by Amber

Nutrient Origins Matter to Plants

Everyone who thinks that gardens grow well from plant food or fertilizer is totally in err. In soilless growing, obviously the nutrients will come from the nute solution in the system reservoir. In containers and ground soil, however, the fertilizer you add is meant to enhance available plant nutrition, not create it.

Plants need help to make the stuff in your fertilizer available to them. Unfortunately, the microorganisms in the soil can’t thrive in synthetically fertilized soil. You might say they are dyed-in-the-wool organic eaters who die off when presented a diet of chemical fertilizer ingredients, which leads to weakened plants. Then your crops need emergency assistance to battle pests and diseases. The same thing happens to people who eat nothing but junk food. Sure, it’s food, but it doesn’t do a body good over time.

Do you see a meadow or forest constantly plagued with all manner of diseases, or totally wiped out by pesky bugs? It’s a rarity should this ever occur, and no one ever has to feed any of those plants. Huge trees can thrive for hundreds of years without any assistance from man. Heck, a weed can suck nutrients out of a crack in concrete! It’s not there to drive you nuts over it’s unsightliness. That weed can thrive there because what it needs is present, and made readily available by the millions of microbes that help it survive in that space.

Nurture the soil, not the plant.

The plants will thank you for it profusely! Sound crazy? It’s actually totally the opposite. Farmers are beginning to see the wisdom in this approach of promoting the soil food web or microbial life for a healthier harvest, and less agricultural inputs. There’s an enterprising young Amish farmer who had part of a single planting on two fields – one section had the best commercial ag fertilizers and pesticides, and the other area did not. Yet, the crop was performing phenomenally better where it should have been less productive and vigorous.

Surprised, the farmer studied this for a while, and started researching how this was possible. He visited experts to pick their brains. He read tons of material, and finally came to the conclusion that traditional farming has the wrong focus altogether. So, he implemented huge changes on his fields, returning to a more natural way of raising crops, growing the soil’s life to support his plantings. He didn’t go backwards, not at all. Pairing new science with inherited knowledge, made his farm a model for a lot of disgusted farmers.

His name is John Kempf, and he’s very successful today. Not just as a farmer, but the CEO of a consulting firm busily teaching a growing group of farms how to regenerate the life of their soil, to feed the soil, and not the plants for the best possible harvests. He’s not the only one either. You’ll find seasoned gardeners like Evan Folds, writer Jeff Lowenfels, and a host of others in the progressive gardening industry passionate about microbes and the soil food web.

Kempf calls it regenerative agriculture. In the indoor growing and urban gardening segment, we call it progressive gardening. It’s more than organic, though you can’t have the soil food web without all natural inputs. It’s a biological process, which is why the factory farming approach is so ineffective and inefficient. Standard modern farming is backwards, a system designed to support itself uniformly. It beats the natural world into submission with a regime of synthetics purported to maximize crop yield, yet…

“The average harvest of most crops is only 10-25% of their genetic potential.” — John Kempf

Real plant nutrition doesn’t come from where you have been schooled that it does. Support the life in the soil, and the soil will support your plants. It’s really all about natural inputs that feed the microbes, who in turn make everything your garden needs to be incredible. It works in ground soil gardens, container gardens, and even hydroponic gardens where no soil is present, but plants still have the same working relationship with the microorganisms that support healthy soil. You want natural microbes, not those created in a lab. There were are again, trying to force nature to dine on synthetic stuff. It doesn’t work that way.

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The garden played a starring role from spring through fall in the house Amber was raised in. She has decades of experience growing plants from seeds and cuttings in the plot and pots.