Nutrient Cycles in Ecosystems – Creating Closed Systems

Nutrient Cycles In Ecosystems

Organic Gardening Goal 7: To work towards closing the nutrient cycles in ecosystems with regard to organic matter and nutrient cycling.

It is generally agreed that it’s often a good idea to bring outside materials into a new garden that is being constructed.

The reasoning is that we can very quickly begin to produce food and create a healthy landscape that takes care of itself, rather than waiting decades for nature to do it his own way (I’m giving ‘nature’ a masculine identity here just because everyone always calls nature a her. Maybe sometimes he’s a he?).

Of course we organic gardeners want to be mindful about stealing from other ecosystems in order to enrich ours, but it can generally be done intelligently for the benefit of all.

After this initial influx of materials, however, the ultimate goal is to create a garden that takes care of itself. This is what we mean when discussing nutrient cycles in ecosystems that are closed. Any extra organic matter that is produced is returned to the garden, whether composted first or not. This saves us time and environmental costs of transportation, both in and out.

Nutrient cycling in ecosystems refers to microorganisms and plants consuming food and excreting waste. In a sustainable system, someone’s waste is always someone else’s food, so the nutrients stay within the system. When organic gardening, we often need to help these things get established and eventually, they keep things rolling themselves.

Here’s what we bring in:

  • Organic matter – Compost, leaves, manure, straw. These are necessary to make soil alive. Otherwise, it’s just a plant anchor.
  • Microorganisms – They should be there already, but they’re often not any more due to our mistreatment of the soil. We bring them in with compost, compost tea, effective microorganisms, and other microbial inoculants.
  • Nutrients – We may need to rebalance soil nutrient ratios with specific minerals such as calcium and phosphorus, and broad-spectrum fertilizers such as kelp and rock dust.
  • Plants – We generally prefer to plant things rather than let nature decide what gets planted.
  • Water – We usually install a rain barrel, well, tap, or even a full irrigation system.

We may need to bring these in when we install our organic garden and over the following few years, but in the long run the organic gardening goal is to help steer the system in the direction of self-sufficiency and go for closed nutrient cycles in ecosystems.