Lynne Pledger and Dorothea Sotiros: Soil microbes reduce flooding



Published: 04-01-2024 5:44 PM

Modified: 04-02-2024 11:47 AM

Almost buried in the recent article about clogged drainage ditches was a nugget of wisdom from Astarte Farm manager Ellen Drews [“Farmers spotlight drainage ditch troubles,” Recorder, March 28]. She noted that the farm’s practice of no-till (planting without plowing) protects the land from flooding. In recent decades, scientists have learned how no-till prepares soil to withstand either too much water or too little.

A farmer’s best friends are soil microbes, especially fungi. These invisible organisms, with long, sticky filaments, establish a soil structure that allows rainwater to sink in and be retained in the ground. This structure protects against both flooding and drought. Fungi also bring soil nutrients to plant roots, which increases yields, and take carbon from the roots and sequester it underground, which prevents carbon dioxide from rising into the air. But plowing breaks up the web of filaments that provide all these benefits.

No-till is one of several regenerative practices that foster populations of beneficial fungi, bacteria, and other microbes in gardens and farmlands. Additional practices are eliminating chemical fertilizers and biocides; keeping the ground covered with a variety of growing plants (such as cover crops or perennial pastures); and integrating livestock with cropping operations.

In recent years, agriculturalists and climate scientists have recognized that the regenerative method is an effective, safe, and low-cost way to restore degraded soils and help stabilize the climate.

To understand why a habitable earth depends on protecting whole ecosystems — both fields and forests — take a look at these two websites: and

Lynne Pledger

Shelburne Falls

Dorothea Sotiros