Feed Your Soil And It Will Feed You!

Who wants to grow large, great tasting vegetables in abundance?

I do, I do! I think we all have that desire in common! If you ask me, “what is the single most import issue to focus on in my garden?” I would say soil health!  After all the soil is the foundation to everything growing in the ground. Soil is not an inanimate object but rather a living ecosystem and a plethora of organisms and microbial activity. When the soil is healthy and active your plants will be too! Let’s take a look in more detail at maintaining soil health.

The Average Gardener and Commercial Fertilizers

The average gardener fertilizes their garden with chemical based synthetic fertilizer products that are commercially mass produced. They see results from the addition of nitrogen. This makes them happy and feel good about the product they purchased and applied. Some vegetables and flowers grow furthering the excitement and feeling of accomplishment. When chemical fertilizers are applied they are essentially feeding the plants a meal or two. Once the available nutrients are used up the plant withers and requires another feeding…a great way to keep fertilizer companies in business! The process is akin to a body builder taking steroids. Once they stop they no longer maintain the massive growth and hard sculptured physique they had while taking them. Unfortunately, like steroid’s affect on the body, most chemical based fertilizers can actually damage the soil and accompanying ecosystem in the process.

Soil health is the key to great organic garden.

Healthy soil will provide the ongoing nutrition for your plants to grow and be extremely healthy. Plants contain nutrients and when they break down those nutrients are returned to the soil for the purposes of feeding the next generation. The best soils are high in organic matter which will provide nutrition for the plants growing in that soil. In the forest leaves, branches, flowers and other organics fall to the ground and break down into a nice rich fertile layer covering the ground. Then seeds fall, sprout and grow just fine without any fertilizer. It’s nature’s cycle at its best!

There are many different types of soil. Some are more sandy and drain well but have a hard time holding moisture and nutrients. The other extreme is dense clay that doesn’t drain well at all. A good soil will be crumbly, rich in humus, organic matter and hold moisture but will drain well.  Regardless of your soil type adding organic matter is always a good thing. It will provide ongoing nutrition for the plants you are growing. The active microorganisms in the soil will use the organic matter to feed on as they continue to transform the nutrient contents of the surrounding soil into forms that the plant’s roots can easily absorb and utilize, and therefore allow greater potential growth. Organic matter, active microorganisms processing and releasing the nutrients and a more abundant supply of micro-nutrients will allow plants to grow closer to their genetic potential.

Law of the Minimum

There are really 16+ nutrients that are essential to plant health while commercial fertilizers usually concentrate only on the 3 macro nutrients N-P-K (Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium). Liebig’s law of the minimum, in summary, states that a plant’s growth is limited by the nutrient in shortest supply. Furthermore Mike Usry from Southland Organics says “You could have every element in its proper proportion available in the soil, but without the microbial action plants would not be able to utilize them. Synthetic chemical fertilizers actually inhibit, kill and alter this natural microbial activity which is so very important to healthy plants.”

The previous 2 paragraphs are the key to growing large, sweet tasting vegetables resulting in an abundant harvest! Many of the micro-nutrients that plants require can dissipate over time from previous plantings. They can also be leached from the soil or growing zone as water percolates downward. Remineralisation can be accomplished by amending the soil with rock dust, kelp meal and other mineral dense or mineral specific compounds. A soil test can determine shortage of specific minerals or a broad spectrum rock dust like Azomite can be applied to cover the gamut.

Healthy microbial activity in the soil is the last part of the equation. Unfortunately there are a few things that are commonly done that will actually do harm to the microbes in the soil. The two most common are using chemical fertilizers and watering your plants and lawn with city water which typically contains chlorine added for purification purposes.  The chemicals do harm to the naturally active organisms that are constantly working for the plants benefit. Chlorine can be gassed off by letting the water sit for 12-24 hours before using it on your plants. I leave a 5 gallon bucket filled with water in the tub in my spare bathroom as well as collect some when it rains and store it in my garage. Rain water is by far the best thing for your plants!

Worm Castings Contain Beneficial Microbes for Your Soil

Vermicompost or worm castings contain a variety of beneficial organisms, microbes and an easy way to add or reintroduce them into your garden soil. They also contain slow release nutrients, increase aeration and moisture retention, increase disease resistance and are probably one of the best amendments one could use in the garden. Compost and worm casting teas are made from a process designed to enhance and supercharge the microbial activity. The process involves submerging a bag of castings or compost in water (non-chlorinated), adding a feed source for the organisms like molasses and then aerating the solution for approximately 24 hours or so. The microbiology will become very active and quickly multiply in the highly oxygenated water. The tea can then be applied as a foliar spray or used to water the plant as normally done. As a foliar spray the microbes will increase disease resistance and act as a pesticide for many problems while using as a soil drench will enhance the microbes in the root zone.

Organic gardening has many benefits and in my opinion the only way I want my food grown. A healthy and active soil is the best thing for the plants, our bodies and the environment. Amending the soil with organic material is by far the most important thing to do in your garden and will inherently create sustainability. Fertilizer inputs either commercial or organic will become an obsolete need instead of an absolute need and a thing of the past. Ensuring healthy microbial activity with worm castings, teas and adding micro-nutrients via a broad spectrum rock dust like Azomite will help your soil help you succeed in your growing endeavors.

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