How Nature Feeds Plants: The Relationship Between Soil, Roots and Microorganisms

At The Glen Road we’re soil people. If you want to grow great plants you have to begin with the soil. Here’s is a short answer to the big WHY?…

Soil is the loose outer layer of the earth’s surface. It is made up of five major components: mineral matter, organic matter, air, water and microorganisms. It is one of the most dynamic sites of biological interactions in nature.

Soil is the largest terrestrial ecosystem. Here there are many different relationships between soil microbes and roots. They can be symbiotic or antagonistic in nature. Organisms live in close proximity to the root systems of plants. They interact with not only the roots but amongst themselves. These interactions can be beneficial, detrimental or neutral to plant roots.

Soil microorganisms are the most important agents in the transportation of various elements: such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, etc., from the biosphere to the soil. These essential elements undergo changes from their inorganic state as free elements in nature into their combined state in living microorganisms. In a process known as mineralization, microbes convert complex organic compounds into simple inorganic compounds and then into usable nutrients.

Microorganisms that help root systems take up nutrients are bacteria, fungi and algae. In the upper layers of the soil horizons O and A the microbe population is very high. It decreases in deeper horizons. This area in the soil close to the roots is called the rhizosphere; the thin layer of soil around the roots. This is a favourite place for microbes to live. The roots give off exudates; foods, like sugars and amino acids, to attract microorganisms. In return the organisms bring minerals, nitrogen, vitamins and other amino acids to the root zone. Here in the rhizosphere there could be 100 times more microbes than in other soil horizon.

Actinomycetes, or thread bacteria, are important decomposers in the soil. They help decompose resistant, organic compounds. They are responsible for the production of antibiotics, primarily Streptomycin and Aureomycin. These natural antibiotics can protect plant roots from disease.

Some microbes, such as mycorrhizae, have a very close or symbiotic relationship with roots. Some fungi grow inside root cells. These are called endotrophic mycorrihizae that grow branch-like threads inside the root cells. Ectotrophic mycorrihizae have thread like filaments that grow between the cells creating networks. They also form a cover or a mesh around the host root. They can look like short, swollen, multi-branched rootlets or long, root-like nets. Both types of fungi extend out from the host roots into the surrounding soil, transporting water and nutrients.

Algae, or cyanobacteria, are a photosynthetic, nitrogen-fixing group of bacteria that survive in different habitats: soil or water. They fix atmospheric nitrogen in aerobic or anaerobic conditions. Some species are specialized to convert nitrogen into NH3, NO2 and NO3. These nutrients can be absorbed by roots and converted by the plant into proteins and acids.

A balanced soil food web is a best management approach to maintaining a healthy rhizosphere; where soil, roots and organisms interact. Feed your plants by feeding your soil. Add clean organic material on a regular basis.

For more information refer to the following:

Dr. Elaine Ingham talking about the Soil Food Web.

How We Dry Our Garlic

With a little investigation you can find a lot of different ways to dry garlic. We crafted these simple shelves to hold our drying racks 7 high. This system allows us to move our garlic from the field to the drying shed. The racks also hold the cloves once we start to prepare the garlic bulbs for sale as seed garlic.
Simple tools for many tasks. Making great garlic for you!

How We Harvest Our Garlic

It’s week 2 of our garlic harvest. There’s lots more to go!

There are several ways to harvest garlic and twice as many ways to dry it. Here is our method, which you might find helpful during this season.

1. Pulling

We pull our garlic by grasping the plant at its base and tugging firmly till it loosens. We have been amending our soil for many years and it is soft enough for us to just ‘pull’. If your soil is firm, you will know, you will need to use a garden fork or shovel to loosen the soil first. Creating and maintaining a healthy soil has a million benefits and this is one of them! You can easily pull your plant right out of the ground. I like pulling not only because of its simplicity but because it leaves less soil around the roots and the bulb – making it easier to dry. We lay our pulled garlic in staggered arrangement right in the garden. You can’t beat solar drying. This year the weather has threatened showers every evening so the garlic has only had a day to dry in the sun. Ideally, 1-3 days removes a significant amount of moisture from the plant.
2. Peeling

We like to peel back the dried leaves to the last green one. It leaves clean, shiny bulbs ready to dry in the sun. Leaving soil or leaf residue on the bulb creates a window for mold development or bulb staining. Sometimes we don’t have time or the right weather to do this step in this order. If it’s been rainy or high humidity we prefer to peel first as much as possible. We have found, and other growers have confirmed, that the garlic can be rained on once but not twice. After that the bulb takes exponentially long to dry and the risk of mold sky-rockets. After all your hard work, this is something to be avoided!
3. Trimming

Trimming involves cutting the roots, or beards as we call them, back to about 1.5 cm and cutting the stalk back to as short as 6 cm. We usually trim our garlic after is has dried for a few days. A lot depends on the weather. The key point to remember is that the bulb needs to dry, part of the curing process. Leaving a few days to dry in the sun prevents the bulb from getting bruised while it is still tender. Trimming the excess root hairs and the top of the plant removes soil and vegetation that hold moisture. This reduces the chance for mold. I would add that depending on the weather events we have had to combine our peeling and trimming together – again to ensure our bulbs dry thoroughly.

4. Drying

We leave our peeled and trimmed bulbs in our drying shed for 2-3 weeks. During this process the skins dry to a paper-like quality.

5. Storing

Fully dried bulbs keeps best between 2-8 degrees Celsius in the dark. Storing carefully will prolong your bulb life. Our Hawkwind variety stores well, for as long as 8-10 months. Check the details of your variety so you won’t be disappointed on your mid-winter trip to the cold room!

Check out our garlic pics on Instagram and Pinterest.

Welcome to Our Blog

Hello from The Glen Road….

We have a saying here at The Glen Road, “Feed your soil. Your plants will feed themselves.”

At The Glen Road Organics and The Glen Road Natural Landscapes our work centers on the life in the soil. Our compost and potting mix, our food crops (farming), our native plant nursery, our sustainable landscape design and development all find their beginnings with the soil food web. We believe that a balanced soil ecology is the secret to natural sustainability.

In this blog we’ll be talking about good growing practices, what’s in season at the farm and how to enjoy it, as well as sharing our musings as growers.

Good growing,