We can be so worried about what our garden looks like above the ground that we forget what is happening below the ground. Soil microbes keep our garden healthy so it’s important to create an environment that makes them happy.
How long does it take for microbes to populate topsoil? If you inoculate your soil with microbes, they will populate your topsoil within two weeks. You can also naturally increase your soil microbe population in about six months by adding organic matter and not disturbing the area too much.
What are soil microbes?
There are actually five types of soil microbes and they all work together to improve the health of soil and the surrounding plants.
Bacteria: The workforce within the soil that breaks down and releases nutrients so plant roots can access them.
Fungi: Help create nutrients around the roots of plants.
Actinomycetes: Similar to fungi and can either harm or heal plants.
Protozoa: They eat bacteria which then help release nutrients.
Nematodes: Microscopic worms that live inside or next to plants and release nutrients into the surrounding area.
What do soil microbes do?
Even though soil microbes are tiny, without them, you would not have fertile soil. These microbes work together so that some eat plant matter still left in the soil while others consume each other, which then helps break down the plant matter further.
Basically, if you allow soil microbes to exist as they are intended, they will cycle nutrients through your soil which your plants can use for better growth.
How do microbes populate topsoil?
Microbes need a specific habitat to grow and thrive. All soil will have microbes in it but the more attractive the habitat is, the faster the microbes will reproduce and move around the soil.
Microbes need access to food, which comes in the form of organic matter. This can be old plant matter that is still breaking down in the soil or it can be compost or manure that you add to your garden.
As for temperature, microbes like to be warm but if exposed to very hot temperatures, they will dry out. During the winter, microbes will become dormant but will come back to life as soon as the spring weather warms up.
Moist soil is also preferable to dry soil. The moisture provides nutrients to the microbes and allows them easier access to organic matter.
How long do microbes take to populate topsoil?
There are two ways to introduce microbes to your topsoil. You can allow the process to happen naturally, which can take six to eight months, or you can use the process of inoculation which only takes two weeks.
There are a number of ways to naturally encourage microbes to populate your topsoil. This includes adding organic matter, such as compost, and leaving the soil alone so as to not disturb the environment. We’ll go over these actions in the next section.
If you want to speed up the process of populating your soil with microbes, you can try inoculation. This is where you physically add microbes into your garden.
You can purchase microbes or nematodes. They are usually packaged as “soil activators” and are not expensive.
Simply add the soil activator to your existing topsoil and wait a week or two before you start planting. For best results, keep the soil warm and moist to enhance the habitat and encourage the microbes to keep reproducing.
Adding organic matter will also give the microbes a food source, which will help them move throughout the soil.
How do you get more microbes in soil?
The easiest and most efficient way to increase microbes in your soil is to incorporate compost. Creating compost is an easy task to undertake as all you need to do is add a mixture of green and brown waste to a bin in your yard.
The organic matter will start to break down and when you add it to your garden, the microbes will have new food to feast on. This process will allow the microbes to cycle the organic matter into waste which can then be used by the plants in your garden.
Water your soil
The best environment for microbes to live is in soil that has a moderate temperature and a moist texture. When the soil dries out or is exposed to very high temperatures, microbes can die.
Adding bark mulch to your garden will keep the moisture content high. It will also provide shade from hot temperatures as well as a food source as the bark breaks down.
Even though it seems like common practice to till your garden every spring, you don’t actually have to do so. Unless your dirt is heavily compacted, you can instead add layers of leaves, compost, and mulch to your garden to build it up.
The more you disturb the soil, the more you break apart the microbes within it. When the soil habitat is destroyed, it can take quite a while for microbes to repopulate the area.
Yes, pests in your garden are a real nuisance. But if you spray your garden to kill these unwanted insects, you can destroy soil microbes in the process.
Fungicides and herbicides penetrate deep into the soil and kill all the good organisms as well as the bad organisms. Even chemical fertilizers can disrupt the habitat.
Use natural pest control like companion planting and row covers. Always use organic fertilizers, such as manure or compost to create a welcoming environment for soil microbes.
Large gardens benefit through crop rotation. Sometimes, this means you will have an area of your garden that has nothing growing in it.
To improve the soil in this area, you can plant a cover crop instead. These include oats and rye.
As the cover crops grow, they will actually change the structure of the soil and add nitrogen back into it. When winter hits, the crops will die off and all that plant matter becomes food for microbes which in turn add more nutrients to your garden.
Even though we can’t see them, soil microbes play an essential part in any garden. Provide them with food from organic matter, keep the soil moist and warm, and try to disturb the area as little as possible. If you follow these steps, your garden will thrive.