Down to Earth, Life of the Vine, Terroir

How nature makes nutrients available to plants in healthy soil

elaine ingham

The roots of your health: Elaine Ingham on the science of soil

Elaine Ingham

Plants use sunlight to make sugars; they then send most of these to their roots as exudates (substances that ooze out from plant tissue) – or, as Ingham puts it, they deliver ‘cakes and cookies’ to the soil for aerobic bacteria and fungi to feed on, encouraging them to amass around the roots and prosper.

These ‘good guys’ have three important functions: they form a protective army to fight off the ‘bad guys’ (anaerobic micro-organisms responsible for disease); they contain the necessary enzymes and acids to break down and transform inorganic nutrients in soil particles into organic nutrients suitable for plants; and they play a critical role in the formation of soils’ structure, which is necessary for water retention, preventing the leaching of nutrients.

Why, then, do you need an armoury of chemicals when nature has already provided a ready-made solution?

Why life needs death and death creates life

At this stage, the nutrients that plants need are still locked up in the microorganisms, and are only released when the latter die. To enable this, nature has evolved predators – creatures that eat other creatures for their food – to create food chains and thus ensure constant nutrient recycling.

In this case, the predators are protozoa, which eat bacteria, nematodes and micro-arthropods, which eat fungi. These predators then excrete the excess nutrients – now bio-available – into the surrounding soil, creating a constantly replenishing supply of food around the plant roots, where they are needed. Clever, isn’t it?

About nicolle

Wine bod living in Bordeaux whose passion is finding authentic wines and getting them to your doorstep


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