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Feed your soil not your plant

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Organic gardening has always been in existence, it is the inorganic nutrients and toxic pesticides that are really the new kids on the block in agricultural terms.
Unfortunately, the overuse of inorganic fertilisers and the demands of global farming since the agricultural revolution have steadily increased over time to meet the demands of the world's ever growing population. The overwhelming problem is that with more farming meant more tilling of the land, more ploughing of the fields and ultimately more soil disruption and soil upheaval.
All this overzealous farming has fundamentally hindered our natural earth’s soil. Centuries of modern farming has ultimately decreased the nutritional value of not only our fruit and vegetables but the soil/field it was produced from.
The earth’s soil crust is an amazing piece of art and Mother Nature has farmed the world’s lands for far longer than man. Healthy soil or a living soil is what helps all organic matter to grow, so with the best soil you will receive the best harvests.
This article is aimed at addressing what it means to have a living healthy soil, and to explain a little about these soil creatures, how they interact and all the roles they play to make up Nature’s Soil Food Web.
The key to healthy plants and to ensure good quality harvests each time is to understand how your plants feed. Who and what actually help your plants to feed. Lastly what exactly do their helpers require to thrive in a symbiotic relationship in your soil?
Yes all plants need sunlight, water and oxygen but apart from the obvious we need to take a closer look beneath the plant where the root lay to begin to understand what occurs within your soil.
Soil is made up from two parts, one part being minerals, which make up the non-living portion of the soil, and the food web, which includes microscopic creatures, also known as soil biota, which bring the soil to life. Soil biota’s come in lots of forms. Some help to build a healthy soil for you and to support healthy plants, and these are considered as beneficials. Others can cause many problems for gardeners, from root rots to moulds, and mildews and these are considered pathogens. When growing organically the key is to simply boost the growth of the beneficial biota and suppress as many pathogens as possible.
Let’s take a closer look at these critters in your soil, and explain to you what roles they play in Natures Soil Food Web Starring: Bacteria: bacteria are everywhere in your soil, both beneficial and pathogenic. A spoonful of ordinary garden soil may contain billions of bacteria of thousands of different kinds. Bacteria help water move through the soil more easily, they recycle organic matter, and they help ward off soil diseases. Bacteria and bacteria’s waste products are also eaten by fellow soil inhabitants of many kinds; they feed on other organisms in the soil in addition to feeding our plants. Majority of farming/gardening will flourish in soils dominated by beneficial bacteria and this is a fact.
Earthworms: earthworms are among the most beneficial of soil inhabitants. Unfortunately they can be easily harmed or killed by exposure to many common pesticides and herbicides, including some weed-and-feed lawn products. True organic gardeners adore and cherish their earthworms, because they know that these hard workers are actually the soil builder’s best friends. Worms do the mixing for us when we layer amendments onto garden soil. They dig and tunnel through heavy soil to let air get down to plant roots. Their castings promote strong root growth and feed many soil inhabitants. There is no such thing as having too many worms, but if you haven’t enough then your soil will suffer drastically. In fact many gardeners always use worm humus as a top layer dressing on all of their gardening. Worm humus is simply worm castings. Also used to make compost teas
Fungi: fungi are crucially important to soil health and beneficial forms are found in almost every kind of soil on earth. Similar to bacteria, fungi break down organic matter by digesting and excreting humus, then recycling nutrients through the soil food web. Mycorrhizae are among the best known form of fungi. They attach themselves to the roots of plants and create a mesh of fine feeder roots that act like pumps, pulling nutrients and water into the host plant’s root system. Basically, they increase the size of your plants root-zone and thus the plant’s ability to absorb nutrients. Now gardeners tend to add their own mycorrhizae via transplant or through soluble liquid forms too. Great White and Orca by Plant Success are excellent fungi additions, or cavalry.
Arthropods: arthropods are nature’s recyclers which feed on bacteria, fungi, and earthworms, as well as plant particles. They include microarthropods - very small organisms like mites - and larger organisms like ants, beetles, spiders, and centipedes. The microarthropods stay in the soil, eating debris and making nitrogen and other nutrients more readily available to plants and other soil biota. Arthropods also control the population levels of other organisms in the soil, keeping things policed and balanced naturally. As for nematodes, like fungi, they have been previously mistaken for pathogens rather than a soil full of beneficial nematodes.
Nematodes: nematodes actually help your soil in many ways. They assist your soil by feeding on many other living organisms in your soil, from bacteria and protozoa to other nematodes, including the pathogenic ones. Pathogenic nematodes eat away live plant tissue, damaging roots rather than promoting a healthy root zone. Nematodes support root zone growth, by passing essential nutrients along to your plants via the manure the nematodes leave behind. Brewing a compost tea with worm humus will also create more nematodes.
Protozoa: protozoa and in our case soil-dwelling protozoa are basically single-celled organisms that eat bacteria, keeping the bad bacteria in check, and produce a manure rich in available nitrogen, which can be taken up by plants. This release of excess nitrogen by the Protozoa is used by not only your plants but to other key members of the food web. Protozoa play an important role in mineralising nutrients, making them readily available for use by your plants and other soil organisms. Another role that protozoa play is in regulating bacteria populations. When they graze on bacteria, protozoa stimulate growth of the bacterial population. Protozoa are also an important food source for other soil organisms and help to suppress disease by competing with or feeding on pathogens.
We now know that these creatures living in the soil are essential to soil health. They affect soil structure and therefore soil erosion and water availability. They can protect your crops from pests and diseases. They are central to decomposition and nutrient cycling and therefore affect plant growth.
Look after your soil by managing your soil health; you can do this simply by maintaining a suitable habitat for the multitude of creatures that comprise the soil food web. This can be accomplished by not disturbing the soil as little as possible, growing many different species of plants, keeping living plants in the soil as often as possible throughout the year even winter, and keeping your soil covered all the time helps. By covering the soil it benefits you by maintaining moisture, maintaining temperatures and suppresses unwanted weed growth.
To summarise biodiversity is ultimately the key to the success of any agricultural or gardening system. The lack of biodiversity severely limits the potential of any cropping system and increases disease and pest problems. A diverse and fully functioning soil food web provides for nutrient, energy, and water cycling that allows a soil to express its full potential. Increasing your soils biodiversity increases your soil’s health and soil function ability all season round. Feed your soil and not your plants.
Please observe the illustration below, detailing nature’s soil food web provided by USDA. 

A brief description of the stars in our soil provided by USDA

Description of the roles of our soil stars, provided by USDA

So if you would like further advice on how to make your own Organic Living Soil, either call us on 0203 609 4067 or just drop in and have a chat.
Alternatively go to Go Grow Hydroponics.