Foster, Catherine Osgood, Terrific Tomatoes
Among all the available microorganisms that inhabit soil, those that derive nitrogen from the air are especially useful. There are so many of these nitrogen-fixing and other kinds of bacteria that you can expect a billion in each gram of soil, some at rest in the spore stage and others at work getting energy from the carbohydrates, fats, or proteins of the organic matter they live on and decompose. One kind converts organic nitrogen to ammonia; another converts ammonia to nitrites; and another changes nitrites to nitrates, the form in which plants can use nitrogen.
There are also actinomycetes, occurring 15 to 20 million per gram, little organisms halfway between bacteria and fungi. They are what give newly-turned soul in the spring that fresh earthy smell.
They are at work in the soul and in compost piles helping to decay the raw materials into soft, dark humus.
Along with these are fungi, in quantities of about a million per gram, with a larger structure than the other organisms, often with a whole maze of tiny threads that stretch up unto cellulose, for instance, and decompose it. In addition, the population of soil creatures includes yeasts, one-celled protozoans, and the microscopic plants called algae which, if they have some light, can work on the carbon dioxide of the air and change it to organic matter as higher plants do.
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