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The microscopic gardeners

Sometimes when I work in my garden, the unseen world beneath my feet arouses intense speculation. I can only imagine how microorganisms deep in the soil are hard at work, decaying garden wastes and making them available to plant roots.

Without the tiny creatures, invisible to the naked eye, I would have difficulty growing vegetables organically. Their unceasing activity recycles waste products into nutrients vital for plant growth.

Without the tireless workers, a compost pile, no matter how well it has been built, would never decompose. It would remain a pile of "stuff," perhaps indefinitely.

Even though the microorganisms can't be seen, their activity is obvious when they begin to work. Their furious actions can heat a compost pile to as high as 140 degrees, too hot for a hand to be inserted.

Where do the tiny creatures hide until their services are needed? Unless zapped by chemical pesticides and weed killers, they simply wait in the soil until more undecayed organic matter arrives _ food, to them. They work best between 70 and 90 degrees. Lower temperatures curtail their ambitions.

Each year I add microorganism-made compost to my garden plot. It has turned a sandy, almost barren area into a growing medium that resembles dark potting soil. That rich topsoil, more than a shovel-blade deep, provides a nutrient-rich vegetable and fruit growing area.

Without the aid of microorganisms, that same area would have been unproductive and shoulder-deep in undecomposed organic wastes. The same could be true of Earth's other topsoil areas.

For that reason, microorganisms deserve the best of care. Feed the tiny creatures yard and garden wastes. They'll respond and improve your topsoil.

Leo Van Meer's book, Natural Gardening, is available from Van Meer Publishing, P.O. Box 8127, Clearwater, FL 34618 ($10.95 post-paid, plus 77 cents sales tax). Address questions to Garden Naturally, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.