Soil Health & Compost Tea: Life in the Soil
When you add LIVING and BIOLOGICALLY ACTIVE compost, you are "seeding" your garden soil with organisms essential to feed growth and immunity functions of plants and humans. Without "living soil" the dynamic relationships necessary for macronutrient and trace mineral absorption by plants cannot take place and they never enter the food chain in sufficient quanities (or the human food pyramid) Artifical fertilzer and herbicide applications, and conventional tilling of the soil is the enemy of Plant health and HUMAN health because it kills and imbalances the very organisms responsible for Nitrogen cycling, and trace mineral absorption. Nature knows how to regulate itself in miraculous ways, (just like in our bodies) and we would do better to understand and gently amplify nature's dynamism in our personal landscapes. Just like with the human world, its all about RELATIONSHIPS. Relationships create strong families and communities. Trust and familiarity build goodwill and faith, which according to economist Adam Smith lead to efficient markets. Plant and animal communities operate the same way, through a combination of adaptation (picture birds and squirells coexisting at the bird feeder) evolutionary instincts (cats vs mice) and learned behaviors (Yes, it turns out fungus can learn) Plant and animal versions of "efficient markets" leads to homeostatic balance and the miraculous synthesis of plant matter.
It all starts with Soil Life. Bacteria and Fungus are "colonized" by trees for the improvement of the soil in ways that benefit the tree roots. The trees, like people, need to regulate the pH in their bodies. The ways they do this are through cellular respiration (just like people) and through culturing bacteria in their nutrient absorption zones (just like the human digestive systemt) Trees FEED sugars from photosynthesis back down to the roots and out to the soil microbes, (the bacteria and the fungus) which in turn break use the sugars to grow and digest minerals and proteins which feed the soil and the tree.
Then comes Soil Structure. Bacteria and fungus also AERATE the soil by creating "Soil Structure" Fungi have strands called "hyphae" that spread out in the soil and loosen it. Bacteria exude "glomulin" which is a glue that holds soil particles together. "LIVING SOIL" with fungal and bacterial colonies, then acts like a sturdy sponge, the hyphae strands expand with rain and excess water passes through. Fungal and bacterial colonies also crowds out any harmful pathonogenic and dissease causing bacteria and fungus before they have a chance to grow. The soil life remains in "stasis" with the good microbes winning and crowding out the bad microbes.
What happens when the Soil is Damaged.
When soil is COMPACTED by truck tires or roots are disturbed by digging, the pathonogenic bacteria and fungus has a chance to take over. COMPACTED soil cannot retain oxygen or water and disease organisms thrive in an ANAEROBIC environment, without sufficient oxygen. The soil pH then goes out of balance in the root zone and the tree suffers.
What does nsect damage on a tree really mean? When a tree is suffering, insects recognize weakness and smell stress hormones from the tree. Insects wil attack a tree in the same manner as a wolf stalking the deer. They seek out and hunt the one limping at the back of the herd. A stressed or sick tree is sending distress cues to the insects that they are limping at the back of the herd. Therefore, insect problems are rarely the actual problem. Something else is the problem in the root zone of the tree and the insects are a sign of distress. Treating trees with insecticides is therefore foolish and doesn't solve the actual problem of the tree stressor. Usually a pathogenic fungus has taken hold and the insects are "finishing off" the tree. There are exceptions where perfectly healthy trees can be attacked by dstructive invasive insects, such as Emerald Ash Borer and Gypsy Moth and Hemlock Wooley Adelgid.. Those exceptions are easy to identify and in those cases BIORATIONAL and ORGANIC BASED insectides may be warranted.
Spray Pesticide, then the pests arrive. Synthetic pesticides kill ALL insects, including the native insects that birds need and the insect predators like ladybugs and praying mantis. Because pesticides are often more efficient at killing larger insect predators than tiny insect "pests", sometimes the pests reproduce in greater numbers a couple weeks later and now they have no predators. Countless studies have shown pesticide can cause greater outbreaks than if no pesticide was used. Pesticides also kill native insects, which are the only food for baby birds, as baby birds cannot eat seeds. Pesticides also kill soil dwelling worms and soil arthropods and thus upset the food web of the soil and the pH.
The Answer is Biologically Active Compost Biologically active compost is green matter compost mixed with woodchips and food waste that has been turned and aerated regularly to "culture" the soil life, in the same way a tree cultures the nutrient giving life in its root area. When you add a half inch of compost to the top of a root zone of an at-risk tree, the compost drains its life down into the soil when it rains and starts the process of natural AERATION and NUTRIENT CREATION. Yes there are bacteria in the compost that "FIX" nitrogen from the air and essentially CREATE amino acids (the base material of protein) out of thin air. The trees in your yard whose leaves you rake away every year, they keep producing new leaves with no addition of organic matter to their root zones. Now we have an understanding how they do that, using nitrogen fixing bacteria. It's also been discovered that White Pine trees cultivate a type of fungus that baits and "eats" insects like a predator. The insects digested bodies contain nitrogen, which is sent to the tree roots and absorbed into the pine tree. Scientists have studied this by feeding the insects readioactive food and then following the radioactive trail through the fungus and all the way up to the top of the pine tree.
This is how we use Biologically Active Compost. We use a 1 to 4 biologically active compost mixed with existing soil when we plant new gardens or vegetable seedlings we find that the plants "POP" into growth when their roots grow into the composted zone. After a few weeks they show larger than expected leaves, the pigmentation of the leaves is dark and true and the flowering and fruiting size is improved. When applying compost to exisiting plantings the effect is slower and more magical.
This is how we build long term self sustaining soil. Over a period of years the soil is improved in gardens by adding more woody plantings to "culture" the soil (see above) and adding types of annual plantings that cover the ground and "fix" nitrogen into the soil. Avoiding any synthetic applications, and seasonally adding a thin layer of compost for the first 3 years, the soil starts to take on its own responsibility for cycling nutrients in a manner as discussed above. The rewards from an organically managed landscape is truly a garden of eden. Many of our customers with longtime organic management have plants that look like monsters: 2 foot tall common clover with 3 inch wide clove leafs, vegetables that leak juice as soon as they are picked, trees abnormally large fruit, (I can't wait to post my pictures now that they have a proper introduction) A garden of Eden begins with understanding that life is created (or coevolved) by collaboration and benefit. When we till the soil and apply input/output models of soil science, we eat from the tree of knowledge and lose Eden. When we trust in dynamic relationships and the efficient markets of nature, then we recieve our inheritance.
-Andrew Bachman (860) 888 8472