The Perils of Over Adding Nutrients to the Soil

A soil nutrient program is important to produce top quality vegetables. But adding too many nutrients to the soil can have the opposite effect. Have you heard of root burn? It is just one of the things that can go wrong if you add too much fertilizer to the soil.

But before we see how over addition of nutrition affects plants, let’s see the difference between fertilizers and soil amendments.

Are Fertilizers the Same as Soil Amendments?

Many people are confused about the difference between fertilizers and amendments. Fertilizers consist of soluble salt compounds, and they directly affect the growth of soil. Soil amendments affect plants indirectly by improving the chemical and physical properties of the soil. Next, let’s discuss why you should be worried about fertilizer burn.

Fertilizer burn causes plant foliage to become scorched. Fertilizer burn is related to root burn, where the roots get damaged. To understand fertilizer burn better, you must know how plants take in water and nutrients.

In the natural condition, soil has a greater concentration of water than roots so there is a difference in water pressure. The water molecules move from the soil, across the semipermeable membrane of the roots to establish equilibrium which benefits the plants.

On the other hand, when there is too much fertilizer in the soil, the status quo is disturbed. Now, there is more water in the roots than the soil around. Water moves from the roots into the soil, causing the plant to become dehydrated. Dehydrated plants lose their turgor and start to wilt.

More Dangers of Over Fertilization

When you add too many fertilizers to the soil, soluble salts start to accumulate in the soil. This not only alters the soil, but it also kills beneficial microorganisms.

It may also lead to a sudden growth spurt in the plant. At the same time, the roots are not developed enough to benefit from this oversupply. So they are not able to transport nutrients to the plant.

Moreover, synthetic fertilizers are not natural to the soil. The soil does not have the constitution to take in artificial fertilizers. So when there is too much fertilizer in the soil, it does not dissolve by rainfall or even irrigation water.

Instead, you have evaporation. The salts stay behind and the soil becomes altered. The salinity of the soil is raised and the pH is lowered. Low pH is not a good thing because the plants can’t take in the nutrients.

Root Rot, Defoliation and Other Dangers

Over nutrition causes other injuries to plants. Plant roots have to exert pressure to pull water and nutrients from the soil. But over nutrition causes the roots to become shriveled because of osmosis. Root rot sets in and the plant becomes more susceptible to root diseases.

At this point, the leaves start yellowing and the root tips and the margins become brown. Defoliation begins and the plant stops growing.

Over nutrition can also cause plant stress. Plant stress weakens the plant and makes the plant more vulnerable to diseases and insects, especially those that suck plant sap.

Why It Is Important to Get the Soil Tested?

Before you add nutrients to the soil, you should get the soil tested. This will help you know what nutrients are lacking in the soil. If you can avoid adding fertilizer, this is even better. Soil amendments, like vermicompost, organic compost, alfalfa, cured manures, and bone meal, are an excellent alternative.

If you have to use fertilizers, use natural, organic fertilizers. They release nutrients more slowly. Non-organic, commercial fertilizers are not recommended and they are in concentrated form. This fertilizer increases the risk of plant damage and the death of beneficial microorganisms.

This is why we are very careful when we add nutrients and soil amendments to our custom soil mix so that we can produce healthy and nutritious vegetables.

Unique Soil Blends for Different Types of Plants

Have you noticed how some plants won’t thrive in a particular type of soil no matter how hard you try? Have you considered the soil may not be suitable for the plant? Soil conditions differ from place to place and vary from wet and heavy clay to dry, sandy soil.

Most plants can’t cope with the extremes of these soil types. So you have to be careful and assess the soil before you try to grow any plants in it. You must also consider the pH of the soil (i.e., is it alkaline or it is acidic) before planting vegetables because that can affect plants as well. Your local climate can also affect the type of soil mix you need to grow vegetables. For instance, if you are growing crops in arid Arizona, you need to use blended soil that retains as much moisture as possible. But if you are in rainy Seattle, your soil mix must be able to drain well.

One of the keys to creating a beautiful garden is to understand what type of soil your plants need. That is why we are happy to say, we grow our vegetables on custom made soils that we prepare ourselves. We not only use the best ingredients to create these soils, but our continuous blending process ensures we can custom make the soil for any plant type. It is important because better soil translates into more nutritious vegetables.

What is soil blending and why is it important?

The process of blending soil for specific uses is called soil amendment. For instance, to grow peppers, we use a soil mix consisting of alfalfa meal (for nitrogen, but also phosphorous and potassium), worm castings, soy meal (early season source of nitrogen), feather meal (late season nitrogen), soft rock phosphate (slow release source of phosphorous), ground oyster shell or dried, crushed eggshells (for calcium), greensand (slow release source of potassium) and kelp meal (for immunity boosting micro-nutrients) in various proportions at different stages of plant growth. Naturally, our peppers have more flavor, are more nutritious and are fresher than the average pepper in the market.

Another factor that affects plant growth is the form of gardening used. We use raised bed gardening to grow our crops. In raised bed gardening, the soil is formed in raised beds (over and above the surrounding soil). The soil is enclosed inside a box frame. Raised farming allows us to use blended soil instead of ordinary soil. Raised bed gardening also has a number of other benefits.

Raised bed gardening- to grow better quality vegetables and use resources more efficiently

The plants are grown in a geometrical pattern unlike conventional gardening. This reduces the space between the plants, creating a micro-climate of sorts where weeds cannot grow. Raised bed gardening also conserves moisture in the soil. Moreover, we cannot walk on the soil because the beds are raised. This means, the soil is not compressed which helps the roots perform their role better. Raised bed gardening conserves resources while improving the quality of the yield.

One of the greatest advantages of growing vegetables in raised beds is you can create soil mix from scratch instead of trying to modify your existing soil to suit your purpose. Now let’s see the main functions of a blended soil.

Blended soil is better at holding nutrients and moisture around the roots. It acts as a reservoir for nutrients essential for plant growth. The various organic components in the soil also provide anchorage. They settle into place around the roots and prevent the plant from toppling over with the first wind. At the same time, the soil must be light so air and water can enter the soil and provide the plant with a balanced atmosphere to grow.

Finally, the soil must contain enough air so the plants can breathe once they are planted. Most people don’t know that roots also need to breathe. Otherwise, they will have a tough time surviving. The good news is, we follow all the steps we have mentioned here.

The Importance of Soil Fertility in Organic Farming

Soil fertility is the ability of soil to supply nutrients to crops. There is an intrinsic relationship between soil fertility and the quality of fruits and vegetables grown in that soil.

The soil is said to be healthy when it is fertile. Fertility is determined by the interaction between the soil’s physical, biological and chemical properties. Of these three properties, organic farmers pay more attention to the biological properties. But they are also mindful of the soil’s physical and chemical properties.

The physical properties of a soil affect the growth of the roots and their proliferation. Roots thrive in soils with good porosity, aggregate stability, water holding capacity, drainage, infiltration and resistance to compaction and crusting.

The soil’s chemical properties determine how much nutrients are available for crops. If the quantity of nutrients is not enough, the yield is limited. Biological properties refer to microorganism content in the soil.

Why biological properties are primus inter pares (first among equals)?

Microorganisms are important because they perform nutrient cycling. It is estimated that there may be as many as 1,500,000 species of fungi and as many as 3,000,000 species of bacteria in the soil. They decompose organic plant matter/animal residues and convert them into inorganic nutrients. These inorganic nutrients are taken up by the plant and converted into organic leaves, stem and roots. When the plants die, the organic content is recycled again. Soil microorganisms also improve soil structure. Their excretions (chemicals) bind the soil particles into aggregates.

All these species of fungi or bacteria are not found in one place or even needed by plants. What worries us is, the average agricultural soil does not contain more than 5000 species of fungi or bacteria in total. This can only mean one thing. Important biological pathways have been broken. In such a situation, how can the health of the soil be maintained? Moreover, the biological property of the soil determines how efficiently soil nutrients are recycled and retained for use by plants.

How do organic farmers increase biological content in the soil?

Organic farmers can create sites for nutrient retention by adding manure and compost to the soil (this is what we do). This in turn increases the organic content of the soil. Addition of organic content increases the negative charge in the soil. The negative charge attracts and retains cations. These cations are positively charged ions such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, ammonia and sodium. Cations are essential for plant nutrition.

Unfortunately, the way agronomy is taught in our universities, soil life is going for a toss, sacrificed at the alter of profitability. It is one of the main reasons for the worldwide phenomena of declining soil fertility. Conventional soil management protocols actually destroy soil fertility rather than improve it. Monoculture, application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to the soil and tilling the soil aggressively can all destroy soil fertility. This means the food that you are eating today has less nutrients than it did earlier.

How can we help?

What is the way out of this? Contrary to popular thinking, organic farming is not the panacea (at least not the kind that passes for ‘organic’ these days). Not all ‘organic’ is healthy. That is where we come in.

We use a sophisticated tool developed at Bionutrient Food Association to measure the quality of the produce we grow. One of the components of this tool is a test called the Brix test, which is used by the wine industry to determine the amount of dissolved solids present in the liquid extracted from any fruits or vegetables. The organic food we produce is grown in soil, specially prepared to deliver the maximum amount of nutrients to the fruits and vegetables.

Five Reasons to Choose Organic Produce

It doesn’t matter who you are and what you do, choosing organic produce has become absolutely necessary to ensure both your health and the health of the world. While the world grapples with the problem of environmental degradation and toxicity created by human beings, the best way to have a symbiotic relationship with the nature is to opt for organically grown food. Organic foods are tasty, free of chemicals and more nutritious. Here are the five top reasons to choose organic produces:

  1. Going for organic produce is the sole way to shun the consumption of toxic chemicals existent in food grown for commercial purposes: It is important to know that there are in excess of 600 chemicals registered for use in agriculture in the United States alone. These chemicals weigh millions of pounds on an annual basis. On an average, it translates to approximately 16 pounds per person for any given year. According to a report published by the National Academy of Sciences, more than 90 percent amongst the chemicals used in foods have never been tested to find out the long-term adverse effects on health. Additionally, the FDA examines only 1 percent of the foods for finding out any residue of pesticides.
  2. The organic foods are nutritious: The foods that are produced using organic means are far more nutritious than the commonly available ones. They are endowed with an assortment of nutrients including micronutrients, enzymes, minerals and vitamins. This is so because the growing soil is governed using practices that are considered to be sustainable. Numerous studies have found out that the nutrient holding value of the organic foods is significantly higher than that of the conventionally grown foods. One of the studies established that servings of foods that are organically grown provide an adequate amount of Vitamin C whereas servings of normal food don’t provide such nutrients in adequate amount.
  3. Avoiding GE foods: The ushering of commercialization in the world of food has been instrumental in the multiplicity of Genetically Engineered (GE) foods and Genetically Modified Organisms (GME). These items have substantially contaminated the existing supply of food in the world. The consumption of such food has also given rise to a lot of serious health implications. Subject to the fact that organic food can’t be genetically modified, going for the same ensures that you don’t have to indulge in the consumption of GE foods.
  4. Organic foods simply taste better: Well, if you think that this conjecture seems too farfetched, then just try it. Organic foods, subject to their richness in nutrients and other beneficial elements, are by far better in terms of taste when compared with some of the normal varieties. The balanced soil plays an active role in producing strong and healthy plants. This theory is truer for the heirloom varieties, which are grown for their tastes and not for their looks. The normally grown foods have generally lost their original taste structure subject to the insertion of chemicals and hormones.
  5. Avoiding drugs, antibiotics and hormones: It has been found out that the normal diary and meat food products are most susceptible to contamination caused by dangerous substances. Studies have found out that over 90 percent of the usual pesticides that are consumed by the Americans can be found in the tissue and fat of the dairy and meat products. Additionally antibiotics, hormones and drugs are directly inserted into the diary and meat products thus exposing human health to fatal consequences and future degradations. Consequently, the only way to avoid these substances is to consume organically grown food.