Many millions of years ago, when life was trying to make the leap from water to land, there was no soil. Only barren rock. How could the ancestors of plants get access to nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous or potassium?

The answer is fungi. Fungi liberated the nutrients locked up in the rocks with their enzymes. The ancestors of plants had already started photosynthesis in the ocean, and could therefore produce sugars. This set the stage for the dream team of fungi and plants conquering the Earth’s surface. In symbiotic collaboration, they could obtain nutrients and sugars and trade them with each other.

Throughout time, the decomposing bodies of plant and fungal life built up an organic layer on the Earth’s rocky surface, mixed with mineral components such as sand, silt and clay. This is what we call soil. And the relatively straightforward symbiotic relationship between plants and fungi has become more and more complex over billions of years.

Soil provides an ecosystem for a complex system of predators and pray, which is able to receive sugars from plants and give plants the nutrients they need in return.

For this symbiotic relationship between soil organisms and plants to function, the main protagonists need to be present, otherwise the system collapses. Adding large quantities of salt to the soil destroys these organisms, in the same way that sailors die when they drink salty sea water. Soluble nutrients such as nitrogen fertiliser are salts; applied in large quantities, they kill the majority of soil organisms.

The main protagonists in the soil are the two great decomposers, bacteria and fungi. They use enzymes to break down chemical molecules and gather nutrients. While fungi can enter into a direct relationship with plants, bacteria have no mechanism for exchanging the nutrients they collate. The only way bacteria can release their nutrients is by being eaten by predators such as protozoa or nematodes.

At Soil Reconstruction, we are interested in the question how the biological system that has developed over billions of years can be utilised and enhanced in modern agriculture.

We believe that the basis for a real understanding of relationships between microorganisms and plants is analysis. We need to know what is in the soil, and observe effects on plant growth. Then we can find solutions that work for your soil and your plants.