Organic Plant Nutrition – Nature’s Way
Already, much has been said and written about organic food and organic plant nutrition. There is still a gap between public understanding, (with “organic” actually meaning “natural”) and science, (“organic” means coming from a living organism).
The role of autotrophic plants, (plants that photosynthesize), in the natural food chain is to produce organic nutrients (sugars, starches) from inorganic elements (carbon dioxide from the air and minerals from the soil).
Compost, i.e. the organic content of the soil, is a good starting point. Compost is more than rotten plant material. It is a key element of natural (organic) plant nutrition, where the active ingredients are key components of the environment and structure thereof, within which the natural feeding processes are happening.
The water-soluble parts of compost (humic acids, fulvic acids, amino acids) play a key role throughout:
1. Soil Structure
The soil is the arena within which plant nutrition activities play out. There must be sufficient storage space for the nutrients (fertility), as well as enough space for water ( the nutrient carrier) and air movement A loose, crumbly, organic-rich soil structure is needed for this. Organic deficient soil becomes as hard as a block of cement (closed up). In organic-rich soil, the humic acid binds the soil particles into agglomerates, resulting in the needed crumbly structure.
2. Root Development
A plant absorbs its nutrients with its roots in liquid form and therefore needs a well-developed root structure for effective nutrition.
The plant develops its hair roots, with which it absorbs its nutrients, the best in organic-rich soil.
Deficiencies of essential minerals like phosphate or boron (or any of the other seventeen) can cause serious damage.
3. Availability and Absorption of Minerals
The soil organic matter increases the nutrient storage capacity of the soil and the water-soluble part (fulvic acid) supports the solubility of the minerals.
It also helps to create the right conditions (chemical balances) around the roots for easy and efficient nutrient absorption.
The soil’s pH is also crucial for mineral availability and movement and can easily be monitored.
4. Plant Vitality
The fulvic acid part of the compost is also absorbed and plays an important vitamin-type role in the plant’s biochemistry. (Heard of the juicy net house tomatoes without taste?)
The result is bigger, greener, healthier, stronger plants. (the vitamin effect)
Compost is thus fundamental to an optimal, natural plant nutrition process (organic plant nutrition).
A Gardener’s goals
1. To build up and maintain the organic content of his soil;
2. To understand the natural feeding process;
3. To plant with compost and later to refill with the water-soluble parts (humic and fulvic acids);
4. To leave as many as possible plant residues in his garden (mulching);
5. To apply the water-soluble parts of the compost in places where the application of solid compost is impossible;
6. To use plant nutrients that are integrated into an organic medium;
7. To monitor his plant’s nutrient status by simple observation and measurements.
Read More: Why Organic Materials Are Best For Gardens
ENVIRONMENTAL FRIENDLY GARDENING
Soil quality is the foundation for successful gardening. The key to soil quality is soil structure and soil fertility, both high dependant on the organic (humus) content of the soil.
Missing from the present-day picture, hindering environmentally friendly gardening is the detailed, scientific management of hummus (or carbon in its multiple forms) as part of the fertilizer program. Carbon (as humus in the soil and CO2 in the air) is the most important building block for life. Without it, the soil is non-productive and no plant can thrive.
Imagine the feel and smell of rich, fertile soil – crumbly and granular. The granulation ability (soil structure) of a given soil is driven by one key component – the hummus (carbon) content.
What is required to manage carbon with the same level of proficiency as the other plant nutrients?
The question arises, why are plants, growing in humus-rich soils, greener, healthier, bigger, and more productive than plants in organically depleted soils?
The answer is that the humus content, which is variable, together with the clay content, which is fixed, determines the soil’s workability, nutrient, and moisture-holding capacity, drainage, and aeration ability. Soil loses its physical and chemical structure with the depletion of hummus, a sure and continuous process without proper maintenance.
Groups of organic acids which include the humic acid group, the fulvic acid group, and the amino acid group, are the important active ingredients of hummus. These weak acids are key to soil structure, root development, plant vitality, and nutrient availability and uptake, and can easily be integrated into any dedicated gardener’s fertilization program.
Restoring the proper scientific management of hummus (the element carbon) is imperative to the success of environmentally friendly gardening
The nature and properties of soils.
Nyle C Brady (Cornell University and US Agency for International Development): The nature and properties of soils; Macmillan Publishing Company NY
PLANT FRIENDLY GARDENING
Gardening is surely one of the most popular (and satisfying) activities utilizing the valuable resources, time, and money, of John Citizen.
How should the gardener then keep himself busy to gain optimal satisfaction?
It may initially sound superficial to answer, “the plant and its environment”, but it becomes significant in the context of the gardener’s needs and goals:
A beautiful, healthy, strong plant is a happy plant in a plant-friendly environment.
An organically rich environment – healthy, fertile soil with high humus content.
A strong root system is a necessity – humic acid and boron play a key role.
Strong, healthy vegetative growth – the result of a regular, balanced plant nutrient program, with a strong organic base.
Abundant flower and fruit production – trace elements and calcium, again in an organic medium, are vital.
Healthy plants with strong recuperation ability after a traumatic event like frost, plant transfer, or pruning – the organic components taking center stage again.
Alas, as in other areas, there are a few aspects that were not addressed. New approaches that deliver better results, as well as new developments that contribute to more plant-friendly, environment-friendly, and last but not least, gardener-friendly gardening.
One such development is the availability of the water-soluble ingredients of compost to the gardener and the integration thereof with the essential plant nutrients.
Not only can the gardener apply the most important active ingredients of compost with his watering can or spray applicator – but he can also feed his plants a well-balanced nutrient program, based on an organic medium – equivalent to the way plants obtain their food in nature.
Missing Nutrients Cause Plant Problems
Sometimes, plant problems are misdiagnosed when nutrient deficiencies are overlooked or the characteristics of such deficiencies are not understood. Many people automatically blame insects or biotic diseases (those caused by bacteria, fungi, or other living things) as a problem.
Troubleshooting nutrient deficiencies can be a lot easier if you know what signs to look for. The following information describes signs of nutrient deficiencies in woody plants. For example, have you ever noticed your gardenia’s foliage turn yellow except for the leaf veins? This is called iron chlorosis. The pH of your soil is too high and iron is unable to be utilized by the plant. This is a common problem in highly alkaline soils.
Nitrogen (N) deficiency shows a general yellowish-green coloration on the foliage. Usually, older leaves are affected the most. Growth will be stunted with fewer leaflets. Leaves my drop prematurely before the dormant season. Veins, petioles, or lower leaf surfaces may become reddish-purple, especially while they are young.
Potassium (K) deficiency exhibits partial chlorosis (yellowing) of the most recently matured leaves in between the leaf veins. This chlorosis begins at the leaf tips. Older leaves may turn brown and curl downward.
A deficiency of calcium (Ca) causes the death of terminal buds, tip die-back, and chlorosis of young leaves. Leaves may also become hard and stiff. The lack of calcium can look like the affected woody plant has a root problem.
A plant lacking magnesium (Mg) shows marginal (on the edges) chlorosis on older leaves followed by interveinal (between the veins) chlorosis. Leaf margins (edges) may become brittle and curl upward.
A sulfur (S) deficiency exhibits uniform chlorosis of new leaves while older leaves are usually not affected.
As mentioned in the example, plants lacking iron (Fe) appear to have interveinal chlorosis of young leaves (a sharp distinction between green veins and yellow tissue between veins).
Manganese (Mn) deficiency also shows up as interveinal chlorosis of young leaves beginning at the margins and progressing toward midribs. Necrotic (dead) spots are also evident on the leaves.
When boron (B) is deficient, terminal growth, or the ends of the branches, dies and new growth that does occur has sparse foliage. Young leaves may be red, bronzed, or scorched. Leaves may be small, thick, distorted, or brittle.
Copper (Cn) deficiency also causes terminal growth to die. Leaf symptoms are not usually pronounced, but the veins may be a lighter green than the leaves.
When Molybdenum (Mo) is not present in sufficient amounts, the older leaves appear “cupped” and marginal leaf chlorosis is followed by interveinal chlorosis.
It is always best to perform a soil test every three years to determine which nutrients if any, are lacking in your soil. If nothing else seems to explain your plant’s problem, ask the question, “Could my problem be a nutrient deficiency?”