Molly Jameson, UF/IFAS Leon County Extension
Whether you are ready to start your very first garden or want to revitalize your existing garden, the important thing to remember is that a healthy garden requires life. But what is it that separates a thriving, healthy garden that can support fruit and vegetable production from one that cannot? The answer is in the soil. As soil transitions from being impoverished to being enriched, many living entities will form complex ecosystems that occur right beneath our feet.
Just a teaspoon of healthy topsoil can contain up to one billion bacteria and numerous other microorganisms such as fungi, protozoa and nematodes. So how can you as a gardener attain these microorganisms in your own garden space? The answer is organic matter. Organic matter is mostly composed of decaying plants, animals, and soil microorganisms. Less than 5 percent of organic matter is actually living organisms, yet without this fraction, the organic matter could not exist.
Microorganisms will improve your garden by providing soil structure, aeration and the conversion of fertilizer into soluble, plant-available forms. When soil microorganisms decompose organic matter, they create groups of soil particles that are bound together. These are known as soil aggregates. Aggregates reduce soil compaction and greatly increase porosity for strong root growth and improved drainage. It is not until the organic matter is decomposed by microorganisms that it provides all of these essential benefits to soil for a productive garden.