The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health By David R. Montgomery and Anne Bikle

David Montgomery and Anne Bikle bought a modest house in Seattle. They discovered that the glaciers that passed through that part of the world long ago left them with very little topsoil in their backyard. They began dumping a lot of organic matter in their space and creating a manure tea to feed their plants. After a few years, they had soil and lush foliage to show for their efforts.

David is a geologist, used to thinking in geological time. It surprised him that by actively adding organic matter to the soil, he and Anne could actually speed up the rate of soil creation relative to nature’s timeframe. They both began to wonder how this could be and this led them to discovering the hidden world of soil microbes and their relationship to plants.

Of particular interest to gardeners is the first part of the book that so clearly explains in an accessible manner the interactions between the microbes in the soil (primarily bacteria, protists, and fungi) and plants. Research over the last 10 to 20 years has illuminated the incredible partnerships between beasties we can’t even see and plant roots, resulting in a sharing of resources and information in ways not previously dreamed of.

David and Anne make a very strong case for encouraging these relationships by not tilling the soil and adding a lot of mulch. And they illustrate what is lost when the opposite happens – soil is disturbed by tilling and plants are fed chemicals, resulting in basically sterile soil.

When Anne suffered a battle with cancer, the two began to look more closely at what supports human health and drew parallels between a healthy human gut and healthy soil, in that there is much more communication between the microbes in our guts and our immune system than we had imagined and keeping this inner microbiome healthy is very important to our overall health, as is supporting healthy soils.

Along the way they describe how microbes were discovered and how for a long time were seen only as enemies, aka disease-producers. So our first knowledge and awareness of microbes was in a battle against pathogens. There follows a long section on what the good microbes in our gut do and how to encourage them. While the center section is long and detailed, it is important in that it makes a case that the vast majority of microbes are beneficial and we need to cultivate them.

Page 254: “A couple of decades ago, it would have sounded crazy to argue that plants and microbes in the soil run a biological barter system that functions as a plant‘s defense system and allows us to harvest nutrient-laden plant foods essential to our health. Even more unbelievable would have been the notion that bacteria communicate with our immune system, helping it to precisely mete out inflammation to repel pathogens and recruit helpful commensals. These surprising new truths carry fundamental implications for the way we view, and should treat, a wide range of seemingly unrelated maladies. In medicine, as in agriculture, what we feed our soils—inner and outer—offers a prescription for health forged on the anvil of geologic time….Put bluntly, many practices at the heart of modern agriculture and medicine—two arenas of applied science critical to human health and well-being—are simply on the wrong path. We need to learn how to work with rather than against the microbial communities that underpin the health of plants and people.”

One of the best parts of this book is the readability and ease of understanding of complex topics. If you are on a quest to better understand our soils and the importance of cultivating their health, this is a good place to start.

Book Review by Ann Guthals



Decoding Botanical Latin

Posted by Helen Yoest on December 20, 2014

Botanical Latin for many home gardeners can seem overwhelming, and indeed at times the system seems to have overwhelmed the keepers of the flame. But if you break down each aspect of the Latin name – each string of words to describe the plant – the language makes sense even for us non-botanists.

The Botanical Latin that scientists use today is very different than what was once used by Roman scholars. Since that time, and well into the 18th century, Latin was the language of international scholarship. It only made sense it was the vocabulary used in scientific circles.

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Gardening Series Billings Public Library: Jan | Feb | March 2018

Wednesday, Jan. 24th – Backyard Bird Feeding with Kathy from Wild Birds Unlimited, 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm, Community Room. Bird feeders can be an important food source during winter. When severe weather impacts wild food supplies, some species of birds will turn to feeders as a critical food resource. It is during these times that feeders play their most vital role. Learn how a thought-ful, winter feeding station may mean the difference between life and death for these birds.

Wednesday, Feb. 7th – Billings Bloomers African Violet Society, (between 4:00 and 6:00, TBD), Community Room.

Tuesday, Feb. 27th – Houseplants with Gainans, 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm, Community Room.

Thursday, March 15th — Zoo Montana Botanical Garden and Plant Selection Program with Teresa Miller Bessette, 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm, Community Room.

METRA Square Foot Garden Results

This year, once again, we had some stiff competition with our METRA Square Foot Garden Contest. There were 5 competition 4×4 beds this year. You all made our garden demonstration something to check out. There were many very nice compliments this year.

Special thanks to all of you who competed: Cindy Roesler, Joann Glasser & Pat Morrison, Rick Shotwell, Roy Wahl, Susan Carlson And the winners are: First Place – #1 Cindy Roesler ($50 Second Place – #5 Joann Glasser and Pat Morrison ($25) Third Place – #2 Rick Shotwell ($10).

Thank you to Mary Davis and Rosemary Power for being our honored judges. Our judges suggested sharing with you what they will be looking for next year. Here’s the list: 1. Well thought out design 2.Space utilization 3 Creative plant choice 4.Plant health 5.Care & maintenance of garden 6.Overall attractiveness 7. Labeling/Educational 8. Mixture of color, form & texture.

Please consider being a part of the 4×4 Garden Contest in 2018. There are 2 available competition beds that you could use to share your ideas of what could be done in a small space garden.

Submitted by Amy Grandpre

The Humane Gardener: Nurturing a Backyard Habitat for Wildlife

Naturalist Nancy Lawson’s primary purpose is to help animals. She writes a column called ‘Humane Backyard’ ( backyard.html?referrer= for the Humane Society publication All Animals and is the founder of The Humane Gardener, a comprehensive website and outreach initiative focused on gardening for animals(

In six chapters, Lawson introduces the reader to the ideas of: · Trying Something New – By abandoning preconceived notions of what a garden should be and focusing on native plants. · Embracing the Wild – By allowing nature to take over a portion of a garden to see who sets up housekeeping. · Supporting Ecosystems – Fostering habitat by providing desirable food and shelter for native animals, and making gardens safe for the animals that make their homes there. · Providing Natural Food for Wildlife – By understanding that the creatures that live in our gardens must eat, too. · The Importance of the Full Life Cycle – By taking a new look at decaying plant material that may be messy, but that provides food and shelter to garden inhabitants. At the end of each chapter is an in-depth profile of a pioneer who has reclaimed a landscape for wildlife.

There is a handy “Getting Started” guide at the end of the book that includes: · General Information · Regional Books on Habitat Growing · Native Plant Information and Regional Databases · Native Plant Retail Sources and Supplies · Co-Existing with Wildlife · Habitat Certification and Yard Signs. Each provides valuable resources for readers who would like further information on native plant species, humane gardening, and wildlife habitat. Also included is a section titled “Plants Mentioned in this Book,” a comprehensive list of the many native and non-native species discussed, with their common and Latin names.

The Humane Gardener is an idea-packed examination of what happens when we view our yards as opportunities to preserve and foster habitat for native plants and animals. As Lawson says, “Even in a small yard, you might be surprised by who shows up if you let them.”

By: Tracy L. Livingston