It all starts with soil
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: feed your soil and watch your plants grow. Soil is the basis for almost every plant we all grow, and it needs to be maintained just like plants do. Make feeding your soil a part of your gardening armoury, just as you have feeding the plants themselves. Many of us gardeners have in the past been guilty of treating the symptoms of sick plants, and ignoring the causes. If our plants aren’t resilient or if they’re growing poorly, we have tended to add fertilisers or other growth products to the soil or directly to the plants. We have sprayed for fungal diseases, for pests, for viral diseases, never stopping to think why our plants are suffering from them. If we had looked deeper, we might have realised that we’re going about things the wrong way and actually need to grow healthy plants from healthy soil, and the rest will sort itself out.
In previous issues we’ve spoken at length about adding organic material to your soil, in the form of good-quality compost, animal manures, cover crops, mulches and green manures, and while that is still critical in establishing a healthy soil in your garden, there is also a new-generation of soil-health products that speed up the process by adding beneficial organisms to it. Even farmers are investing in this new technology, as well as reverting to the age-old technique of no-till.
Here are some of our favourites:
A great way to get plants off to a flying start in life is to use StartGro when planting or transplanting. It’s not a traditional fertiliser in that it contains no nitrogen (N) or phosphorous (P) and only trace amounts of potassium (K), and instead supplies your plants with boron (B), silica (Si) and calcium (Ca). Supplying too much NPK early on in a plant’s development is like trying to teach a kid to run before it can crawl – feed your soil for that early development to flourish later on.
Here’s another product that focuses on the rooting process, to give your plants the base they need to do a Jack and the Beanstalk. Like StartGro, it doesn’t contain NPK but instead delivers micronutrients that plants need for processes such as cell division in the root zones, the initiation of reproductive organs and other vital stages. Instead of forcing your plants to grow, this will give them the means to grow naturally and sustainably.
The soil is full of microorganisms, good and bad, and EcoBuz RootPro boosts the levels of beneficial fungus Trichoderma asperellum, which helps to paralyse and destroy soil pathogens. This reduces the risk of root diseases and also boosts root growth and germination rate. A key feature here is that this is naturally found in the soil, so you’re not upsetting the natural ecosystem and eliminating both good and bad organisms, which would lead to problems down the road. RootPro actually activates the plants’ natural defence systems, similar to how we vaccinate ourselves against diseases. It is applied as a drench to the soil.
It’s sad that the word ‘fungus’ conjures up such bad thoughts and reactions with us gardeners. We all need to learn and remember that some fungi are not only beneficial, but actually vital in establishing healthy soils, healthy plants and healthy gardens. Mycoroot is a range of fungal inoculation for the soil tailored for different applications (home garden; trees and shrubs; lawns and turf; field crops). The products use African mycorrhizal fungal microorganisms that naturally occur in our soil (unless we’ve killed them using fungicides or through poor soil management) and which form a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship with 90% of all plant roots. They allow the roots to better exploit the nutrients in the soil, they ward off pests and diseases, they encourage the growth of other beneficial organisms such as bacteria and they even improve soil stability and aeration.
When we say feed your soil we have to mention EcoBuz Humigro, a granular carbon-based soil conditioner made from ancient leonardite deposits, which are prehistoric vegetative matter. The leonardite makes Humigro a rich source of carbon and other micronutrients, and since carbon is the basis of soil fertility it really can make a huge difference to your soil. EcoBuz recommends that Humigro be added to the garden when you are preparing a bed or planting, applied as a drench after diluting the granules in water. Alternatively, you can sprinkle the granules in your garden and water it in afterwards. Humigro is a great additive to use in association with fertiliser, as it reduces leaching and nutrient lock up, making the nutrients from fertiliser available for longer. It has the added benefit of buffering fertiliser, or reducing the negative effects of it. By adding Humigro you improve the soil structure as well as the ability of the soil to retain nutrients and water for longer, while it also stimulates beneficial fungi in the soil and feeds beneficial microorganisms. One thing we love about these organic products is that you can’t use too much and burn or otherwise damage your plants. If anything, overdosing is just a waste of the product.
Biosoil performs a similar role to HumiGro, in that it supplies carbon to the soil and improves soil quality. It is derived from plant matter and contains humic and fulvic acids and is a food source for beneficial microbes in the soil. It can be used as a foliar spray and is very beneficial to sandy soils, improving uptake of nutrients and water-retention capacity.
If you’ve regularly turned your garden soil over there is a good chance that your beneficial fungi have been killed. Start a no-till garden and get the microorganisms back to a healthy level by using some of these products. Obviously it doesn’t make sense to buy all of them and dose your soil without knowing what you’re doing. As always, stick to the recommended doses, and don’t use two products that perform very similar roles – one beneficial fungi product, one product that will kickstart root and plant growth and one source of carbon will do the trick. You’ll see the difference: when you feed your soil you’ll end up with a healthier garden with fewer chemicals and a more sustainable ecosystem.