TEAMING WITH MICROBES - The Organic Gardener's Guide To The Soil Food Web

Patrick Whitefield | Wednesday, 6th July 2011
Opening up the complex microbial world in the soil and how we can work with it.
Author: Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis
Publisher: Timber Press
Publication year: 2010
RRP: £17.99

Aerated compost tea is a revolutionary new tool in the organic gardener's and farmer's toolkit. It's not a liquid manure but a preparation of microbes, designed to enhance microbial life both in the soil and on the surface of plants' leaves. It's made by pumping air through water in which a bag of compost is suspended. In the process the microbes which inhabit compost are multiplied many times over and the resulting liquid can be applied to the soil or used as a spray. Its advocates assure us that plant health, growth rate and yield can be greatly enhanced.

The book comes well up to expectations on that score. The instructions are as clear and simple as you could want. Now I feel well able to start making aerated compost tea, which I didn't before. But in addition Teaming with Microbes opens up the whole world of microbial life in the soil to the lay reader. In fact the first half of the book is devoted to describing that fascinating and complex world that goes on unseen beneath our feet. The second half describes practical ways in which we can co-operate with the microbial world, of which aerated compost tea is one.

The authors are not scientists but experienced amateur gardeners, one of them a long-standing writer on gardening. The enthusiasm they bring to their subject and the clear but entertaining style with which they write brings it to life in a way an academic would find hard. They do occasionally make a little mistake, but on the other hand they taught me a lot I didn't know and I've been looking into this stuff for many years. This is one book I recommend unreservedly, whether you want to make compost tea or not – but it would be a very good idea to do that too.

Patrick Whitefield teaches permaculture and is the author of numerous permaculture books.