Matt Rize

Redefining the Root-Soil Food Web for Indoors

Published by Matt Rize


Redefining the Soil Food Web for Indoors by Matt Rize

The complex relationship between plants and soil is called the soil food web. This describes the connection between roots, soil, and soil organisms. In the past 15 years this topic has been the center of attention for organic gardeners, thanks in large part to Teaming With Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis.

Plants produce sugars (carbohydrates) and proteins via photosynthesis, a well known process. Lesser known is that these photosynthetic products are then exuded into the soil, via the root system, to encourage beneficial bacteria and/or fungi. The bacteria and fungi feed larger soil organisms. It is the poop from these larger organisms that feed our plants. This is organic soil gardening at is core.

Soil organisms include (from tiny to small): bacteria, fungi, algae, slime molds, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, gastropods, worms, and insects. These, and many unlisted organisms, are partially responsible for decomposition/aeration of soil. Decomposed soil releases nutrients, which are then used by plant's roots for nutrition. Aeration of soil is a major issue, and has led to many growing with soil-less organic media. Peat/coco/bark, the organic soil-less grow medias, are much more airy than traditional soil.

But soil organisms are not the only ones decomposition and improving soil structure. Plants decompose soil chemically by exuding organic acids, ie citric acid, via their roots system. This is how plants actively take nutrition from soil. Plants also alter soil pH to their liking with these same exudates. Plants, like soil organisms, aerate soil via growing and moving root systems. Plants do exert a level of control over the rhizosphere.

Taken indoors the root soil food web is different. Indoor container growing is done without the larger soil decomposers, worms and insects. Bagged potting mixes may be void of other crucial soil organisms due to processing and/or sterilization. This means indoor potting soil won't be continuously aerated by worm and insect tunneling. This lack of large decomposers has led to indoor growing being based on mostly lighter (more air) and less nutritionally balanced soil-less organic media instead of actual soil. Familiar examples of soil-less organic media again are: peat, coco, and bark.

Soil-less organic potting mixes made from peat/coco/bark need food supplementation, as these mixes do not provide complete plant nutrition, especially in high yield environments. Normally, in the outdoor soil food web, worms help to feed the plants. But indoors we have to do the worm's job, so we add bottled and dry nutrients to our indoor food web. Indoors we use a root-soil-nutrient food web instead of a root-soil food web.

The constant addition of vermi-compost (EWC) by worms does not apply indoors, and this plant nutrient source must be replaced for high yield indoor organics. The bottled and dry nutrients replace the worm's decomposition of soil. The switch from soil to soil-less organic (peat, coco, bark), due to  soil-less' airy structure, means most of the nutrients that plants use must be added by the gardener. The dry and bottled nutes that we water in are eaten by the bacteria and fungi, which are eaten by nematodes and protozoa, who poop plant food. The root-soil-nutrient food web. 

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OrganaMike  (55 posts)
Sunday, May 22 2011 at 3:35a
brainiac, very understandable
Sunday, May 22 2011 at 1:33p
Good article dude!! Congratzz
Tuesday, May 24 2011 at 10:26p
Agreed! All this, and genetics combine to become this wonderful medicine that is a benefit to so many people. I enjoy all your writings. Can't wait for the next one! uzi
Expert Post
Matt Rize  (105 posts)
Thursday, May 26 2011 at 2:27a
thank you all!
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Matt Rize  (105 posts)
Saturday, May 28 2011 at 2:18a
"I believe that the author, such as it is, having the quote transmuted from another thread, is trying to make a case for the existence of the microbial nutrient loop existing in soilless media, such as peat & coca shit with ammendments of bottled, so called organic, nutrients. In my opinion the author does have a case in that truly organic substances will be (mostly) microbially processed if such a microbial population is in place, especially in a peat based growing media. The one part I do diverge on so far is that, as Mad has pointed out, there is no need to assume a lack of 'bugs and worms'. As a matter of fact this growing media can and will become living soil over a period of time and should be nurtured as such." Tim Wilson
4thstreetmedical  (117 posts)
Thursday, Aug 8 2013 at 2:24a
Nice article Matt Rize To grow plants you should have some basic knowledge about these things which help you a lot while farming etc. Thanks for the information. it will help a lots of people for sure.
4thstreetmedical  (117 posts)
Thursday, Aug 8 2013 at 2:27a
Nice article Matt Rize To grow plants you should have some basic knowledge about these things which help you a lot while farming etc. Thanks for the information. it will help a lots of people for sure.
ShaunMarijuana  (6 posts)
Saturday, Mar 21 at 9:07p

Ditto what Tim Wilson added. Even without a microscope it's so obviously apparent of the positive reactions to organic add ins throughout the grow cycle. Many research studies validate this.

Also, I have read research which shows a positive correlation with small additions of synthetic nutrients to a plant grown using mainly living soil methods, specifically as an adjunct to an all compost tea regimen.

Once again in the digital world I acknowledge Tim for his truly altruistic contributions to the knowledge base of incorporating soil science into plant growth. His website is a must read for anyone seeking to acquire knowledge without any BS. I rate him higher as a source for current knowledge and methods than SFI and other "guru" sites. His presentation of information is straightforward, documented with his own testing via scientific method with pictures and videos through microscope that connects the written information with visual demonstration and documentation.

I will vouch for that an acquaintance who works in the science field and knows of methodology that verified that Tim's methods of quantification of microbial activity, which does differ from what "soil labs" do, as the more accurate counting method.

ShaunMarijuana  (6 posts)
Saturday, Mar 21 at 9:09p

I somehow posted this under the wrong post. Apologies.

ShaunMarijuana  (6 posts)
Saturday, Mar 21 at 9:12p

Sorry, I see now that it appears as though you are adding in a quote from Tim? Anyway, my first comment is in the right place. Sorry for the confusion. I am new here.

ShaunMarijuana  (6 posts)
Saturday, Mar 21 at 9:18p

I would also reinforce that the application of AACT, when done properly and with the correct ratios of ingredients for optimization of microbial culturing, has an obviously positive enhancement to the rhizosphere. I only use compost tea for watering. So, over the past few years this adds up to hundreds of AACTs I have made. Using slightly different ingredients and ratios results in easy to see plant responses. 

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