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Soil Microbiology Advice

  • 4 min read

Gain some pearls of wisdom about the health status of your soil and your garden through soil microbiology.

 Lady looking through microscope


Find out more about the soil micro organisms doing amazing things beneath our feet in the TEDX talk from Earthwhile Australia's Ellen Walker.

Why Do We Need to Know About Soil Microbiology?

Many of us struggle with gardening in Perth's sandy soils. Having a knowledge of the microbiology in your soil directly relates to your ability to understand soil health and its ability to grow strong and healthy plants.

Increasingly, more growers are turning to the soil food web to provide the nutrients, moisture retention, and resistance to disease that plants need, just as nature intended it to be.

Give the microbes in your soil the environment they need and they will do the rest.

Plants Growing in Healthy Soil


What is the Soil Food Web?

Within the soil, there are millions of organisms interacting with each other. Some feed on the sugars plants produce, some feed on each other. Some store nutrients in their bodies. Others make nutrients available to plants. This web of interaction is known as the soil food web.

The Soil Food Web

Image from here

Dr Elaine Ingham discovered that all parts of the web need to be present and functioning for plants to thrive. When this is the case, healthy soil is evident. When the soil food web is functioning well, soil retains moisture; nutrients otherwise locked up in the soil become available to plants; nutrients are retained so run off and leaching is minimised; toxins are broken down (a concern in urban areas with road traffic and air pollutants); and, the growth
of desired plants is promoted minimising the need for the use of herbicides. Healthy soils lead to healthy plants. Healthy plants are nutrient dense - good for health in the areas of obesity, auto-immune disorders, and mental health. They resist disease, minimising the need for pesticides and fungicides.

Soil food webs are of growing interest to those wanting to garden organically. They thrive in biologically healthy soils and exist in poor soils. With the naked eye, we can’t see many of the organisms that are key to their effectiveness so the opportunity to explore soil under a microscope is a great way to learn more. The knowledge will be valuable as you garden organically, make compost and care for your environment.

How Do You Take a Soil Sample?

Approximately half a cup of soil is needed to take the sample from. Please make up your sample by taking ‘cores’ about 10cm deep from 3 spots within the zone you would like assessed. This should be placed in a lidded glass jar with plenty of air space left.

About EarthWhile Australia

EarthWhile Australia works with members of the community to raise awareness of how healthy soils, healthy food, and healthy people are all interrelated and how we as individuals can contribute to a better world. The team at EarthWhile Australia offer qualitative soil biology reports, tailored workshops and soil microscopy training.

Ellen Walker (BSW (Hons)) has studied the soil food web and soil microscopy with Dr Elaine Ingham and Dr Mary Cole (pioneers in this field) and completed a Permaculture Design Certificate at Fair Harvest. Ellen is keen to share this information and teach practices that will assist in developing and nurturing healthy, nutrient rich soil. Ellen works with home gardeners, orchardists, growers and farmers to develop knowledge of healthy soils to affordably grow high quality food in sustainable ways that assist in regenerating our environment.

Georgina Marsh (BEd) has worked with staff, parents and children to create improved sustainable practices within schools. Inspired by the interest and curiosity of children in exploring and making these improvements, Georgina continues to undertake learning in this realm. Exploring the benefits of gut health and the healing powers of food has led to a keen interest in soils as a foundational aspect of health. Georgina has studied the soil food web with Dr Elaine Ingham, microscopy with Dr Mary Cole and completed a Permaculture Design Certificate at Fair Harvest.

Bonnie Dunlop is a wife, and mother to two young girls. Growing up on a farm she developed an appreciation for organic farming practices, and she has always been motivated to live a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. 

After becoming a mother, her desire to provide her family with affordable but healthy and organic, nutrient dense food resulted in a return to growing her own produce. This naturally led to a desire to learn more about how healthy soil with diverse microbiology can positively impact and support the growth of such food. 

Bonnie has completed a Permaculture Design Certificate at Fair Harvest and is currently completing her Bachelor of Accounting. Having completed a unit on Sustainability Accounting the unit highlighted that it is not only important for the world to move to sustainable practices, but that it is imperative.  Through her work with EarthWhile Australia, Bonnie hopes to support people to find practical ways to reduce their footprint such as buying local produce or starting a vegetable garden.  Bonnie is a founding partner of EarthWhile Australia. 

References and Further Reading

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