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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.
Biological soil fertility and succession planting
The photo shows an example of biological soil fertility at work (versus using chemical or mineral fertilizers). It’s also an example of seasonal succession planting to get continual 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, harvesting the smaller plants out of the bed along the way. This gives us lettuce for the kitchen, while allowing the remaining lettuce plants to grow larger.
Meanwhile, the shade from the growing tomato plants will extend the lettuce season out by a month or more. The lettuce moderates soil temps by covering the beds and also reduces tomato foliar diseases that can be caused by rain splashing on the bed surface.
No-till organic gardening
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. However, the plants can not access those nutrients without the help of microorganisms. (See video below.)
If you’ve ever seen a tree growing out of the side of a rocky cliff, you’ve unknowingly seen an example of these processes in action. As research has proven, it’s not just the tree roots doing the hard work. Instead, mycorhizzal fungi is actually responsible for 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” (Berkeley method) and vermicompost (worm castings) come in handy…
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 at the same time. 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. The beds get topped up with compost 1-2 times per year. Also, the soil surface is always covered with either living plants or wood chip mulch (or both).
This approach allows the biology to make the chemistry happen.
If you don’t have the time or resources to make your own compost or compost tea, you can use store bought equivalents such as:
- Worm castings for biological soil fertility – Unco insustries makes excellent worm castings that can ship right to your home. (Their castings have excellent customer reviews and we’ve seen independent lab tests showing the quality of their worm castings.)
- Biological plant disease prevention and control – Serenade and Actinovate are two high quality OMRI listed, organic products that work great as a foliar spray or root drench to prevent and stop a huge range of plant diseases.
Healthy soil, healthy people
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 synthetic fertilizers, cleaner air and water result from this approach, along with sequestration of greenhouse gases (read more here). Rather than food containing poisonous residues, you get safe, nutrient-dense foods that increase the biodiversity of your own microbiome.
Dig Deeper With These Additional Resources:
- Learn more about biological fertility from the world’s leading soil 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)