· By Mitchell Sweeting
The Role of Microbs for Healthy Soil
There is no question we should compost— finally, there are moves on larger scales to collect food waste in cities; more and more services are emerging that gather our kitchen scraps; and there are a LOT of good reasons to dig into the options of how to compost. One of the most urgent reasons is keeping food waste out of our landfills, as much as 11% of global methane released into our atmosphere comes from food rot, contributing to global warming.
What we may not realize is how exactly compost is helpful to our soil, or what else we can do to support our composting process—namely, supporting the microbial life within the ground. Most of the soil we live on has been miss- treated—topsoil stripped, sprayed by lawncare companies, asphalt run-off, and mono-crop lawns. The result of such sad soil is dirt: dead and denuded of the microbial life which it supports, microbes which in turn support healthy plant life, insect life, birds, and us!
Moving to the Blue Ridge Mountains to start a family, I came to understand what healthy soil could look like. A deeper dive into soil and human health lead us to build Kenkashi Microbes, and develop our Bokashi composting formula, a fermented compost system that introduces vital microbes to our food scraps early in the process.
Healthy soil is teeming with life. This life supports the systems above ground, creating healthy and fertile plants- which in turn attract bees, butterflies, and birds. How does this work? How does healthy soil ACTUALLY support plant life?
Organic matter—compost—is not really that useful for making healthy soil, unless there is a vibrant and healthy microbial community accompanying the organic matter. Microbes are responsible for digesting the plants in our compost, and actually releasing the nutrients stored in the organic matter. As they digest the plants they eat, they release and convert the nutrients in the food scraps, and make them available to the roots of living plants. In many cases, microrhizal fungi then act as the highways for these nutrients, moving them along to plant roots, which are able to absorb them and grow stronger and healthier. In turn, plants use photosynthesis to produce glucose from the sun which they carry down their roots to the fungi and microbes below, bringing much-needed energy underground.
Another huge bonus resulting from this symbiosis is the role of microbes when plants filter carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. While we may understand the carbon/ oxygen exchange in the leaves of plants and trees, there is a further step to this exchange—plants carry this atmospheric carbon down their roots, where fungi and microbes are involved in extracting it and binding carbon molecules to soil particles. The more greenery above, the more carbon is pulled from the atmosphere; and the more diverse and healthy the microbial world below, the more of this carbon can be stored or sequestered back underground.
This incredible exchange could be one of the answers to the bigger issue of climate change. The healthier the soil, the more it is teeming with diverse microbial communities, fungi, insects, and worms, the healthier our plants are, and the more they can do to pull carbon from the air. Microbes act as the nutrient extractors and keepers below ground and literally build the soil beneath us. Small life doing big things!