There is a decades-old adage in organic gardening – “feed the soil, not the plants”. We say this because plants do not grow independently. They grow in a partnership with a diverse colony of micro- and macro-organisms including fungi, beneficial bacteria, micro-arthropods, nematodes, insects and worms.
We are just beginning to understand the complexity of soil biology. It is thought that soils may host as much as a quarter of the world’s biodiversity. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils, hoping to focus more research and attention to the importance of the biosphere beneath our feet.
Soil is the foundation of agriculture at all levels, including home gardening. When gardeners maintain healthy soil biology, healthy plants follow. It’s really not difficult to do. In fact, it is as easy as 1-2-3.
Stop using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. These chemicals damage soil biology, killing off many inhabitants. There are better alternatives.
Assess the structure of your soil. Good garden soil should contain organic matter, which supports soil biology and enables good root development. Organic matter holds up to 5x more nutrients than clay.
The best way to increase the organic matter is to add high quality compost. Leaf mold compost contains beneficial fungi and other microbes required to establish good soil biology. Compost should be worked into the top 6”-8” of soil, and will need to be replenished regularly.
Plants benefit from consistent moisture, but we don’t want soils to remain water-logged after rain or irrigation. Organic matter helps balance the water holding capacity and pore space of the soil. Drainage and aeration can be further improved by incorporating expanded shale. This porous aggregate is a one-time, permanent soil improvement.
Once you have created this organically rich, well-aerated and well-drained environment, soil biology will happen. Micro-organisms will be available to break down nutrients and minerals and make them available to your plant’s roots.
Nutrients should be provided via a balanced slow-release organic fertilizer, such as Arbor Gate Organic Blend. This all-natural blend provides major and minor nutrients, minerals, and mycorrhizal fungi. It also provides horticultural molasses, a natural sugar that feeds soil microbes and repels pest insects.
Feeding your plants by feeding the soil is working in harmony with nature. The immediate return is strong, healthy plants. The long range benefits include cleaner ground water and soil that is more resilient to both floods and drought. It’s a sustainable method we can all practice, starting today.