This quote proves that dirt is more than what you see on the surface. There is an entire living world underneath and we’re going to tell you all about it.
Scientists called Soil Biologists, study a variety of things including the living organisms in the soil as well as the complex physical and chemical properties that make up the soil. It’s been said that one handful of soil contains more living things than there are people on the planet. When you stare at the soil, it doesn’t seem to do too much. That would be about as exciting as watching paint dry. But upon closer inspection, you can see the underworld hard at work, breaking down whatever is in its path—this natural occurrence allows our plants to thrive, which in turn, feeds everything and everyone else.
Just like in outer space or inside our bodies, the human eye can’t always see what appears to be happening on the surface. Not only are Soil Biologists and companies like Rocky Mountain Bio-Ag able to answer your soil questions, but they also know the answer to, “Why?”
The National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has a wonderful graphic that shows The Soil Food Web, which is based on the life cycle known as the food chain. As you can see in the image, the first trophic level (what position it occupies in the food chain) consists of photosynthesizers or photosynthetic bacteria. This is the producer level and it includes plants and organic matter such as waste, residue, and metabolites from plants, animals, and microbes. Producers also known as autotrophs are self-feeding organisms which create their own food, they make up the first level of every food chain. Autotrophs are usually plants or one-celled organisms. Nearly all autotrophs use a process called photosynthesis to create “food” (a nutrient called glucose) from sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water making their own organic molecules.
The second trophic level of The Soil Food Web consists of decomposers, mutualists, pathogens, parasites, and root-feeders. Decomposers are organisms such as bacteria and fungi, which break down residue and retain nutrients in their biomass. Nematodes live in this level and can either be beneficial or non-beneficial and either help or hurt your garden. They feed on the outer-roots of plants which can aid in the breakdown of organic matter, but some infiltrate roots which causes damage to the plant and can also be an entry point for disease.
The third trophic level includes shredders, predators, and grazers. The major functions of the microorganisms in this level are to release plant-available nitrogen and other nutrients when feeding on bacteria, control many root-feeding nematodes or disease-causing pests, and to shred plant litter turning it to soil organic matter as they feed on bacteria and fungi.
The fourth trophic level is where you see earthworms and other higher level predators, such as spiders and insects. These soil dwellers help control the populations of the lower trophic levels. They also improve soil structure by burrowing and by passing organic matter and soil through their guts.
The Soil Food Web, unlike a regular food web, consists of a fifth (and higher) trophic level. This is where the burrowing, higher-level predators come in—such as moles and mice—as well as above ground animals like birds. Beyond the fifth level are other plant and animal eating predators including farm animals and humans.
While it’s true that there are store-bought amendments that may speed-up the growing process, you must exercise extreme caution as to what you put into your soil. Our job at Rocky Mountain Bio-Ag is to not only educate you on the biology of soil but to show you what amendments are beneficial to the soil as well. We have done years of testing and diligent research on the technology and solutions we sell and use. This ensures that you succeed in building biologically sound, well-mineralized organic soil while growing plants to their fullest genetic potential. None of the products we sell contain genetically modified organisms (GMO’s); they are created from the highest quality pure ingredients in strictly controlled manufacturing and packaging facilities.
Soil is a layer of life and needs proper protection. The Soil Food Web is a natural phenomenon that keeps many things in working order. When we listen to people and companies who tell us to dump chemicals on our plants and into our fields, we cause a damaging domino-effect to a natural cycle.
Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS). 2000. Soil Biology Primer. Rev. ed. Ankeny, IA: Soil and Water Conservation Society.
Image source: Soil 4 Kids
Soil is made up of six different layers called horizons. The O Horizon is the top, organic layer of soil. The A Horizon is called topsoil. Seeds germinate and plants grow in this layer. The E Horizon is light in color and is made up of mostly sand and silt. The B Horizon is called subsoil and contains clay and mineral deposits. The C Horizon is called regolith and consists of slightly broken-up bedrock. Very little organic material is found in this layer. Finally, the R Horizon is bedrock, which lies several feet under the surface.
Knowing your soil is one of the best pieces of knowledge you can have. Get it tested before you plant. If you’re interested in keeping your plants healthy via healthy soil, contact us for information and top-quality products.