Organic Gardening: It’s All about the Soil!
Do you know what the difference is between organic gardening and the modern synthetic chemical approach? Most people think it is just using organic products instead of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. But it’s important to understand why you are using those products, what they are actually doing, and why we want to avoid the synthetic chemical approach.
Let’s start with organic gardening and why it’s “all about the soil”. Healthy organic soil is full of life, full of biological activity in the form of microbes, earthworms, and beneficial fungi. A teaspoon of organic soil can hold up to a billion microbes! When we apply organic fertilizers they are in a form the plants can’t absorb, but it is this biological life that feeds on this organic matter and convert it (through their excrements) into a form the plant roots can absorb. The plants in turn take carbon dioxide from the air and convert it to carbohydrates and release it through their roots to feed all the soil life in the root zone that help protect the plant roots as well as provide a greater nutrient and water delivery system. This creates a very symbiotic relationship between the plants and the soil biology, which in turn helps plants develop healthier root structure as well as thicker cell walls in the leaves and stems that help the plants naturally fight off diseases and pest insects. We benefit by the “nutrient dense” fruit and vegetables the plants produce – which helps our body naturally fight off diseases and illnesses!
What this biological life is also doing is naturally aerating the soil (think of the worms tunneling through the soil) and creating greater water retention ability of the soil so we don’t have to water as much. Organic fertilizers are also very efficient – over 60% efficient – meaning the fertilizers remain in the soil where they are broken down slowly over time and the plants only use what they need when they need it. Some examples of organic fertilizers and amendments we use are worm castings, rock dust, seaweed extract, as well as applications of compost, composted manures, and compost tea. There are many other products and amendments you can apply that are effective. The good thing about the organic program is that if you apply too much of any of these products they won’t harm your plants – you just waste money.
When we use synthetic chemicals we are putting toxic products in our soils that are harming and killing the biological life. After repeated use, most of this soil life is no longer present. The nutrients in the soil become locked up because there is very little microbial activity there to break down the nutrients. When that happens the soil becomes more compact because there is no biological life to naturally aerate it, and it loses its water retention ability. When you lose water retention your water use and your water bill goes up! These synthetic fertilizers are also full of salt and after a while your soil becomes too salty for plants and even earthworms to survive in.
Because of the high Nitrogen content of these synthetic products they force the plants into growing too quickly and unnaturally and thereby growing weak and spindly. When plants are grown this way they can’t develop a strong “immune system” to fight of diseases and pests, which is what Mother Nature sends in as her cleanup crew to get rid of the weak plants.
The synthetic fertilizer companies use the high NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium) as a selling point, as if the higher the content of these ingredients the better it works. But, as anyone who has put down too much of these products can tell you, they will kill your plants if not followed exactly as the directions say. That doesn’t happen with organics. And because these synthetics are water soluble, they are only 10% efficient or less. What the plants don’t use when they are applied usually gets washed away and ends up in our ground water or waterways.
In the organic program we don’t feed the plants, we “feed the soil”! If you just remember this and take care of your soil, you will have much healthier plants and better results because year after year your soil will get better. You’ll find you can cut back on watering and fertilizing, which will save you money while still producing nutrient rich fruits and vegetables, as well as healthier trees and plants in your landscape. And, you will know that there is nothing toxic you are adding to the soils that may end up in our water system…or your body!
And remember, take care of your Body, Mind & Soil!