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Feed the Soil First

| 3/10/2016 9:16:00 AM


Sir Albert Howard, the father of the modern organic movement, spoke about a threshold of life in the soil. Nature, he said, was generous with her bounty, if she had something to give. When the soil was worn out from a shortage of organic matter (less than about 4 percent), Nature would indeed grow crops but they would be unhealthy and destined for a short life. These unhealthy crops would be attacked by disease and pests and return quickly to the soil as mulch to build up organic matter.

No healthy crop would be produced until Nature’s storehouse was filled. Older farming practices like fallowing the land for a year honored this truth. Mulching, adding compost and using cover crops are some of the ways to increase organic matter in the soil.

A Community of Life in the Soil

What we know about the community of life in a healthy soil is that it is wildly diverse with a broad range of species. With so many members in the community, there is an answer for every problem. Every pest has a mortal foe waiting to attack it. There might be some occasional pest damage but very rarely a complete takeover by a particular pest or disease.

Going even deeper, we’re finding that the plants use the organic matter threshold as a “comfort level.” When there is a dependable level of organic matter food in the soil, the plants engage their own magic.

They take sugars they have made from photosynthesis and push the sugary juice (called root exudates) out into the soil. These sugars foster a population explosion of bacteria at the root tips of the plants. Each type of plant has its own flavor of exudate. Farmers are increasingly using a “cover crop cocktail” of plants to produce a broad range of sugars and matching bacteria to help build the soil.

3/14/2016 3:49:16 PM

I have had to "fix" a lot of garden spots. The author is right nothing grows well until you have given the ground something to draw from. One garden spot I "double dug" the spots and loaded up the soil with composted manure nearly 8" thick. First year was marginal in yeild but the next several years were good to excellent.

3/12/2016 10:20:33 AM

I need some advice, please. My family and I are building raised beds in the backyard. What should we do to protect the soil overnight? It's still too cold here to transfer anything.

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