It is that time of year. You are probably asking yourself, what do I add to my soil to improve it. If you feed your soil, your soil will feed your plants.
Fertile soil is one rich in good organic matter, humus, and a large and diverse population of microbiology. It has air pockets, the ability to hold water, the ability to drain water, and a good earthy smell. It also includes organic sources of macro and micronutrients. Healthy, well fed soil, will contain lots of nutrients for Microbes. The microbes will feed your plants.
Plants release carbohydrates, sugars, and proteins into the soil when it needs to undergo a certain growth phase. These are messages that attract the kind of bacteria or fungi the plant needs help from at that time. The bacteria or fungi essentially bring the plant what it needs in a usable form. There are thousands of symbiotic exchanges going on at any given moment in the root zone around any plant. Mycorrizhal fungi retrieve phosphorus. Protozoa consume bacteria and exudate nitrogen. Bacteria consume humus and extract nitrogen that plants then uptake. There are even bacteria that obtain nitrogen from the air and feed it to plants. This is called nutrient cycling.
So feed your soil.
So what do we put into our soil that feeds the biology and supplies the nutrients plants will need?
Individual plants have certain growth requirements. Corn loves nitrogen. Tomatoes love calcium and phosphorus. Cauliflower likes nitrogen and potassium. These nutrients need to be present in the soil for microbes to consume and make them available to the plant. The three main nutrients plants need are Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium, the famous NPK you see on packages of fertilizers. Plants also need calcium, iron, boron, magnesium, molybedum, sulfur, zinc and more to help them through various stages of development. You can increase the nutrients needed by adding “fertilizers.” An appropriate name, because the following fertilizers in some way actually increase microbial populations.
Compost. Compost not only contains populations of microbes, it usually hosts a variety of micronutrients. Adding compost is probably the most important thing you can do to increase soil fertility.
Manures such as chicken, turkey, llama, goat, and horse are a high nitrogen source. Manure contains high populations of bacteria and fungi. It is thermophilic bacteria that heat up manure piles and allow them to break down into a usable nitrogen source. Once broken down and no longer hot-manures contain diverse populations of biology. Chicken manures tend to contain large populations of bacillus subtilis, a bacteria that fights powdery mildew.
Feather meal is also a good source of nitrogen. Feather meal breaks down slowly. Feather meal also contains chitosan, which help create a more fungal soil.
Alfalfa meal is another source of nitrogen that feed bacteria and promotes fungal growth.
Crab meal contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Crab meal also contains bacteria and chitosan.
Greensand contains iron, trace minerals and potassium. Iron is needed for chlorophyll transformation.
Rock Phosphate contains a phosphorus source, calcium and boron. Phosphorus is needed for flower and fruit production. Boron is needed for cell wall formation. Rock Phosphate feeds mycorrizhal fungi.
Fish bone meal and steam bone meal provide phosphorus and feed bacteria. Fish bone meal also promotes fungal growth.
Kelp is a source of potassium. Potassium is needed for the health and immune system of your plants. Kelp provides micronutrients and trace elements. It feeds both bacteria and fungi.
Oyster shell. Oyster provides calcium, trace minerals and can help balance ph in acidic soils.
Compost Tea. Compost tea adds microbes and food for your microbes in the soil.
This is a short list of ways to get nutrients into your soil. There is a longer list (which keeps growing) of single source fertilizers and a large variety of bagged products that contain mixed fertilizers, good NPK and bacteria and fungal spores.