compost-binAlthough we can’t see them, microbes play an important role in the lives of our plants. The easiest way to maximize microbial diversity is to allow all fallen leaves and branches to recycle back into the soil.

But not all gardens have been maintained with such insight. All too often the populations of plant allies have been severely impacted by the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, and then we need to replenish or even re-establish them.

Compost and compost tea provide a great diversity of microbes and can be prepared from local materials without great expense. Specific microbial species, such as fermenting microorganisms and mycorrhizal fungi can be purchased in their dormant state and applied as needed.

Nature mulches - composting is a human invention.

A compost pile is constructed very deliberately as a breeding ground for microbes. We alternate layers of carbon rich and nitrogen rich materials, add a few layers of twigs for aeration, and then provide just enough water so it feels like a wrung out sponge.

This provides food, water and habitat for countless organisms, whose populations explode under these ideal conditions.

Well aerated, mature compost contains an incredible diversity of microbes, together with the complex organic compounds created in this microbial feeding frenzy. It also provides a balanced source of nutrients for plants and the soil dwelling organisms.

Compost is an invaluable source of microbes and nutrients when we need to restore soil biodiversity in a chemically managed garden. We can work it directly into the soil as we establish a new planting bed, or simply add it to the soil surface. The more the better, and then we simply protect it with leaf mulch and let Nature do the rest.

Many gardeners make themselves a lot of work by raking up all the leaves, composting them and returning them back to the soil as mulch. This is not only unnecessary but also unfortunate, as it destroys the soil’s natural protection, and habitat and food for countless soil dwelling organisms.

While compost can kick-start the process, in the long run soil biodiversity will be greater if we leave Nature alone.

By all means, compost the kitchen scraps and any “extras”, such as the leaves and branches raked off the patio. Then use your “black gold” as a supplement where it is most needed, and always defer to Nature’s wisdom.

We go much deeper into this topic in our online course, which you can discover here:

Organic Master Gardener Online