Soil Biology and the Human Body; The Earth, it's just like us!
I was trying to maneuver an oversized bag of organic fertilizer, explaining the benefits of using a brand that included beneficial bacteria and mycorrhizae, when it hit me- THE EARTH, IT’S JUST LIKE US! “You know how you take pro-biotics to help your digestion?” I said to whoever was listening, jabbing my finger at the bag, “Well, this is the same thing!”
I’ve noticed a parallel between two trends that are gaining in popularity in both the organic gardening and Health & Wellness consciousness. In organic gardening and agriculture it is all about promoting a healthy soil biology; in Health & Wellness it is about promoting a healthy Microbiome. These concepts are essentially the same thing, and discussing the two together reinforces the idea that our very own bodies are a reflection of the macro-cosm of the planet.
So what am I talking about? Microbes!
It’s well known that there are microbes in the world all around us, but I’ve got to tell you, your body is completely covered with microbes- give or take about 100 trillion of them. Perhaps you’ve already heard of the term ‘microbiome,’ which simply means all the microbes in a given environment- it's just that in this case, the environment is your body. Microbes live on your skin and colonize your entire digestive tract. The cells of your microbiome outnumber your own cells 10 to 1 and if you could weigh it, it would be about 3 pounds. (Depak Chopra & Rudolph Tanzi, Super Genes)
What’s really amazing is that these microbes have evolved to have a symbiotic relationship with your own physiological systems. It is becoming harder to think of the body and its microbiome as two separate parts, since the genes of these microbes interact with the genes of your own cells, communicating with each other through your own nervous system.
Yes. The cells of your microbiome speak with the cells in your body. The bacteria in your gut for example, metabolizes food waste and has a direct relationship with the cells in your brain via the Vagus nerve. When you eat something healthy, with lots of fiber, you have happy and productive gut bacteria, which send positive messages using neurotransmitters (such as serotonin) to your brain cells. Happy gut bacteria equals happy brain cells, equals happy human being! Also, after you sweat, the flora that has evolved to live on your skin actually digests the toxins you excrete, allowing your skin cells to function properly.
But what happens when you use that orange antibiotic soap, or eat too many donuts? Your microbiome population becomes compromised and starts to send distress signals. Hmmm, leftover toxins…foreign substances that your body tries to guard itself against…inflammation anyone? It's obvious that a healthy microbial population is essential for your well-being.
So how does this relate to gardening and the soil?
We know that a healthy soil (or “earth”) equals healthy plants and therefore a healthy planet. Organic fertilizers and other amendments like compost and compost tea aren’t just added to soils to add nutrients, they are added to activate the biology of the soil. All soils are alive, teeming with microscopic organisms: bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes and macro-organisms like earthworms and beetles. Just like your own microbiome, micro-organisms in the soil are imperative to a high functioning system. For example, these organisms break down organic matter by consuming it and then excreting the nutrients into a form that plants can use. Some organisms also excrete sticky substances that bind clay particles together, improving soil structure. Plants need a diverse and dynamic soil biology to help sustain them.
Many types of bacteria and fungi also have symbiotic relationships with plant roots. (This is where it gets really cool!) For example, certain bacteria, called rhizobacteria, form small nodules on the roots of legumes (peas, beans etc). In these small compartments the rhizobacteria fix atmospheric nitrogen into a form that the plant can then take up. This is a very powerful process, one of the only other things in nature that can do this is lightning!
There are also forms of fungi in the soil called mycorrhizae which team up for mutual benefit with plants. Many plants leak ‘exudates’ from their roots (usually yummy substances high in proteins, starches and sugar) that attract these fungi. The mycorrhizae colonize the area, growing its hyphae either through or around the plant roots like a large spongy web. These hyphae absorb water which the plant then draws up into itself. Here the fungi gets extra nutrients from the plant, and the plant gets an extended and superior root system from the fungi.
But what if you use blue fertilizer or other synthetic chemicals or herbicides? You may be giving your plants a shot of plant available Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium, but you are also sterilizing the soil; slaughtering the microbes like an antibiotic. Sterile soils are not healthy soils, they can become anaerobic or compacted and suffocate plant roots. It's obvious that a healthy microbial population is essential for healthy plants.
To recap- so what do we need for a healthy soil? A diverse and vibrant microbial population! What do we need to support our own health and radiant well-being? A diverse and vibrant microbial population! It's so amazing to see that both the soil and our bodies have evolved to coexist with micro-organisms in similar ways. A healthy soil is alive and thriving with trillions of beneficial microbes just like you are!
So I hope you agree with me: THE EARTH! IT’S JUST LIKE US!
Or, if you prefer to think of it the other way: ALL OF US, WE ARE JUST LIKE THE EARTH