Friday, February 4, 2011

Teaming with Information

In my reading pile lately was a book I purchased with a Christmas gift card (somehow, friends and family have realized at last that a prime Christmas gift for me is a gift card to a book store).  I had previously glanced through Teaming with Microbes, published recently in a revised edition by Timber Press and authored by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis, but I had never bitten the bullet because the book appeared, well, a little too dry and scientific.

Was I ever wrong--and yet right at the same time! Teaming with Microbes is a book that every gardener should read.  Yes, it can be a little dry to read in the first section titled "The Basic Sciences", but the photographs are so perfectly amazing that I can't begin to describe how it will open your eyes.  Each chapter discusses how a specific organism, bacteria, fungi, nematodes, algae and arthropods, lives and interacts to form your soil's food web.  Okay, okay, okay.  This first section is interesting and well-written and filled with statistics but didn't ring my bell just yet.

But the second section of the book, "Applying Soil Food Web Science to Yard and Garden Care," is where the corn and potatoes core of the book resides.  I finally "get it," much better than ever explained by my Extension Master Gardener courses, why some plants prefer some soils, how acid pH and alkaline pH soils differ in nitrogen type and availability, and how plant succession mirrors soil development.  Did you know that some plants prefer their nitrogen in nitrate form, others as ammonium?  That the number of bacteria per gram of soil doesn't really differ between garden, prairie and forest soils, but that the number of protozoa and fungi are logarithmically increased in the latter?  That nitrogen-fixing bacteria don't function well at acid pH's and that fungi increase the acidity of the soil?  Why aerobic compost teas are necessary?  That mulches of different materials support different microorganisms?  How to increase protozoa in your soils?  Teaming with Microbes will convince you that half of what you think know about or have been doing to your soil is just flat wrong.

Therein lies the downside to this excellent and readable text.  It makes it harder and harder for a professional organic gardening skeptic to stand secure in his ignorance instead of teetering on his biodegradable soap box. I've already eliminated insecticides and fungicides from my garden (except during my annual battles with the dastardly squash bugs).  This year I might have to try some areas without artificial Walmart-purchased fertilizer as well.  What's left?  Except for the evidence of a coming Ice Age outside my window, will I to be forced to start considering the possibility of global warming?  Naaaahh!  Ain't going that far! 


  1. Hey, thanks for the great review. Loved writing the book. It was all eye opening, jaw dropping stuff to me, too!

    Keep teaming and don't lend anyone the book; Make them buy their own copy!

    Jeff Lowenfels

  2. Wow, didn't know the authors would ever see it, let alone on the first day. May I ask how you found it? I know I've got a few blog readers but didn't realize there was a direct line to any "real" authors! Thanks for dropping by and leaving the comment Jeff.

  3. I'm sure he meant let everyone borrow the book.


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