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When your car runs out of gas, you fill it up. Naturally.
When your kids get cranky about 3:45 in the afternoon, you give them a snack. Worked for us.
When you want your garden to grow faster and produce bigger harvests, you give it generous doses of plant food. Right?
Not at all.
When I was in high school, before I learned about organic gardening, we used to buy all kinds of chemical fertilizers—not to mention the pesticides and weed killers—that seemed to solve all our gardening problems.
I was always impressed with how quickly those fertilizers “did their” job and how prolifically things grew.
Little did I know: I was poisoning my soil as well as the food I was growing.
There are many reasons not to use chemical fertilizers in your garden or on your lawn. And I’ll get to that in just a minute.
Once I started gardening organically, it didn’t take me long to realize that the most important thing you can do for your garden is quit trying to make the plants grow and focus on building a healthy soil.
A healthy soil will produce healthy plants. Funny, how that works. Actually, it’s science.
OG 365 Timeless Gardening Tip #11: Feed the soil, not the plants.
What on earth does that mean? The last time you went to the nursery, I would bet my compost pile you did not find a bag of “soil food.”
Your soil is “alive”
Okay, not literally. But there is an immense network of microbial life within the soil. You can see the earthworms and a few other bugs and such.
But there is a vast, unseen, intricate web of bio-diverse micro-organisms in the soil. In organic soil, that is.
Bacteria, fungi, nematodes, earthworms, insects, and a bunch of other micro-critters you can’t see with your naked eyes are having a heyday: living, reproducing, micro-pooping, dying, and decomposing in the soil.
This is Paradise for your plants
Researchers are just beginning to understand the relationship plants have with this intricate web of life in the soil. They don’t even have names for all the different organisms they’re starting to identify.
But one thing is for sure: a healthy, organic soil is super beneficial to plants.
So, you’re not actually feeding the soil. You feed this immense network of microbial life in the soil.
The benefits of organic soil are unending.
When you have healthy soil, rich in organic material, your plants don’t need those artificial, chemical fertilizers (i.e. poisons) because your plants get the nutrients they need directly from the soil.
In fact, a healthy organic soil rich with all this biologically diverse micro-life has more nutrients than soil fertilized with chemicals. And organic soil actually makes more of these nutrients available to the plants. And the more this web of micro-life in your soil flourishes, the more it enriches the soil and benefits the health and productivity of your crops.
The effects of chemical fertilizer are incalculably harmful to your soil, the food you grow, and the environment.
Say NO to chemical fertilizers
There are lots of reasons NOT to use chemical fertilizers in your garden or on your yard. Here are some of the major ones:
1. Chemical fertilizers often leech out many of the natural nutrients in the soil and freeze up much of what remains.
No wonder. Most of the chemical fertilizers on the market are salt based.
The result? Even though there are nutrients in the soil, the plants can’t access them and must depend on the un-natural chemical fertilizer for plant growth. And you get to eat poison. Lovely.
How much salt would you like to put on your plants?
2. Feeding the soil with chemical fertilizers actually destroys the intricate web of life in the soil.
This in turn, breaks down the soil structure. Then the soil compacts and the plant roots cannot breathe. And you have unhappy, therefore unhealthy plants.
3. When you use chemical fertilizers, the rapid growth that results may look impressive to the eye, but the plants are not as healthy and that is often why aphids attack this new growth.
This new growth is weaker (because the chemical fertilizer forces plants to grow too fast) and more vulnerable, not only to harmful insects but to disease as well.
This same thing can happen when you over-apply organic fertilizers. A true organic fertilizer is designed to feed the micro-biology in the soil and can be very beneficial to the health of your garden.
But if you put too much or use a product labeled organic that just jolts the plants with food, your plants may suffer the consequences. There may not be the environmental issues, but the true health of your plants will be at risk.
And one of the benefits of soil loaded with organic material is that your plants will be stronger and not as susceptible to pests and diseases.
4. Only 20% of the nitrogen in chemical fertilizers is absorbed by the plants.
The rest runs into the creeks, rivers, lakes and finally the ocean and the water table. This creates huge algae problems that can be majorly harmful to aquatic life.
Some of the poisons in chemical fertilizer are absorbed into the food you eat, some remains in the soil for future absorption, and some makes its way into the water table.
5. Do your children like to go barefoot in the garden or in your yard?
Better not if you use those nasty chemical fertilizers. Those cute, little bare feet are like big, silent sponges that soak up those poisons right into their bodies. Not a good plan.
I hope this post has been helpful. I know I may be preaching to the choir if you’ve been gardening organically for a while. But I want to make it clear why we should feed the soil and not the plants.
If this is old hat to you, maybe there’s someone you could share it with. I’d certainly appreciate that.
And if you have any comments or questions, please share them below.
Thanks so much.
Here’s to your rich, living, organic soil—James Early Organic Gardening 365 Dedicated to helping you get the most out of your organic garden P. S. For the complete series of OG 365 Timeless Gardening Tips, click here.
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