Beneath our feet is a world that many do not even consider to be part of us, yet within two handfuls of healthy soil are more living organisms than people on our planet.
It is within the first four inches that most food chains start; at the microscopic levels, bacteria eating protozoa and nematodes. These help release minerals around the root zones of all plants and trees, which in turn release exudates that attract the beneficial bacteria.
The microbes share this space with many creatures that help break down organic matter. One of the stars of healthy soil is the earthworm. If you have a lawn with lots of worm casts think yourself lucky as it shows your soil is teeming with microbial life. The worm’s casts have fifty percent more beneficial bacteria than before it passed through the worm, due to the good bacteria in its system.
Another incredible group of organisms that all life is dependent upon are the fungal networks. Within the first four inches of soils, whether of the ancient woodland or meadowlands, mycelial networks are key to a healthy biodiversity, with all life having association with one another in such diverse ways. We are only now beginning to understand a little of what has taken billions of years to evolve.
When I stand on the woodland floor and imagine the trillions of life forms beneath my feet, stretching endlessly through an interconnected web of life; this invisible world from which all life springs, a self sustaining system; I am humbled, and feel more connections with nature.
A great way to start learning about the soil life is through the organisms that we call fungi. They hold many solutions to the disharmony the world is facing! Ninety per cent of their species remain undocumented, which means they haven’t been researched in depth. In the few that have, by dedicated mycologists like Paul Stamets ( Mycelium Running) and Merlin Sheldrake ( Entangled Life) many more solutions are being discovered.
A few examples:
- Oyster mushroom mycelium infused wood chips, if applied correctly, will clean polluted ground of old engine oil and other pollutants (mycoremediation) .
- This has also been used for filtering slurry overflow thereby protecting watersheds (mycofiltration).
- Mycelium can also be used in building (micofabrication) for insulation and many other areas.
- And the medicinal qualities have only just been touched upon.
I am part of the Sussex Green Living Bright New Future Roadshow which goes to public events and schools. I focus on encouraging people to think about what’s beneath our feet, biodiversity and the future job opportunities for the next generation. Learn more here.