Linda Poole

NCAT Regenerative Grazing Specialist
A cool tool for investigating soil biology is the microBIOMETER, and their newsletter is well worth a read too. This article by Dr. Judith Fitzpatrick, from their June newsletter, addresses the basics as well as nuances of managing land to build vibrant soil microbial communities:

The plant-microbe symbiosis is a sophisticated system based on needing each other. In conventional agriculture, you feed the plants directly with chemicals; the plant does not need microbes, so it does not nurture them, and you have a microbe-deficient soil. Microbes do more than feed the plant the nutrients you used as fertilizer, or that they manufacture — they build soil structure, support plant immunity and mine micronutrients in the soil for your plant. When you don’t rely on chemicals, you’re going to be reliant on microbes to feed your plant, and the microbes will build soil structure, mine nutrients for the plant and protect them from pathogens.

We have recently discovered that rhizophagy is an important way that bacteria deliver nutrients to plants. The plant puts out exudates that bring in the microbes it wants to inhabit the rhizosphere. These microbes are often referred to as plant-growth-promoting bacteria because they stimulate plant growth. Bacteria in the rhizosphere enter the root. As they migrate up the root, about 40 percent of their nutrients are extracted by the plant. In return, the plant gives them carbon and forms root hairs through which the bacteria can reenter the soil. Dr. James White has shown that plants that do not have these plant-growth promoting bacteria do not form these important root hairs. He has also shown — and other studies have shown too — that a plant can get 40 percent of its nitrogen, as well as other nutrients, through rhizophagy.

Bacteria have about one one-thousandth of the DNA that we have. So, for most of their functions, they’re depending on molecules produced by other microbes. Every cell in your body — every cell in the world — is a gated community. Air and water can go in and out, but absolutely everything else has a receptor. Your microbes are very picky eaters because they have few receptors and few enzymes for digestion. We can only grow about 1 percent of soil microbes in the lab because you have to find out exactly all the different things that you have to provide for that one particular bacteria to grow.

If I take soil and plate it in the lab, the next day I might see one or two colonies. But if I let it go a couple of months, many different colonies start popping up — one today, another tomorrow — all different colonies. One needs another. We don’t yet know the nutritional requirements of all these different bacteria. What we do know is the system is self-sustaining, as one microbe starts to flourish and creates the food another microbe needs; then that microbe starts flourishing, and the chain continues. That is why a soil amendment that feeds the microbes is so effective. They start the process and allow the natural system to start to rebalance itself. This is also why microbial diversity increases as microbial biomass increases, as evidenced by the fact that the fungal population tends to increase in step with the increase in microbial biomass.

Read the entire article at

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