It’s time to accept it: there are bugs in our beds.  Not the beds we sleep in, but the ones we grow stuff in – food, flowers, shrubs, trees. All healthy soils have bugs. Get used to it. This I learned unequivocally in my certification course as an Organic Master Gardener Practitioner in 2017. Organic gardening practices contribute to the very high standard of care we deliver in your garden, and how we help ensure that your garden soil remains teeming with life.

Wanting to be sure that I offer the most up to date science on soil health, I did what any rational person does in the 21st Century: I Googled it. And, I discovered the EGU: “The European Geosciences Union, is Europe’s premier geosciences union, dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in the Earth, planetary, and space sciences for the benefit of humanity, worldwide.” This month (April 2019), a gathering of some of Europe’s most pre-eminent geoscientists will present on the most up to date data in their respective fields.

So, here’re some essential points from the abstract for a presentation that will be delivered at this forum that speaks to “…the many connections of biodiversity to soil quality and human health.”

  • … soil biodiversity has been shown to be important in controlling populations of pathogens;
  • healthy, well-covered soils can reduce disease outbreaks;
  • carbon-rich soils may also reduce outbreaks of human and animal parasites;
  • exposure to soil microbes can reduce allergies;
  • soil organisms can provide biological disease and pest control agents, healthy soils mean healthier and more abundant foods;
  • soil microbes can enhance crop plant resilience;
  • healthy soils promote good clean air quality, less prone to wind and water erosion;
  • healthy soils provide clean and safe water through filtration, decontamination by microbes and removal of pollutants.
  • Soil microbes are a source of medicines, such as antibiotics, anticancer drugs and many more.

What’s more, Mycobacterium vaccae, a common microbe in almost all soils, has been proven to be effective in treating tuberculosis and depression1.  Lends credence to the old saw that “Gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes.”

So here’re the fundamentals of bugs in our soils.

  • There are MILLIONS in each teaspoon full, every single one of them playing a vital role in keeping the soil healthy.
  • There are good and bad bugs in our soils; that’s okay. They’ll balance out if we leave them to it. Relax.
  • When we disturb the soil, we destroy the habitat for these critters. If we persist in disturbing the soil repeatedly (and perhaps unnecessarily), we risk destroying the very foundation of what makes our gardens grow.
  • Plant nutrients are only nutritious once the bugs convert those elements to something root-edible. No bugs, no edible plant nutrients.
  • Clean, well-rotted compost provides some of the essential elements for the soil biome to thrive.

So, feed the bugs and you feed your body, in many more ways than we even now appreciate. Starve the bugs, and the earth – and eventually you – will suffer the consequences.

I like to keep in mind the very humbling fact that humans are not, in fact, at the top of the food chain as we were so often taught. Rather we are just part of the cycle of life, and eventually, the bugs in the soil will prove that to us.

  1.  Link to University of Colorado Boulder study.

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