Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web, By Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis

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Review by Erik van Lennep

2006 Timber Press

Every few years I read a book which turns my perspective on the world inside out and upside down, something which makes me look at the world with a new appreciation and wonder. I picked up Teaming with Microbes expecting to learn a bit more about soil ecology and composting, and I did. But I was taken into a world as seen by the authors, of the unseen and largely unconsidered world populated by microbes, fungi, invertabrates and others that is responsible for all fertility, and thus for all of our food, much of our oxygen and most of our waste disposal.

See excerpts of this book online.

The reknowned microbiologist and Gaian theorist Lynn Margulis once told me that microbes rule the world, and after reading Teaming with Microbes, I can appreciate what she meant. The book reads more like a thriller or a novel than a textbook, yet is so fact filled it could (and will at Cultivate) be used to base a course on soil dynamics. People who know me will tell you I am not a geek, so when I say thius book is an accessible and enjoyable read, you can believe me.

“Most of us, if we want things to grow better, simply replace soil that is poor in quality with good soil. Experienced gardeners know good soil when they see it: coffee-colored, rich in organic matter, able to hold water yet still drain whenhere is too much around. And it smells good. Poor soil is pale, compacted, drains either too well and won’t retain any water or holds too much water, sometimes even becoming anaerobic. It can smell bad. If you are going to use the soil food web, however, you really need to know more. Where does soil come from? What are its components? How can we agree to describe it, and how can we measure its characteristics? This knowledge will help you adjust our soils, for what determines really good soil, in the end, is what you wish to grow in it: good soil must be able to maintain a soil food web compatible with the plants it supports. Trust us—in the end, you will be glad you know a little something more about soil, something beyond its color and smell”
- Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis