Microorganisms inhabit all corners of planet earth, from ocean floors to our own backyards. As we dig in our gardens, planting seasonal vegetables or tending to medicinal herbs, we may not realize just how many of these microscopic creatures call our garden home. In fact, one handful of healthy garden soil can contain millions of microbes, including an incredible diversity of bacteria, fungi, algae and other organisms. Although these vital ‘tenants’ of ours are too small for the unaided eye to see, they play a key role in influencing soil fertility, decomposing organic matter, and cycling nutrients to other life. One microbe in particular, bacteria, is even thought to be responsible for dirt’s earthy smell.
As humans, soil is part of our natural habitat. From early childhood, we are in contact with dirt; we play and dig in it, we ingest plants grown in it, and we drink water that has passed through it. It makes sense then, that our bodies are also comprised of microorganisms and that the health of garden microbes impacts our health. For example, research has shown that the microorganisms in our gut play a significant role in influencing our mood and behaviour. To take this a step further, studies suggest that certain garden microbes directly contribute to higher serotonin levels in humans; hence, there is a reason why gardeners always look so happy!
Within our bodies, the largest population of microorganisms can be found in our intestine. Often referred to as our gut microbiota, these ‘internal tenants’ are as unique as our fingerprint and play a crucial role in supporting our health. For instance, healthy gut microbes help to facilitate the absorption of minerals, such as magnesium, calcium and iron, and aid in synthesizing certain essential vitamins and amino acids. These microbes also assist in digesting certain foods, such as fiber, and play a fundamental role in supporting our immune system, in addition to providing a vast array of other health benefits.
To ensure that our gut microbes, as well as our garden microbes, are plentiful and healthy, we must take care of the environments in which they live. Consider adopting the following tips, or allow them to inspire you to find new ways of supporting these vital inhabitants.
Tips For Healthy Garden Microbes:
Add Mulch.Covering your garden beds with a layer of organic matter (e.g. leaves or compost) helps to repel the sun’s rays and trap moisture below the surface. This protective blanket will also deliver a steady supply of energy to your garden microbes.
Avoid Pesticides.Consider using organic fertilizers, such as compost or manure, versus chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Chemical options can have a negative impact on the health and production of garden microbes.
Add Worms.Consider building your own wormery or simply adding more worms to your garden. Earthworms transport dead surface matter to lower layers of soil, making the carbon easier for garden microbes to decompose.
Water Your Garden Well.Microbes thrive in moist soils and moderate temperatures; if you forget to water regularly, your garden microbes will suffer.
Avoid Disturbances.When soil is disturbed through physical force (e.g. digging or overturning), the microorganisms living within it are also disturbed.
Plant Cover Crops.By planting cover crops, you will be providing food and temperature regulation for your garden microbes.
Tips For Healthy Gut Microbes:
What You Eat Matters.The food you put into your body also feeds the microorganisms that live in your gut. Consider eliminating processed foods, eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and including fibre and fermented foods (i.e. yogurt, tempeh, or kimchi) in your diet.
Play In The Dirt.Put the theory that garden microbes influence our mental health to the test and spend more time gardening or digging in the dirt, then notice if you feel any different.
Relax.If your stress levels are high, the microorganisms in your gut will be out of balance too. Take some time to re-balance and de-stress, and ensure that you’re getting enough, restful sleep.
Increase Exercise.Research has shown that an active lifestyle can have a positive impact on the diversity and health of gut microbes. Increase activity in your life by going for regular nature walks, heading out for a bike ride, or dancing around your living room.
Stay Hydrated.Drinking enough water ensures that your gut microbes also stay hydrated, and will support the health of beneficial gut bacteria.
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