The science of sound

 

Did you know that fungi in the soil can be influenced by sound? Scientists recently discovered that playing ‘white noise’ to depleted soil increases healthy soil production by up to 20%. The ‘white sound’ mimics the movement of earthworms and other useful insects. 

How do fungi grow?

Until recently all we knew was that fungi primarily respond to environmental factors such as moisture, light, and nutrient availability. Factors such as humidity, temperature, pH level, and substrate composition are very influential on fungal growth. While fungi can detect environmental cues, they do so through chemical and physical signals rather than auditory stimuli. But sound is not something we associate with healthy soil, that is until now.

A few years ago a Swiss sound artist called  Marcus Maeder stuck a noise sensor into the ground. At the time he was working on his dissertation and was just curious ‘What does the soil sound like?’ And there was a lot of sound to discover. The soil is alive and full of screeching, scratching, and tons of other noises. Ecologists have long known that the earth is home to gazillions of organisms. In fact, in a small cup of earth, researchers have counted up to 100 million life forms.

Understanding that underground life is important because it creates ‘the living soil’.  “Soil helps to transform the nutrient elements like carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that feed plants – for food, for forests, or to fill the air with oxygen, so we can all breathe,” says Steven Banwart, a soil, agriculture and water researcher at the University of Leeds in the UK, who co-wrote an overview of the functions of soil in the Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences. Worms, grubs, fungi, bacteria, and other decomposers are involved in every step. (source BBC article) 

Next time you start a compost heap, think about the millions of creatures that you will harbor.

The Living Soil 

“The living soil” refers to the complex ecosystem of organisms and processes that exist within the soil. Soil is not merely a medium for plants to grow in; it’s a dynamic environment teeming with life and essential for sustaining ecosystems. The living soil is home to bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa, nematodes, earthworms, insects, and other microorganisms.

These organisms all play critical roles in nutrient cycling, decomposition, soil structure formation, and plant health. Without them, there is no compost, simple as that.

The recent discovery that introducing extra ‘white sound’ to the soil speeds up the formation of compost could be of huge importance in the coming years. Currently, most of our healthy soil is already depleted.  Making only a small layer of high-quality topsoil takes decades. Shortening this process would be a welcome development.

Maintaining a ‘living soil’ is crucial for sustainable agriculture and functioning ecosystems.  Reducing chemical inputs, promoting crop diversity, and adding organic matter is vital if we want to continue to grow healthy crops.

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