A geologist and a biologist and environmental planner chronicle the transformation of their desolate Seattle backyard into a fertile garden and how they learned about the importance of beneficial microbes in their newly revived soil.
With lively and accessible prose, Montgomery (The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood, 2013, etc.) and Biklé lay the foundation for their narrative with a discussion about microbes: what they are as well as their remarkable adaptability and diversity and the role they play in the natural environment—e.g., making half the world’s oxygen. The authors lead readers through an eye-opening history of well-known individuals involved with the fascinating work of ferreting out the mysterious lives of these little critters, such as Louis Pasteur, and many others less well known to the nonscientific community. The authors’ blending of science and history, combined with personal insights, keeps the balanced narrative moving at a rapid pace. Montgomery and Biklé also deftly integrate the dark story of American agriculture’s co-option by the chemical industry. Attempting to solve the biological problem of low soil fertility with herbicides and synthetic fertilizers, corporations created a cycle of demand requiring farmers use more chemicals. The result has been depleted soil with fewer microbes and an unsustainable food production system. The authors explore the overuse of antibiotics and their effect on the human biome, livestock, and infectious diseases. Biklé describes her bout with cancer and the resulting changes she made to her garden and dietary habits. The authors ably help lay readers knit together the multiple threads of this complex and intriguing story, and a glossary provides a solid a foundation when grappling with unfamiliar terms such as “commensal” or dysbiosis.”
A must-read for avid gardeners, those interested in bolstering our precarious food supply, or anyone remotely concerned about their health and the soil under their feet.