together, gardeners and farmers can apply methods to optimise this system. By ensuring healthy soil and promoting a diverse and balanced Soil Food Web, we can enjoy lush gardens, high yields and sustainable agricultural practices.
Would you like to learn more about what exactly happens in the soil and how microorganisms and plants work together, how you can grow the microorganisms with ingredients from their immediate environment in the compost heap, how you can bring the microbes back into the soil with compost, compost extract and compost tea? If there are enough participants, Rijke Bodem organises a series of interactive online workshops in English on all these topics. These workshops have been held annually in Dutch for several years.
Birgit Albertsmeier is Soil Food Web Consultant and Soil Food Web Laboratory Technician.