Let’s dig deeper into healthy soil to grow your best-ever plants, fruit and vegetables.
The dirt beneath our feet is a living organism, connected to healthy plants, people, and the environment. Often misunderstood or treated poorly, healthy soil is home to a complicated ecosystem. It’s teaming with microbes that support plants to grow healthy produce, and increase resilience against diseases and bad weather.
Why soil microbes help plants?
One teaspoon of healthy soil is home to a billion microbes (bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, protozoa and nematodes), working together with plants in a complex relationship trading goods. In simple terms, plants give sugar to microbes, and in exchange, microbes give nutrients, hydration, and immunity to plants. The nutrients from microbes are absorbed by plant roots, enabling healthy growth. Microbes also form a protective area (known as the rhizosphere) around plant roots, giving effective resilience against disease.
Living soil is incredibly powerful – soil is where about 95% of humankind’s food comes from. Not to mention the other important roles it performs – acting as a natural filter to remove contaminants, helping break down harmful chemicals, and absorbing Co2 from the air.
New Zealand soil and plant food producer, Frank Lachmann, of Herbi.nz Ltd, says healthy soil is the building block of nutrient-rich, healthy food for people.
Unfortunately, in many parts of New Zealand and around the world, soil is deteriorating. In some areas, it’s unable to support life and grow healthy plants. Many soils have been reduced to a medium that’s reliant on chemical fertilisers and pesticides, while the topsoil layer (humus) is thinning – the soil community is being made redundant and it’s dying.
The long-term use of chemical fertilisers can disrupt the symbiotic relationship between plants and microbes. When plants get a nutrient fix from chemical fertilisers they no longer need to pass on sugar to microbes, in return for nutrients. It leads to soil becoming dependent on chemical nutrients, needing more and more, while the soil community disappears. The mycorrhiza (fungi) network, which is critical to transport nutrients and water to plants from areas that roots can’t reach, is disappearing.
Luckily, Lachmann says, soil and its ecosystem can be restored so plants and produce can once again thrive, even after years of neglect and damage.
Soil is the gut of the earth
Soil can be repaired and rejuvenated, we simply need to treat it like a living organism. Start by feeding your soil healthy nutrition just as we would to improve our own health. In fact, it’s uncanny how similar gut health is for people, and soil health is for plants. In both soil and a person’s gut, microbes break down organic material into simpler compounds, helping plants and people absorb vitamins and nutrients to improve overall health and protect against disease.
Just as a healthy body needs a variety of nutritious whole food to feed a diverse community of good gut bacteria, supporting optimum health. A healthy plant also needs a variety of nutrition to support the good bacteria and fungi living in the soil, which in turn support plants during germination, vegetation, budding, blooming and reproduction.
It’s the same for the soil community; if we provide a variety of healthy food for soil, it will create a healthy and diverse soil community that nourishes our plants in different ways, at different times.
Science has also proven many other similarities between plant and people’s health and the symbiotic relationship with microbes. For example, breast milk contains sugars and its purpose is to feed bacteria in the baby’s gut, rather than the baby. Similarly, young plants release large quantities of sucrose into the soil, to feed and develop their new microbiomes. Just as the bacteria that live in our guts attack invading pathogens, the friendly microbes in the rhizosphere (the area around a plant’s roots) create a defensive barrier around the root. Just as bacteria in the colon educate our immune cells and send chemical messages that trigger our body’s defensive systems, the plant’s immune system is trained and primed by bacteria in the rhizosphere.
What can we do?
We need to treat soil as a living organism and look after it properly. This means feeding it with a diversity of food so it can use a range of nutrients for optimum health.
Simply throwing animal manure on your crop and hoping for the best, is not enough. You can call yourself an organic farmer, but results will be limited. Just like people are unable to survive on one or two superfoods, we need a variety of whole foods to achieve our best health.
Herbi’s All Natural 4-4-4 and 2-8-4 fertilisers each contain more than 25 all-natural ingredients that feed your soil, microbes and plants. In combination with good worm castings and/or compost, Herbi’s All Natural range will restore and nurture your soil, delivering astonishing results. And if you have healthy soil there’s no need to worry about NPK – in healthy soil almost any plant will thrive.
Herbi – growth for life.