Through millennia farmers have known that the soil must be fed (with organic materials) and nurtured to keep it producing. This basic understanding was lost by conventional agriculture when chemicals (and high dollar marketing) came on the scene 100 plus years ago.
As a result of the inundation of chemicals on our soils, they have become depleted of all that is needed to grow food.
Our society promotes “quick fixes” and synthetics and as a result many gardeners (even those who consider themselves “organic”) see no problem with using synthetic fertilizers if they deem them necessary.
The point is argued and debated in numerous articles and forums as to whether or not one or two or more applications of a synthetic “quick fix” is harmful. No matter the answer, in my opinion that point is only a distraction to keep one from addressing (or seeing) the big picture.
The Big Picture
Nature is the Master gardener. We’re either working with her or we’re not. We’re either on the bus or off the bus.
Are we walking in the direction she leads? Are we seeing how close we can get to what she teaches that will lead to abundance? Or are we walking the line of questionable practices?
Contribution of Energy by Organic Residues
Soil scientist, Richard Parnes, in his book Soil Fertility states that the damaging thing about the controversy between which is better – organic or synthetic – is the tendency to ignore (and thus belittle) the far more important value of organic residues: which is its contribution of energy to an agricultural system. It (the energy from organic residues) is required to maintain soil fertility and there is no substitute.
Nature Maintains a Delicate Balance
Another message that came across loud and clear to me was the message that nature has set up a delicate balance. She knows exactly what she’s doing and makes it easy for us to follow her just by adding organic materials to our soils. In most cases, when you add a little of this nutrient and little of that nutrient (whether organic or synthetic) you can easily throw the balance off and cause more trouble than what you had to begin with.
Soil Test Not Always the Solution
Mr. Parnes also points out that a soil test is not always the solution. Different labs have different procedures of determining things that may or may not be a suitable way for other locations.
Mr. Parnes’ Conclusion About Fertilizer Applications
There are so many variables to deal with when one uses fertilizers that Mr. Parnes draws the conclusion that “the idea of being able to calculate fertilizer application with any hope of certainty is an illusion. At best we can apply what we think is necessary” and then be prepared to adjust as we go.
Throughout the book this noted soil scientist states in various ways that “the major emphasis for good soil management should be on recycling organic residues, —”
A Simple Example
Regular readers know that for years I had only mulch and plant residues to nourish my soil. I didn’t know anything about cover crops back then.
I was delighted when I read what Mr. Parnes said about folks who mulch continuously: (parentheses are mine for clarity)
“People who mulch continuously can assume a carryover from previous years (of nutrients) and that almost all the nutrients are amiable (since amiable means friendly I am interpreting this to mean usable), except for leaching and nitrogen losses (which are small).”
The book was not easy reading for me. But I made myself read every word because I wanted to know first hand what this knowledgeable scientist had to say.
Much of it is charts and information on fertilizers and nutrients which for the most part is boring and complicated – at least to me. Almost invariably I caught myself napping over those parts. But finding the “good stuff” was worth the effort. (I want to share more with you in future posts.)
I’ve known for almost 40 years that my way of gardening with nature works. After reading what Mr. Parnes had to say, I know more about “why” it works.
I especially appreciated the simplicity of how he ended the book after giving a lot of detail on fertilizers. He said, “If these conditions are difficult to keep in mind, reconsider organic residues.”
Now that’s talking my language!
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