Burnett: Small critters alive in the soil and the air

The soil beneath our feet is teaming with life. Among the smallest are the bacteria and archaea.

There is a lot going on in our gardens and even in our homes that we never see because most of it is too small to notice without a hand lens or microscope.

The soil especially is teaming with life. Without getting too technical, I will just name a few of the organisms found in healthy soil and let you do the research on them by searching the Internet.

Among the smallest are the bacteria and archaea although viruses are even smaller than these. Fungi is another group of organisms common in soil and compost ranging from very small to quite visible; mushrooms of course are part of this group.

There are three types of algae as there are  protozoa—flagellates, amoebae and ciliates.

I guess by now you must be saying enough already, we believe you, our soil is chock full of living creatures we rarely see but as long as they stay where they are and do their job, then I can get on with my gardening without thinking about them.

There are, however, people on the planet who just can’t leave it at that, who have a serious urge to learn as much about this miniature world beneath our feet.

One such person is Tim Wilson, who I met a few years ago at the Seattle Flower and Garden Show. He had a booth set up with a huge flat television screen constantly playing video of compost tea magnified 500 times or more over.

It looked like a pond full of fish swimming around, only instead of fish there was a collection of weird little creatures swimming, mating, eating and yes even scrapping with each other. Sounds a bit like human beings doesn’t it? But I digress.

The bottom line is here is a man who spends a lot of time watching this world of tiny creatures and wants to share what he has learned.

Visit his website   microorganics.com and you will be amazed at what he has to show you.

Turning from the tiny to the all over the place and in your face insect pests, we have some visitors that return every year.

The one that comes to mind is fall web worm, which is often confused with a tent caterpillar and even a codling moth.

The masses of webbing we see along the roadways and even on our domestic trees and shrubs is one of the most visible pests we have in the Okanagan.

But even though is so visible, I have to tell you the damage is only cosmetic. The best way to help keep it to a minimum is to just take a stick and shake up the web clusters, something like making cotton candy.

Once the larvae (caterpillars) are exposed the birds and wasps have a field day on them. As I said, the damage even on a very infested tree is only temporary and the foliage will regrow the next season.