We posted last week about the most important nutrients in your soil which contribute to plant vitality in your garden. But here’s the thing: Plants can’t “eat” or absorb those nutrients in their raw form. Something must first process the nutrients for them. That’s why organisms like earthworms, bacteria and fungi need to be present in your soil.
There are actually hundreds if not thousands of different living organisms in our soil. They move about their daily business eating, processing food, and reproducing. Some eat roots, leaves and various organic materials. Some eat the nutrient particles in the soil. Some eat each other, and some eat the processed food of others.
Feeding Soil Life with Compost, Mulch and Fertilizers
Again oversimplified (but sufficient for the purposes of this blog), the organisms take what’s available to them (i.e. organic fertilizers, mulches, dried leaves, grasses etc.) and they process it into matter our plants can “eat.” This is just one more reason gardeners add organic compost and mulch to garden soil. Compost contains both soil life and food for the organisms. Mulch, which not only insulates plants, is broken down over time by the soil life and turned into compost – nutrients found in the mulch then become available to plants.
Some fertilizers are also food for the soil life. Granular organic fertilizer, for example, is like a highly concentrated, slow release, dried version of compost. While some of the fertilizer (usually about 1%) goes straight to the plant, the majority of it is gradually eaten by soil life and processed multiple times. Can you guess what happens next? Yep, the plant then has a slow and steady stream of absorbable nutrients.
To make sure that you have the proper soil life you can add things like:
- aerobic compost
- aerobic compost tea
- worm Castings
To increase the activity level and help feed your soil life you can add things like:
- fish emulsion
- fruit juices
- dead leaf material
- sawdust, bark, paper, or cardboard
We at Seedlings Gardening feed our soil life regularly with different kinds of fertilizers, mulch and compost – we’ll have a more detailed post about mulch next week and one about fertilizers in the future.
What do you do for the soil life in your vegetable garden?