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Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web

By Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis

Should be required reading for all serious gardeners.

Miami Herald

Smart gardeners know that soil is anything but an inert substance. Healthy soil is teeming with life — not just earthworms and insects, but a staggering multitude of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms. When we use chemical fertilizers, we injure the microbial life that sustains healthy plants, and thus become increasingly dependent on an arsenal of artificial substances, many of them toxic to humans as well as other forms of life. But there is an alternative to this vicious circle: to garden in a way that strengthens, rather than destroys, the soil food web — the complex world of soil-dwelling organisms whose interactions create a nurturing environment for plants. By eschewing jargon and overly technical language, the authors make the benefits of cultivating the soil food web available to a wide audience, from devotees of organic gardening techniques to weekend gardeners who simply want to grow healthy, vigorous plants without resorting to chemicals.

Media reviews

"A must read for any gardener looking to create a sustainable, healthy garden without chemicals."

—Nancy Szerlag, Detroit News

"Should be required reading for all serious gardeners."

—Tom Karwin, Miami Herald

"[Lowenfels'] oh-so-thorough investigation has resulted in one heck of a good book. ... Teaming With Microbes is being touted as an important volume. I agree, not only because the information is, as Lowenfels puts it, 'revolutionary,' but also because he's written it in a style so on-the-spot clear and easy to grasp that my dog, Sadie, could understand it."

—Kym Pokorny, Oregonian

"To learn more about the world under our feet, take a look at Teaming With Microbes. ... [The book] makes it easy to understand."

—Penny Pawl, Napa Valley Register

"An outstanding book for those gardeners interested in a solid understanding of how to create a healthy lawn and garden. ... Authors Lowenfels and Lewis have done a superb job of making soil science and soil food webs understandable."

—Lee Luckeydoo, Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas

"Once in a great while, you have a breakthrough book — one that is so unique and of such value to the gardening community and beyond, it deserves to stand out from the pack and bask in the limelight for the recognition it merits. After twice reading Teaming with Microbes ... I knew I had found such a book. It is now impossible to look at soil the same way again."

—Joe Lamp'l, JoeGardener.com

"Will forever change the way you garden — I guarantee! ... This amazing book will give a new dimension to your gardening life and you will be forever glad you picked it up."

—Becky Hart, Daily Astorian

"This book gives a comprehensive overview of the soil community and its interaction with plants in a cohesive and easy to understand manner."

—Cheryl Cadwell, Barrington Times

"A breakthrough book both for the field of organic gardening and for its authors. Teaming with Microbes takes the empirically based common sense approach that has characterized good gardeners since time immemorial and provides a solid scientific background for their practices. ... A book well worth owning and reading. No comprehensive horticultural library should be without it."

—Shepherd Ogden, American Gardener

"This intense little book may well change the way you garden, teaching you to manage your garden soil in new yet old ways that result in less expense and healthier plants."

—Barbara Perry Lawton, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"What you will learn from this book will forever change the way you garden. ... I truly believe that this is a very important book which is foremost on this topic. I feel it should be read by nurserymen, soil and water conservationists, all gardeners, and teachers. In fact, I think this book should be taught in our public schools."

—Eddie Rhoades, Georgia Native Plant Society Journal

"All gardeners who take this important book seriously will learn how to make their gardening practices ... more effective."

—Greg Williams, HortIdeas

"Digs into soil in a most enlightening and entertaining way."

—Joe Lamp'l, Dallas Morning News

"The story-line is important, but it is the close-up images of fungi and bacteria as they cling to soil particles that really teach the moral of the story — our soil is alive and we need to keep it thriving. Teaming with Microbes should be required reading for everyone lucky enough to own a piece of land."

—Marianne Binetti, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"It is exciting that the revelations herein are the tip of the iceberg in the complex, microscopic world of our soil that will unfold in the coming decades."

—Colleen Miko, B&B Magazine

"Explains exactly what goes on underground that nourishes plants naturally."

—Barbara Blossom Ashmun, Portland Tribune

"A very helpful source."

—Pat Rubin, Sacramento Bee

"Reads more like a thriller or a novel than a textbook, yet is so fact-filled it could (and will [here]) be used to base a course on soil dynamics."

—Erik van Lennep, Cultivate.ie

"Lowenfels and his co-author, Wayne Lewis, translate the science of the 'soil food web' into simple, compelling logic and supplement the explanation with super-magnified pictures of life at the tiniest level."

—Elizabeth Petersen, Digger

"It is clear that the authors' passion and expertise lie in the second part of the book in which they demonstrate how to incorporate this philosophy of the soil food web into one's garden practices."

—Linda MK Johnson, Plant Science Bulletin

"Understanding just what is in my soil and how I can improve it finally makes sense."

—Cheval Force Opp, Washington Gardener

"This exceptional book ... summarizes a great deal of scientific observation on [soil science] and does so in a well-organized and readable manner. There is enough science terminology to provide credibility without discouraging the reader who simply wants to garden more successfully.. ... Should be required reading for all serious gardeners."

—Tom Karwin, Monterey County Herald

"I enthusiastically recommend this book for gardeners of all skill and experience levels, as well as students and professionals in the field of horticulture and agriculture."

—James A. Cox, Midwest Book Review

"This is the most complete book on the market about biological or organic methods in horticulture. ... Highly recommended for all gardeners, landscapers, or anyone taking care of a lawn or garden."

Nature's Way Resources

"[This] is sure to gain that well-thumbed look that any good garden book acquires as it is referred to repeatedly over the years."

—Frederique Lavoipierre, Pacific Horticulture

"Sure, it's a gardening book, but it has all the drama and suspense of an extraterrestrial thriller. ... Read this book and you'll never think of soil the same way."

—Debra McKinney, Anchorage Daily News

"[The authors] have done a great job of presenting ... complex information in an understandable form, partly by the use of images presented through metaphors and analogies. But, throughout their book, it is clear that they are 'practicing what they preach' and that they understand the soil biosphere and how to put it to use in gardening."

—Jim Wilson, Heartland Master Gardeners Newsletter

About the authors

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels is a weekly columnist for the Anchorage Daily News. He is the founder of Plant a Row for The Hungry, a program that has created over 14 million meals to feed the hungry. A popular national garden writer and leading proponent of gardening using the concepts of the soil food web, Jeff is the former president of the Garden Writers of America and was made a GWA Fellow in 1999. In 2005, he was inducted into the GWA Hall of Fame. He lives in Anchorage, Alaska.

Read more about Jeff Lowenfels

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Wayne Lewis

Wayne Lewis is a lifelong Alaskan gardener. He has worked with Jeff on many projects over the past 25 years, including the now national Plant a Row for the Hungry program (started in Anchorage by Jeff), which encourages gardeners to donate a portion of their harvest to charitable organizations in their community.

Read more about Wayne Lewis

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