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Underground Soil Network

Here’s another reason to always have cover crops or something growing on your fields. The livestock living underground are building your soil structure.

Carol Schutte is the program coordinator for the Women Food and Ag Network, and also a former biology instructor. She says we know that plant roots bring up nutrients and water from the soil. Plants photosynthesize and make sugars, but you may not know that up to 70-percent of that sugary substance leaks out the roots. That’s a good thing because there is a food chain of organisms in the soil that depend on it.

"Soil bacteria live around these roots, grooving on that syrup," says Schutte. "Feeding on those bacteria are single-celled organisms like amoeba and all kinds of little ciliates are living in that watery film, they’re living right there next to the living root. And feeding on the single-celled organisms are little tiny nematodes, you’ve got tiny little beetle larva that are eating that. And then we go a little bit higher, a little bit bigger."

 All those microscopic dead bodies along with that plant-provided “syrup” help bind the soil, so it resembles chocolate cake crumbs. Fungi is another kingdom that helps create healthy soil.

"These are not things you can necessarily see, either. But in a healthy system, there’s going to be little thread-like extensions of fungi and they found that this fungal network can extend hundreds of meters out, like from an oak tree," she says. "These fungi are the largest organisms on the face of the earth."

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