How these little creatures are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hummus, soil health, and our food! They are also called microorganisms. Many people have no idea how complex it is to produce excellent soil that produces healthy plants year after year. For example, bacteria convert organic waste into nutrients that can be used by plants. Soil organisms protect against plant diseases, provide essential raw materials for plant growth, and improve drainage by bringing up minerals from deep in the ground to the surface layers where they're needed most.
Microorganisms are the most critical key to soil health. That's because microbes are everywhere! They are found in water, air, plants, animals, and humans. It is believed there are anywhere from 1 million to 5 billion microorganisms within 1 gram of topsoil depending on its composition.
How do these organisms affect humus?
Humus contains carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, and other elements. According to the University of Illinois Extension, "Humus can hold up to 80 percent of its weight in moisture." Because it absorbs water so well, humus makes the soil more resistant to drought conditions. It also helps keep plant roots moist longer into dry seasons.
The benefits of humus to soil health go on and on. It stimulates microbial activity, which makes it healthier for the plant life in that soil. Also, microbes play an important role in how much nutrients are available for plant uptake. As humus decomposes it forms compounds that make minerals more soluble so they can be taken up by plants. The organisms also help immobilize, or hold onto, some beneficial nutrients so they don't leach away.
The University of Illinois Extension says "Soil organisms break down organic matter and make its nutrients available to plants. Microorganisms affect the rate at which nutrients are released." Furthermore, soils full of organic matter contain more minerals because microbes take minerals from deep in the soil and bring them to the surface where they are needed most. These organisms also break down herbicides, pesticides, oil, gasoline, synthetic fertilizers, and other chemicals that would otherwise seep into groundwater or runoff into nearby waterways.
Soil health is essential to growing healthy plants. It's important then to provide the maximum amount of humus for your soil so all of these organisms can flourish. You can do this by adding organic matter to the soil, which will provide nutrients that are broken down by other microorganisms.
Plain and simple, healthy plants depend on healthy soil full of rich humus. The health of our planet depends on us keeping the microbial balance in check so these organisms can continue to work the soil.