The above photo is not visually beautiful, but there’s a lot to learn from what’s happening here. We’re going to try to hit the highlights in less than a thousand words…
The photo shows an example of biological fertility at work (versus using chemical or mineral fertilizers). It’s also an example of seasonal interplanting to maximize yields.
The larger plant in the photo is an indeterminate heirloom tomato transplant that will grow to be about 6-8′ tall by late summer. Underneath the tomato is densely sown lettuce that we direct-sowed about 6 weeks ago. We’ll harvest lettuce from this spot well into summer, thinning the plants as we go. The shade from the growing tomato plants will extend the lettuce season out by a month or more. The lettuce improves soil temps by covering the beds and also reduces tomato foliar diseases that can be caused by rain splashing on the bed surface.
We’ve never plowed this soil and we’ve never added any chemical or mineral fertilizers. Contrary to what people used to believe, every type of soil in the world has enough N, P, K and the dozens of other elements that a plant could ever need, but the plants can not access those nutrients without the help of microorganisms.
If you’ve ever seen a tree growing on a soilless rock, you’ve unknowingly seen an example of these processes in action. As research has proven, it’s not the tree roots doing the hard work. Instead, mycorhizzal fungi is actually breaking down the rock and converting the material into all the bioavailable “fertilizer” the tree needs; in exchange, the trees feed carbohydrates made from photosynthesis to the fungi.
Biological Soil Fertility & Disease Control
So how do you tap into the potential of “biological soil fertility” in your own garden or farm? That’s where learning how to make “hot compost” and vermicompost (worm castings) come in: you can grow all the microbes your plants need to access the innate nutrition in your soil and help protect your plants from pathogenic microorganisms – and you can do it without having to buy any fancy products.
The soil and plants in these beds get a compost tea soil drench and foliar spray at different points throughout the year. When there’s not living plants on the soil surface, we use wood chip mulch to cover the soil surface. The biology makes the chemistry happen.
If you don’t have the time or resources to make your own compost tea, you can use store bought equivalents that operate off the same basic principles: Serenade and Actinovate are two high quality OMRI listed, organic products that work wonders as a foliar spray or root drench to prevent and stop a huge range of plant diseases.
Healthy living soil that’s teeming with microbial life allows the plants to orchestrate their own nutritional “symphonies,” getting the exact nutrition they need, when they need it. Rather than the pollution and fertilizer runoff that results from chemical and mineral fertilizers, cleaner air and water result from this approach, along with sequestration of greenhouse gases (read more here). Rather than food containing poison residues, you get safe, nutrient-dense foods that increase the biodiversity of your own microbiome.
Healthy soil = healthy planet = healthy people. This is the future GrowJourney wants to help create.
Dig Deeper With These Additional Resources:
- Learn more about biological fertility from the world’s leading microbiologist
- Learn how to make your own inexpensive worm bin/compost in 7 minutes
- Learn how to make your own hot compost using the Berkeley Method
- Learn how to make your own actively aerated compost tea (AACT)