Welcome to the first of three steps on how we can learn from nature when it comes to improving garden health, especially organic soil health.
(You'll see me swatting at mosquitoes and these other biting bugs here and there - they sure were thick when we got deep into the jungle).
All three steps are equally important, but the first I tend to think about is balancing soil minerals, the main reason being that I want to get a soil test analyzed as soon as possible when I’m working on a new garden because it can take a couple of weeks to get results.
Admittedly, this first post is more about how our organic gardens differ from a forest with regards to fertility than how it is the same, but it’s a very useful comparison.
So what can we learn about balancing soil minerals from a forest? After all, nobody fertilizes the forest.
I know some people don’t want to fertilize because of this reason, and because on the surface it makes sense to just use compost because you can make it onsite instead of mining the earth for minerals.
Click for video transcription
Phil: Despite the fact that you can hear, may be a chainsaw in the background. We are in fact in the jungle.
Welcome to the first three videos about how to improve the health of your garden, especially the health of your soil. What we're going to do is, we're in our cabin right now in the rain forest. But we're going to be going for some walks this week right into the jungle to learn about how we can learn from the jungle, from nature to improve the health of our garden. Admitively, this first video is actually a little more about how our garden differs from the rain forest. But it's still going to be interesting to compare the two.
And the first thing I want to talk about is mineralization of your soil or balancing your soil fertility. All of the three videos I'm going to shoot are of equal importance. But I usually start there, because when I go in to a new garden or when I install a new garden, I want to often get a soil test on it and send it off to a lab and it takes a couple of week, sometimes to get the results back and then I can think about mineralizing the soil, fertilizing the soil. But I want to do that right away, so I can send that off to the lab to get those results.
So first of all, what I'm going to be talking about today is soil fertility. So what can we learn from the forest about fertility? Well, we can learn a lot of things and some of them are going to come in latter videos. But if you think about a forest, nobody fertilizes the forest, there is nobody bringing in calcium or any kind of fertilizer.
And that's why a lot of people think, oh, I don't want to fertilize my garden. Nobody fertilize, is the forest or a prairie and if I just make composed is very popular in the organic world and that's going to be sufficient to fertilize my garden. And I kind of understand that. But what I want to just talk about today is, why our garden is different and why I think you do want to do a little bit of fertilizing in your garden and I'm going to give you a few tips today on how to do that.
The reason the forests doesn't need fertilizing is because something is always going to grow here, unless you have soil that's incredibly toxic or something like that. Even then, there are plants for every situation. And so what happens in a forest or anywhere that's natural is you have… when you hardly have any soil, you have plants that come in, they're called pioneering species, they're often nitrogen fixing plants, but there may be various kinds of plants and microorganisms, likings they come in, they spread up, of course, this takes decades and centuries, but eventually that the right plant for the soil here and for the climate… is that a monkey? Is going to come in. And most of the plants that spread are not going to grow, but that's okay, because some will grow and eventually you have this cool forest.
So that's really why you don't need for laser in forest, something is… there is always something that’s going to come in. You can do the same thing in your garden if you want to and I've actually known a couple of people who have done that, which is just to let the weeds grow up and we call them weeds, but they're really just plants. And what they're going to do is to kind of improve of your soil overtime, more species of plants will come in, may be eventually after decades or centuries, it becomes the forest like this or may be not. But it will be a garden kind of.
The reason we want to fertilize is because we want to dictate which plants come in, we want to plant them and we want to make sure, they would grow there and we want them all to live, not just 10% of them and we want to thrive. If you leave your garden alone, it's … is it going to produce tomatoes or strawberries or big, beautiful award winning roses, from most of us, the answer is no. It's a… most of those plants didn't evolve where we're trying to grow them, they came from often and another continent entirely and most of them aren’t and perfectly matched for our soil conditions. So it doesn't mean you can plant them and may be get some more key plants. But if you want really healthy plants and that's when a little bit of fertilizers can help. And you don't need a lot, it's actually amazing, just how little you need to tweak the system to make it work for plants like these.
The easiest way to know which fertilizers to use is to go and get a soil lab that is very organically minded, get them to analyze your soil. They’ll tell you which macronutrients and micronutrients are lacking or imbalanced in your soil and then they will tell you what to bring in and how much to bring in. It's really easy to do that way. The most gardeners skip this step, many of them still have fine gardens, but if you're trying to grow really healthy plants that are free of pests and especially what I'm interested in, it's food that is really full of nutrients, that's when I think this step is worthwhile just to get a soil test and do a little bit of fertilizing.
The reason we need a soil test is because we want to add the right nutrients. That's not just N, P, K, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, it's not even things like dolomite, lime, which people often add just for good measure. Those can often cause problems. What we want is to know exactly which minerals we need to add in there. And that's why often, blended fertilizers that you buy from a garden centre or a fertilizer supply place are not right, because they may be bringing in some of the nutrients you need, but they may be bringing in some of the nutrients you already have enough or too much of and then you just further shifting things out of balance.
That being said, there is one kind of fertilizer you can bring in without a soil test and that is rock dust. Usually from a glacial source or volcanic source, you can get it from something more of a specialty fertilizer store or you can go right to a query and get it if you're willing to do some testing to make sure it's good and it doesn't have any problems with that. But you can bring that in and what it does is, it brings in a broad spectrum of nutrients. So it doesn't bring in a lot of any nutrient, which means it's not going to throw anything out of balance and that's why you can use it without a soil test. So you can bring it in, it's going to make sure you have just a base of lots of different nutrients and you're not going to cause any problems.
And although it may seem kind of weird to bring in rock dust, a lot of experimentation around the world is shown that it works. Even though, our soil is usually do have at least a little of every nutrients, they really do. Bring in the rock dust in has done a lot of good in gardens and even in forests. Another thing we can do is called foliar fertilizing, which means we're spraying things like ocean water, just straight ocean water from a clean source or cults that's been made in to a liquid. We spray that on to our plants and it's especially useful during the early growing stages of plants or when your soil may be isn't popping enough to make your garden really grow healthy.
Now paradoxically, you actually need to have a reasonably healthy soil, especially you need enough calcium in order for the plants to be able to take up these nutrients through their leaves. We get all those minerals down into the soil, they get in to the plants, the plants then have all the micronutrients to create the enzymes in order to be healthy, in order to maximize photosynthesis and do all of these plants processes. And then the really nice thing for us, if we're growing food, is that we get to eat the plants that have the micronutrients in them. And even if you're already eating a healthy diet, if you're trying to eat organic food, a lot of our organic food, especially the industrialized organic food is pretty low in nutrition.
So that's why I'm really in to growing my own food and trying to use these different methods to get fertility both in to the soil and directly in to the plants, so that I get to get that fertility in to me latter and then I can be healthier. So what I really wanted to share today is, more how as I said, a garden is different than a forest. It's different because we want to control which plants grow. We want them to be very healthy. We want everything we plant to live and thrive and produce all nutrient dense food for us or at least be for growing ornamentals, have beautiful flowers and we free of test and so that's really what I was talking about today.
In the next video, I'm going to talk about something different, but it relates very much to fertility and to water. It's much more about how we can emulate nature in our gardens. For those of you watching who are not in the Smiling Gardner Academy, which is my online, very comprehensive organic gardening course, where I teach soil testing and mineralization and soil fertility and all of these things I've been kind of talking about today are you… if you're interested in that, you might want to check it out this week, because the price is actually going to be going up on Monday night.
That’s actually one of the things I want to get across today, is just to share why I believe we need to balance soil fertility in our gardens, with a few tips on how to get started.
In the next 2 posts I’ll talk more about how we can mimic nature, and while I won’t be talking specifically about balancing minerals there, it will be very much related to fertility and garden health.
The forest was "fertilized" during its early years. Before there was soil here, there was rock, and that rock had some minerals in it.
And long ago before there was a forest, some microorganisms and small plants began to work away at the rock, and over the course of centuries, turned it into soil that would support plant life.
That’s the state a lot of our soils are in at home now. It may not be great soil - it may even be more like subsoil - but it certainly has enough minerals to grow plants, which is why you can have a garden without fertilizer. So if we want to mimic nature and not fertilize, we can have some kind of garden.
The reason the forest doesn’t need fertilizing is because something is going to grow there eventually without fertilizing. The first plants that come in create the soil and more plants gradually come in when the conditions are right.
Basically, something is always going to grow. Most of the plants that germinate won’t grow, but enough will grow that an ecosystem will develop.
Of course you can do this in your garden, too. If you were to leave it alone, the same thing would happen there. Maybe a forest or maybe not, but certainly "weeds" and grasses will quickly come in to improve the soil and they’ll gradually give way to more and more species of plants.
So the reason we need to fertilize is not because we can’t grow plants, but because we want to dictate precisely which plants grow, and we want everything we plant to not only live, but thrive, to be as healthy as possible.
If you leave your soil alone, is it going to produce tomatoes or strawberries or award-winning roses?
For most of us, the answer is no. The plants we want to grow don’t necessarily want to grow there. Most of our food plants evolved in different climates. So if we want them to do well, it’s a very good idea to balance the soil to give them what they need.
That doesn’t mean you need to spend a lot of money or use a lot of fertilizer, and you don’t have to do it forever, but just a little bit for the first few years can work wonders.
The easiest way to do this is to find a good, organic-minded soil lab and ship them a soil sample, even if it means shipping to a different state or province or sometimes even country.
They will tell you what you need to do to balance the calcium to magnesium ratio, the phosphorus to potassium ratio, and so on. They will tell you which of the important micronutrients are lacking.
This important step is overlooked by the average gardener, but if you want your garden to excel, to produce food with nutrition far beyond that of your local markets and grocery stores, be sure to do this.
The reason we need a soil test is because it’s important to add the right nutrients, not just the common N-P-K fertilizers that often make things worse, not even the dolomite lime that is often added for good measure.
You want to add only the nutrients that your soil needs. That’s why purchasing blended fertilizers with a dozen different ingredients generally doesn’t make sense.
That being said, there is something you can add without a soil test - glacial or volcanic rock dust. You can buy it in bags from certain fertilizer suppliers or direct from a quarry if you’re prepared to do some testing first.
This adds just small amounts of dozens of different minerals and ensures you have a base, but it’s not enough of any one nutrient to cause an imbalance.
It’s true that almost every soil has at least a little of every mineral, but lots of experimenting with rock dusts around the world show the benefits to be worthwhile.
We may also foliar fertilize our plants during the growing season with things like ocean water or liquid kelp in order to directly provide them with broad-spectrum nutrition.
This is especially useful in the early stages of a garden when the ecosystem may not be popping enough to provide for your plants.
In order for this to work well, though, you need to have started the process of balancing the soil nutrients, especially calcium.
This foliar feeding gives your plants the nutrients they need in order to function properly, to create the enzymes which allow them to be healthy, to maximize photosynthesis, and so on.
In turn, if you’re growing food, you will get those nutrients which are sorely lacking in the modern diet, even a diet with lots of organic fruits and vegetables (just because it’s organic, doesn’t mean it is full of nutrients, especially mass-produced, industrial organics).
So the main thing I wanted to share today is actually how a garden is different than a forest when it comes to fertility.
It’s different because we want to control which plants grow there and we want them to look good and produce lots of flowers and lots of healthy food.
In the next video I’m going to continue with another aspect of soil health that certainly relates to fertility and water, but this will be much more about emulating nature.