Skip Navigation

Meet Mini Microbe : A mini-Q&A with soil’s tiny superhero

MiniMicrobe-HomepageFeature“Mini Microbe” is a new USDA mascot, representing the trillions of beneficial soil microbes that make farming possible. Though intended primarily for educational outreach to children, Mini will help make soil microbiology more approachable for people of all ages. You can read more about her here or order a free coloring book here.

Q:  Today we’re talking with “Mighty Mini Microbe,” NRCS’ new soil health super hero. Welcome to the USDA family! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

A: First let me say that it’s an honor to be the lead superhero for USDA’s “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil” campaign. As you’re probably aware we soil microbes tend to shun the limelight, but it’s important for everyone to understand the critical role we soil microbes perform for all living creatures above ground. As we like to say in my world, “Just because you can’t see us, doesn’t mean you don’t need us.”

Q: What’s it like living underground? How do you breathe? What do you eat?

A:  If you happen to live in soil that’s taken care of by producers who farm with soil health management systems, life is amazing. A bit dark and damp by your standards, but absolutely amazing. When we live in healthy soil, we have lots of diverse things to eat, we have a great home to live in and we’re surrounded by billions of fellow microbes. And because our homes have lots of space, we have lots of air to breathe, too.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it can be a “microbe-eat-microbe” kind of world down there, but it’s all part of the process of turning the decaying into the living again. I don’t mean to brag, but we ARE the original recyclers.

Q:  You’re a soil hero super hero. Can you tell us more about how you and your fellow superheroes help us?

A:  Among other things we protect plants from pests, we make nutrients available to them, and we build soil so plant roots can go deep into the ground and get the water they need. We’re really a key link that allows plants to grow strong and healthy, which allows you to eat healthy plants so you can grow strong and healthy, too. Plants are so dependent on me and my fellow soil microbe superheroes for nutrients, and disease and pest protection, they actually feed us through their roots.

Q: Sounds like you do a lot to help farmers and ranchers. What can they do to help you?

A: I’m glad you brought that up. Even superheroes need to live in a healthy environment, so we do our best when farmers take care of where we live and work – the soil.

There are a few key practices farmers can use to help us help them.

1. Disturb the soil as little as possible: Tillage destroys our homes and disrupts soil function but no-till farming keeps our homes intact;

2. Use diverse plants and animals to feed us: The more plants and animals that are living above ground, the more healthy and diverse the world is belowground;

3. Keep the soil surface covered year round: Living and decaying plants above ground protect our home from erosion and extreme temperatures; and

4. Keep living roots in the ground as long as possible: Remember what I said about plants feeding us through their roots? The more plants are living, the more they can feed us.

Q: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us. Do you have any parting words for our readers?

A: I’d just like to remind everyone that 95 percent of the food you eat comes from the soil. We soil superheroes feed the plants that feed you. We might be small, but what we do for every living thing above ground is really big. So just be sure to say “thank you” to the farmers who feed and protect us. In my opinion, they’re the real superheroes.