Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Feed the Soil, Not the Plants

feed the soil inside

The concept of organic gardening is NOT new. In fact, the use of chemical fertilizers and poisons are the new concepts, which really became the norm over the course of the twentieth century. Why did we start using such chemicals? To make a long story short, we began to ruin the soil: our plows compacted the lower levels of the soil profile, causing anaerobic conditions that bred pathogens. We also depleted soil fertility by over-farming. In short, we did harm to the biology of the soil, which is essential for plants to live and thrive.

Plants are not independent organisms. They are highly dependent on many other critters in the soil: fungi, bacteria, nematodes, microarthropods, protozoans, insects, worms... the list goes on. We have barely begun to understand all the relationships between plants and these other life forms. In fact, we hardly know anything about soil biology. The vast majority of critters that live in a cup of your garden soil remain unidentified. Part of this problem is that they are so small. It is a difficult world to observe. But we are beginning to understand some important general things about soil.

We know that disturbed soils are generally bacterial-dominated, and often anaerobic. In general most plants (except opportunistic weeds, and some riparian plants) don't care for these soils because the biological diversity that supports them is mostly missing, and these soils tend to be dominated by opportunistic species of microorganisms. On the other side of the spectrum are the aged, undisturbed soils of wild lands (quickly disappearing from our world). These soils are diverse, and fungal dominated. There are lots of bacteria, but they tend to be more of the kind that support plant life, or are innocuous. If you could have lots of patience, and live an unnaturally long life, you could take soil samples of a disturbed plot of land, and continue to do so throughout all its successive phases: From the weed-dominated plot, to the weed field, to the early grassland, to the developed meadow, to the scrubland, and into, finally, the climax community - the forest (or if you live where I do, the saguaro cactus forest). The soil samples would increasingly get more fungal, less bacterial, and the diversity actually increases, while the out-of-control pathogens are kept in check.

What does this have to do with fertilizing your plants? When you put inorganic fertilizer in the soils, which are heavy salts, or when you spray pesticides, you kill the biology in the soil. You might give the plant a flush of food. But you will have to keep feeding. All that feeding, all those heavy salts, end up poisoning waterways, your drinking water, and sending the soil toward being a useless barren plot. Ironically these salts also create the conditions that select for pathogenic species that harm what we are trying to grow. We also are suspecting that these sorts of fertilizers might not be so good for our health.

So how does a plant get its food otherwise? Is there a fertilizer fairy who skips around sprinkling Miracle Gro? Thank goodness, no.

In a natural, healthy soil lives a universe of critters eating and excreting. Bacteria eat fungi, fungi eat bacteria, nematodes eat fungi, fungi eat nematodes, worms eat more or less everything, and all of them excrete. Or if not fully consumed, their bodies lay there, caches of nutrients for the taking. Plants are part of this process. Roots actually exude materials that attract fungus and bacteria to gather where they are, so that they can take advantage of this game, too. Some bacteria and fungus actually directly feed plants in exchange for food the plant provides. Fungus can even extend the roots of the plants, growing from the tips out, further into the soil helping the plant find more water and nutrients.

So the operative activity for gardeners should not be "feeding plants," but rather encouraging a healthy soil ecosystem in which plants will naturally thrive, and play a part in maintaining these cycles.

By Jared R. McKinley, Guest Commentator News

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being in just eight weeks! Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe Wellness Guide
Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Food Pyramid

Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you and their corresponding answers from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here