how-to-build-better-soil

How to build better soil: Understanding nutrients & ground fertility

There are a few key factors that go into building better soil for your garden. The goal here is focusing on what nature is providing while enhancing those properties to your benefit. All of this can be done when the proper fungi are present along with nutrients and soil structure. Be careful adding the wrong ingredient can hurt your efforts more than the help.

Nitrogen to carbon ratios – C: N

Depending on which section of soil in the garden is being used is going to raise the question of how much raw carbon is waiting to be decomposed V.S what soil is closer to the “Humus” Stage. Humus is the result of the decomposing Brown and woody materials such as leaves; barks, sticks, and other high carbon ratio materials. The process is induced through microorganisms such as fungi and bacteria exhausting the nitrogen from green materials like grass clippings and vegetables and other food scraps as it utilizes the carbon from the brown materials. Nitrogen is the fastest depleted nutrient out of the (N:P:K) – Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium. Since nitrogen is the nutrient associated with vegetative growth it is an important composition took to keep in mind during the growing season. It is important to have a few different fertilizers to choose from depending on what stage of the growing season you are in.

The proper ratio of N-P-K

Essential for plant development these 3 nutrients are the building blocks of life. Soil that is deficient in any one of these nutrients will show signs in their foliage, growth, and production. Too little nitrogen (N) and the plant will turn yellow in its stunted growth. Too little Phosphorus (P) and the fruit will cease to bear as it struggles with gathering adequate water. Finally, if your soil is lacking the proper Potassium (K) then disease will begin to rear it’s ugly head as the leaves begin to curl back in horror.

The importance of compost

The beginning of the season is a great opportunity to add in fresh compost that will increase volume and nutrient density. The living host of beneficial bacteria to do all the dirty work of breaking down the nutrients into simpler forms for plants bioavailability nutrient absorption through bioavailability to the plants. These microorganisms also help to self-regulate the soil by retaining moisture during a drought and keeping the soil cool during the summer heat.

Soil-fungi

Fungi in your soil

Fungi are present everywhere regardless of the soil or location and some forms even work with the plants through a symbiotic relationship. Mycorrhizae, a common form of fungus acts as an extension of the plant’s root system proactively bringing in nutrients and processing them for the plant the spores are hosted too. In exchange, the plant supplies the fungi with food in the form of carbohydrates. Legumes attract a fungus called rhizobium that works similar to the Mycorrhizae with the added benefit of being able to turn air bourn nitrogen into a soil bound nitrogen available to the plant. It is this ability that gives Legumes such as beans, peas, and clovers the association of being “nitrogen-fixing” plants that don’t require much nitrogen feeding. These fungi are naturally present in the soil so there is no need to spend money on making introductions throughout the season. Promix is a great option for seed starting soil since it is the only brand on the market that actually incorporates Mycorrhizae into the soil mix allowing for the symbiotic relationship to start from the beginning. Some plant fungi like Chaga choose to grow outside of the soil as they latch onto birch trees. These mushrooms serve their own purpose which you can read about here.

ProMix-vs-miracle-grow

The difference between Promix and Miracle grow pellets.

Here you can see the difference between the organic fertilizer we bought and the conventional (miracle grow) notice the color difference in the synthetic fertilizer compared to the organic and more naturally colored Promix.
An easy to tell sign of the quality that fertilizers hold true in their numbers. On the packaging of any store-bought variety, 3 ominous numbers are present. Ensure that each of these numbers is below 10. It’s typically not possible to obtain a number above 10 from organic sources. Seeing a 12 or 14 is a sure sign that you’re setting your garden up with synthetic chemicals.
In this comparison, we can see that the Promix has a healthy ratio leaning heavy on the nitrogen side. (7-3-3) with these numbers, I’m comfortable to assume that the production contained natural means of nutrient concentration. These natural sources often come from a production that includes bone meal and dehydrated chicken manure, perfect for plants at all stages.

promix

The downside of the popular

Miracle Grow, on the other hand, has a much different appearance. Upon a closer look, the granules are more colorful and include small specs of clear blue granules. I suspect these are altered sodium specs which the soil will need if the PH is too high. Plants like tomatoes and peppers enjoy this acid promoting element. Although touted as a “natural” fertilizer the numbers tell a different story. In this case, the ratio is much higher leaning heavy on the Potassium (9-4-12). This tells us that they are using a form of potassium that is synthetic. Synthetics often come with other unwanted ingredients like chlorine which harms the soil and degrades its natural properties.

There are a lot of elements that go into building better soil. You have to start with the right base that’s is topped up with organic matter seasonally. You need to mind what you feed your plants to ensure adequate growth and disease prevention. Finally, you need to choose the right ingredients that deliver these nutrients in a bountiful way. With these factors taken into consideration, you will be well ahead of most growers this season.

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