Organic Gardening Basics
Organic gardening isn’t a matter of not using synthetic chemicals or even replacing them with organic ones when we need them. Both are only byproducts of organic gardening.
Organic gardening is all about the soil and all the beneficial life that inhabitants it.
As plants have a digestive system not that terribly different than man is except that a plant’s digestion system is outside the plant. Healthy soil already has all the beneficial microbes it takes to take apart organic matter to its chemical elements, AKA a soil digestive system, commonly called “The Soil Food web”.
It is simply so complex that until fairly recently man couldn’t see all the connections. So science was only paying attention when some bacteria or fungus was pathogenic enough to be a problem.
But it isn’t that hard to understand. Simply, most microbes that do best in soil that is aerobic are good guys. Most nasty microbes like anaerobic soil, with the line between them normally put at above or below 6 PPM oxygen in the soil.
Not all low oxygen breathing microbes are nasty. But a whole lot of the nastiest microbes prefer low oxygen.
The food that drives everything is organic matter on top of the soil which makes mulch that breaks down into compost. Still on top of the soil, but under fresher mulch.
Then when the compost has broken down as far as it can without extra outside nutrients being added, the life in the soil incorporates that broken down compost into the soil as biologically stable yet fully colonized humus.
Humus is the darkening of the base soil associated between lighter soil being called subsoil (soil without humus) and the darker soil above it (soil with humus) being called top soil.
This is anything but dead organic matter. Most of its microbiological covering is dormant but unbelievably diverse, waiting for different nutrient signals to awaken, feed and multiply, then go dormant again or eat and repeat their life cycle.
The big thing is that plants can chose just which groups of microbes to wake up by secreting exudates (nutrient signals) into the soil, mostly sugars and carbohydrates with varying amounts of proteins and oils.
Plants are the only life on this planet that can create sugars, from simple sugars to complex sugars on to carbohydrates.
Aerobic microbes are incredibly efficient at gathering far more than they need except for sugars. Different microbes are better at finding and gathering different nutrients than others, all wanting to trade what they can get easily and have extra from the soil for their favorite combination of sugars, carbohydrates, protein and oil easily secreted as trade by plants.
Dr. Ingham calls these the plant’s exudates “milk and cookies”. Sugars, carbohydrates, protein and oil are what milk and cookies are.
Protective microbes like a fungus that forms thin loops along its strands can instantly close shut by filling up those loops with fluid as a root feeding nematode tries to go through its tiny loops after a plant root. The fungi traps it, then dissolves it and eats it. A plant in mature organic soil can grow more root feeding nematode eating fungus by varying its recipe of “milk and cookies” as needed. Or it can call for a antibiotic producing fungus or whatever.
Sound crazy enough yet?
Perennial plants can normally secrete 60 percent of the sugars and other carbohydrates they produce out of their roots to feed the soil’s microbes. Conifers can be trading up to 80 percent of what they produce to trade with soil microbes.
This is not a design flaw, this is the design. This is how plants work.
The chemical blinded agriculture’s fixations on N-P-K, CEC and pH numbers have some limited merit, like only reading one capture of a long book. All those beneficial microbes in our soil can store almost unlimited more times of nutrients than the best CEC (Cation Exchange Capacity) can.
Most plants in healthy mature organic soil can change the soil’s pH that is touching them up or down one and a half pH points.
Any soil not touching the plant’s root has almost no impact on the plant. So why measure its pH?
A whole bunch of plants have so much power to alter pH and they can drastically alter the pH of all the soil around them by choosing which microbes to feed with their milk and cookies — if the microbes are in the soil and still alive to work for the plant.
If not, all that energy secreted by plants into the soil calling for help is a huge waste of their energy, leaving the plant more stressed than before it called for help.
I know that this sounds crazy as heck to most new gardeners, but it is all true and exactly how organic gardening works.
All you have to do to is keep your soil covered with first compost and then mulch, right on top of the soil.
Your only other big concern is not screwing it up by killing your soil’s life.
Disturbing your soil kills soil life. Anything except air, water and organic nutrients hurts the life of the soil. Even organic products hurt the soil’s life, but far less than non organic chemicals do.
Tilling soil into a powder with a tiller is like putting your pet into a blender and turning it on.
Synthetic fertilizers are as toxic or more to your soil food web than many pesticides.
Not that all the “cides” as in herbicides, fungicides, insecticides whatever-cides aren’t incredibly destructive to the soil — they are. But the chemical fertilizers are mainly toxic to microbes, the life forms you want to encourage into your garden.
Keep your soil covered and protected from erosion.
It normally takes nature a thousand years to make one inch of soil.
In the woods & soils of the Cross Timbers
2 miles into zone 7b from zone 8a
Dallas, Fort Worth area
WE ARE THE 99 PERCENT