My Grandfather was an old school farmer from way back who depended on his crops for his living. He, like farmers then and now, knew that the secret to optimum yield and plant health begins in the soil. If the soil was just right and other conditions were favorable, his yields were higher and he could make a descent living that would get his family through the rest of the year.
My grandfather also knew that the condition and health of the soil directly influenced the plants ability to resist disease and insects. Having to use any type of insecticide on his farm was virtually unheard of. And yet, he had no insect problem.
So the question of what is the secret to healthier and more beautiful plants should really begin with the question of what is the secret to healthy soil.
Many factors will influence the quality and condition of your soil. And at the top of the list is the ph (acidity or alkalinity) of soil. Most folks have heard about soil ph but very few know how important it is and the difference it makes in color, yield, flavor, heath, etc.
If the ph of soil is incorrect, nutrient uptake is limited or restricted altogether. It doesn’t matter how much fertilizer you add, the plants won’t be able to use it efficiently. Iron, for instance, becomes locked into soil that is too alkaline. It won’t matter how much iron you add, the plant won’t be able to pick it up and use it.
If growing is not optimal, plants start to yellow or look sickly, and there is no obvious signs of insects, the first place to start is by testing the soil. In granddads day, folks would actually taste the soil to test the ph. If it was sweet, it was acid. If it was sour, it was alkaline. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to go out to our gardens and eat dirt. Modern test kits are available at garden centers, they’re inexpensive and easy to use.
Most plants prefer a slightly acid to neutral soil. Neutral is a 7 on the scale while slightly acid is a 6 on the scale. And I did say most plants. Some plants do prefer more acid soil and some do like alkaline. It’s a good idea to know a little bit about what you’re growing.
Now, my grandfather had a magic ingredient that he continually added to the soil. This magic ingredient would actually create healthy soil, buffer perfect ph, and facilitate proper nutrient uptake. It also made plants not so tasty to insects.
A magic ingredient? Not hardly. A lost art and science. Definitely. His magic ingredient was that he dutifully returned everything back into the soil. Everything from plant wastes to manure to kitchen scraps. His magic ingredient was nothing more than pure natural organics. If a soil was found to be out of balance, it was a matter of a simple adjustment. A little bit of sulfur to buffer alkalinity or a little bit of lime to buffer acid and also tilling in more bulk organics.
Farmers and gardeners back then couldn’t rely on a lot of chemical fertilizers because they were either unavailable or they simply couldn’t afford them. Oh I’m sure they would have liked to have had them since it would have made life much easier. However, what we didn’t use then that we do use now is why they had healthier plants, higher yields, better tasting food, more nutritional food, and even more colorful flowers. Again, the difference is organics.
Organically prepared soil eventually becomes stable and naturally balance in ph. All necessary plant nutrients become available and plants are able to use what they need and only when they need it. An excesses of individual nutrients in organic soil will actually be buffered and not do the plants any harm.
Plants grown in organic soils are naturally more resistant to insects and disease. They’re simply healthier and insects and disease generally attacks plants that are already unhealthy to begin with.
Chemical fertilizers are like a quick shot in the arm and plants will greedily take in more than they need. This weakens a plants ability to resist disease and insects. Then, of course, you’re going to need insecticides. However, healthy organic soil is also full of millions of beneficial bacteria and micro-organisms. Chemical fertilizers and insecticides will kill these very necessary elements and weaken plants immune systems even further. And so in using chemicals, we create a never ending no win cycle.
Creating organic soil will take a little effort and won’t happen overnight. It will take a few seasons. However, the rewards will far outweigh the effort. And eventually you’ll find that you spend less time taking care of your garden and more time enjoying it.
To begin with, start saving those leaves and grass clippings. This is a wonderful no cost resource. If you don’t have any of your own, I’m sure your neighbors will give you some of theirs. You can compost them or shred them as top dressing that will eventually break down into the soil.
I’ll also suggest two books to you. Rodales Complete Book Of Composting and Rodales Encyclopedia Of Organic Gardening. These two books alone will give you all the knowledge you need for composting and organic gardening.
Other secret ingredients are all around you, are usually free, and are often found right in your own trash can. Kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, and even some papers can be composted.
Have a friend with a stable? Some folks will let you clean out their stable just for doing it. This is a very inexpensive way to add a lot of bulk organics very quickly. Keep in mind though that manure is better composted as it is extremely alkaline due to a high content of urea.
On top of all of this there is an endless list of organic materials, mineral dusts, and rock fertilizers available through organic gardening stores and sites.
So there you have it. I did learn something from my grandfather. And so did you.