Are you a gardener who’s still adding a little bit of this or a little bit of that “purchased” organic fertilizer to make your soil “better” and/or feed your plants?
Are you of the mind set that buying bagged soil mixed with compost is a great way to grow vegetables?
If you are, you’re probably in good company. I think I’d be safe to say that the majority of gardeners (especially in the United States) are of that mind set.
Unfortunately, it’s based on incorrect information that has it’s roots in marketing by the big chemical companies. And that started more than 150 years ago and has changed the face of agriculture. (I’ve explained that in more detail in various posts and have linked to them at the end of the post as suggested reading.)
So What’s the Right Way?
It’s important to understand that the living organisms in our gardens are the ones that need feeding. They in turn will feed our plants.
The soil organisms are nourished and increased by organic materials such as plant residue and cover crops. They need to be fed every year. If the soil has been depleted of these organisms through abuse, organic materials will bring them back. As they ingest this material and complete the decay process, fertile soil is created. How long it takes, will depend on how abused the soil was.
The healthier your soil, the healthier your crops will be. And healthy crops can resist disease and insect pests.
Organic Residues Supply the Energy for Soil Fertility You’ll Need Next Season
Pile your garden with as much organic material as you can get. It might seem like a lot, but will quickly diminish over the winter months. Your beds should be ready to plant in the spring.
Any plant residue (unless it was diseased) is great for the garden. This would include your finished crops, straw, pine tags, leaves, and weeds that have not seeded. I even cut small branches and twigs and throw them in my paths or beds.
I cut off various plants like tomatoes, peppers, and beans at soil level and leave their roots in the ground over the winter to house and protect various organisms. The above ground portion of the plants I rough cut and leave on the bed. On top of that goes straw, leaves and/or pine tags (a/k/a pine straw). The order doesn’t really matter, although I like to cover the old plants with the other organic materials.
Noted Soil Scientist Agrees 100%
I know all this to be true by doing it over the years. But imagine my delight when I learned that noted soil scientist, Richard Parnes, in his book Soil Fertility agreed 100%.
He goes on to say that the important value of organic residues is their contribution of energy. “It (the energy from organic residues) is required to maintain soil fertility and there is NO substitute.”
Throughout the book and in various ways Mr. Parnes states that ““the major emphasis for good soil management should be on recycling organic residues, —”
In other words, if you’re just buying bagged products and adding them to your soil, maybe it’s time to rethink that.
If you want to know even more, you may want to start with the following three posts:
Organic Residues – The Needed Energy for Soil Fertility
Answering the Question – Do You Need to Add Fertilizers to Your Garden to Feed This Years Crops
3 Books That Can Change Your Garden, Your Health, and the Way You Look at Life
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I live in the country but no organic straw available so I use leaves which are abundant. I have never used commercial fertilizer in the 14 years I have lived here. In the fall I pile leaves on my beds to a depth of 5 or 6 ” but always find bare ground in many places the next fall. Leaves may not be abundantly available where you live but if you look around you will find bags of leaves all over the place and people happy to get rid of them. A few questions will give the answer as to whether people use unwanted products. Once you get to know people’s habits and which leaves you want they will save their leaves for you. And they’re free! I have found that leaves break down faster as years go by which leads me to believe my friendly organisms are increasing naturally.
As I put each raised bed to rest for the winter, I spade in my own compost from one of two piles I keep going. On top of that will go the abundant grass clipping that I save all year (if they didn’t go in the compost bins) and leaves. I like the idea of leaving the roots in and will try that this year especially in a couple of my beds that have a higher clay content than the others. Mine is an urban garden created across the whole of my rear lot line, approximately 80X30 with raised beds in that space.
Thanks Ray. Great input.
Bud, thanks for commenting and sharing what you’re doing. Sounds like you’ve really created something nice there.
SO, What about the argument to clean up the beds in the fall because pests will overwinter in the residue? And, what happens if you leave plants in the beds that have suffered from various common disease like blight, powdery mildew, fusarium, blights etc etc? Will these forms of Organic material not contaminate the soil?
Thanks for your questions Tee Jay. I’m sure these same questions came to mind with some other readers as well.
As I said in the post “Any plant residue (unless it was diseased) is great for the garden.”
I’ve addressed various pests and disease in specific posts throughout TMG.
For example, I would never pull up the squash and just walk away from them without checking everyday for squash bugs and destroying them to make sure they don’t keep multiplying long after the squash is gone and then winter over.
Another example is potato beetles. I don’t have many but I continue to “search and destroy” through out the season. If a few winter over, I’ll see them when potato beetles first appear and then kill them.
I realize the above examples are brief. I’ve spent countless hours over the past 6 years explaining things in detail (over 600 posts) and if by following regularly you’ll begin to see the “big picture”.
Here are 8 of those many posts that may help to better answer your questions.