The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health by David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé

Do you realize that the processes that occur in your digestive system are very similar to those that occur in the soil? Both your digestive system and the soil in which plants grow handle the task of breaking down dead plant and animal life to recycle it for new growth, protection from disease, and energy. In fact, both your digestive system and the soil contain incredibly varied organisms which create symbiotic relationships with your body and with plants to accomplish these tasks. Such are the revelations of the excellent book “The Hidden Half of Nature”

This is an incredibly fascinating read. The authors purchased a home in Seattle which had a completely barren yard. This book is, to start, the tale of their conversion of the yard into a verdant oasis of lush healthy plants. But the book is so much more than that.

Trained scientists (a geomorphologist and a biologist, respectively), the authors observed and wondered and researched the conversion they performed and witnessed. These observations led to insights and astonishment as they realized that the key to their success lay in the hidden and lush microbiome they were creating beneath the surface of the soil – a soil that they had built up through an aggressive program of adding organic waste to the yard. This waste, in its process of decomposition, created the nutrients and environment for new plant life to flourish.

Their wonderment increased beyond that as they realized the parallels that existed between the microbial activity that was occurring in the soil and the microbial activity that occurs in the human digestive system. In both cases the processes take dead plant and animal waste and process it to provide the nourishment required for the maintenance of life.

The book contains many, many themes that are exposed through easy to read prose, prose that leads the reader on and on, wondering “What next?”. Some of these themes are:

  • the healthiest of plant growth occurs when soil is cared for by the generous addition of organic wastes.
  • fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, while promoting plant life in the short run, inevitably lead to depleted soil and weaker plants – plants that require more and more, and newer and newer, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
  • The use of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides has a deleterious impact on soil that is similar to the use of antibiotics and similar drugs on the human (or any animal) body.
  • And there are many other themes – but you will need to read “The Hidden Half of Nature” to learn them all. (In fact, you may want to read it a few times – I am just starting my fourth read!)

    If I have any wish for enhancements to the book, I would have loved to see some photographs of their yard. And I would have really appreciated more details of their techniques. That said the book provides a detailed glossary, notes and sources.

    This book is a must read for any gardener and anyone involved in agriculture. Perhaps even more so, it is a must read for anyone who is at all concerned about the important task of properly nourishing their own body.


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