In the last few months I have come to realise that the world below my feet is as complex and interdependent as the world I see and live in. I discovered this by reading about living soils as part of a Forest Gardening course. Why does this matter? In part because all life on the planet is more interconnected than we have ever realised. Starting with the early forerunners of life appearing some 3 billion years ago Bacteria, and later, Archea (another single celled organism only discovered in the 1970s) and Eukaryotes (this group includes us, and protozoa, fungi, plants and animals).
The space of a full stop
To give some idea of scale two of these three groups Bacteria and Arches are so small that 200-500,000 of them can fit into a space of a full stop. ‘A mere teaspoon of good garden soil contains a billion invisible bacteria, several yards of invisible fungal hyphae (threads), several thousand protozoa and a few dozen nematodes’ . A living interconnected and complex system beneath my feet that I had never even noticed.
Not only had I not noticed it but I thought that however it was treated made no difference as after all, it is only soil. It was the plants that really mattered – once again I was very wrong. Without these microbes plants could not fix nitrogen, a key nutrient from the air that is fixed in the soil in a symbiotic relationship with these microscopic organisms. The ‘soil web’ as it is sometimes describes is a complex and amazing in different ways as perhaps the societies we build above the soil.
We are all influencers
So why does this matter? As we realise that we live on the most remarkable planet, do we take time to reflect on how we care for the planet: not just the choices we might make but how by making sound choices we can ensure that these amazingly balanced but unseen systems thrive. Why? Because their wellbeing might be much more important to us than we had ever realised. I have started to consider how my every day choices might affect the invisible systems around me and influence others: from what we buy to when we connect to people around us. We are all great influencers, not just the social media stars! The little and big choices we make, can have significant influence.
Director, Abound and Flourish Ltd
1. Lowenfels. J. & Lewis.B .(2010). Teaming with microbes: the organic gardeners guide to the soil food web. Rev ed. Oregon: Timber Press. p.20.