Scientists are working hard to learn more about the amazing and intricate biology of our soils. They have already made some wonderful discoveries: penicillin is made by a common soil fungus and streptomycin, another antibiotic, is made by an actinomycete, which is a type of soil bacteria. Beyond valuable medicines, soil creatures help provide us with another very crucial thing: our food. Without them, organic matter wouldn't decompose, nutrients wouldn't cycle, our soil's structure would collapse and, accordingly, plants simply would not grow very well.
What Creatures Are Featured in Your Soil?
One teaspoon of good garden soil can contain up to one billion bacteria, several yards of fungal hyphae (fungal "feeder roots"), thousands of protozoa and dozens of nematodes and arthropods.
If you're interested in finding out what's living in your organic garden's soil, just look beneath your feet. You're bound to be able to see some signs of life, if you look carefully. If that doesn't satisfy your curiosity, it is easy to trap and observe many different kinds of soil creatures and many of them, large protozoa, nematodes and arthropods, for instance, can be seen with just a simple magnifying glass.
You can trap them with a pitfall trap, made by burying a clean, empty margarine or yogurt container so that its lip is level with your soil's surface. A funnel trap is another good way to capture some soil critters: just put some wire mesh in a funnel, put the soil on the wire mesh and place the funnel over a jar with some alcohol in the bottom to preserve your catch. Put the whole contraption under a light bulb to flush the critters out, wait 3-7 days and then prepare to be amazed at the variety of creatures that you have captured.
Just thinking about the multitudes of soil creatures that make their homes in our garden can be exciting, overwhelming, inspirational or even unsettling. Just keep in mind that we benefit greatly from their activities. While we're off leading our busy lives, they're busy living theirs too, and keeping our gardens and our world healthy in the process.