Gardening season is in full swing everywhere now, and hopefully you’ve added some nutrients along with your veggie plants and seeds. If you haven’t its should be on top of your to do list, because your harvest will be a lot more rewarding if you do. But before you pull out the Once or Miracle Gro, consider what your soil needs to be more productive. Namely, microorganisms, which can’t live in your soil when you use average fertilizer… there’s nothing there to promote beneficial life in your garden. Those microscopic little creatures have to eat too.
Why do you need them?
Because your plants will do so much better, that’s why. There’s a reason all those microbes can exist in the soil. They turn waste and forms of nitrogen your plants can’t make use of into nutrients they can access. Some microorganisms actually recycle waste nutrients plants exude. Others form a bridge between what’s naturally present in the soil and your plants – without them the plants can’t take up the nutrients these wee critters help them to.
You can add microorganisms to your potting mix or garden soil, but there are drawbacks here. If you’re still using traditional fertilizer, there’s nothing in the medium or ground to sustain them. There are far more natural microbes in the soil than we have been able to identify too, so buying an active compost tea or garden additive that contains some is better than none, but your plants don’t have all the players on their team. And then there’s the problem with lab-produced micros – they may not be alive… not that you’d be any the wiser.
The best way to get the beneficial soil food web into your garden or garden containers is to feed the soil, and not the plants. If you are container growing, you’d be wise to switch to Smart Pots or GeoPots, because you can grow in real soil in them, which is impossible in plastic, resin, ceramic pots, as well as solid wood planters. Why? There’s insufficient drainage and airflow, which is why they invented potting mix. Most potting mixes contain wood chips and peat moss, which robs your plants of nutrients, and in turn kind of defeats your purpose entirely when growing food. You can put straight topsoil in a fabric pot, water less often, and have an incredible yield. Even heavy soil amended with lots of cow manure compost, because they drain through the sides and the bottom, and also allow excellent air flow to roots.
How do you feed them?
Humus and compost for starters – not peat moss! Organic matter like shredded leaves, grass clippings, or straw. Vermicompost is good. You’ll also want to use natural fertilizers: bone meal, blood meal, alfalfa, cottonseed meal, etc.
Did I leave out manure? Only because I didn’t want it hidden in a string list. Ruminant manures that are properly composted give your soil the right environment to breed a passle of microorganisms. Be sure to use cow, sheep, or goat manure if you want the least amount of weeds possible. These cud-chewing animals destroy weed seeds, because they process the contents of their stomachs more than once. Rabbit manure is also very good. I once knew a lady who grew the most incredible flowers – they were huge. Thinking they were some new variety I had yet to discover, I asked about it. “Oh,” she said, “there’s just plain old coneflowers – it’s the rabbit poop fertilizer.” If it can make standard Echinacea blooms almost twice the size you’d expect, imagine the results on your tomatoes, beets, and peppers.
Give ’em a jump start.
It takes time to build up a soil food web, especially if you’ve been stuffing that average fertilizer in your soil for years. Soil you buy in bags has been sterilized too, but you can put back the microorganisms that have been taken away. Start with amending your soil or growing medium, and then pour on the active compost tea. Homemade manure tea will also help to boost beneficial microbe counts in the soil. Keep working on beefing up the natural composition of your soil, and in a couple of years your garden should be able to maintain an excellent soil food web with less assistance from you. That is as long as you keep adding fresh fodder to keep them healthy and thriving.