The organisms of the soil food web function to decompose organic and toxic compounds, cycle and retain plant nutrients (thereby improving soil fertility), build soil structure (increases soil porosity and water-holding capacity), suppress disease-causing organisms (through competition of resources such as food and space), protect plant surfaces, and stimulate plant growth and crop yield.
A healthy soil food web occurs when an abundant and diverse soil biology is present and functioning. However, human activities, chemical inputs and other disturbances can contribute to the degradation and loss of existing soil food webs, resulting in poor quality soils and plants. In such instances, the proper biology must be reintroduced. Soil conditions can be improved with the appropriate inputs (natural and organic fertilizers, amendments, compost and compost teas, biological inoculants) to encourage establishment of a diverse food web. Additionally, organic food sources such as sea kelp extract, fish hydrolysate, molasses, compost, oatmeal and other organic amendments can be added to the soil to encourage soil microbial activities.
Organic fertilizers often have a lower guaranteed analysis for nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. This is a good thing. In general, it tells you that chemicals or synthetics were not used to make the fertilizer. It is important to understand that a lower guaranteed analysis can mean a more effective fertilizer product, where organics is concerned. Many professional organic growers will tell you that organic fertilizers are more effective when used as part of a holistic management program. Applications of organic fertilizers results in long-term improvements to soil quality and increases in soil biodiversity. When biodiversity exists, soils are more productive and -- over time -- less fertilizer is actually required.
In contrast, synthetic fertilizers are known to be derived from fossil fuels (petroleum). Furthermore, they frequently have a high potential to leach out of the soil and contaminate the environment downstream. Synthetic fertilizers often provide quick and short feeding of nutrients to the plant, by way of chemicals. Another disadvantage is that synthetic/chemical fertilizers do not function to condition the soil nor promote biodiversity. Long-term applications of chemical fertilizers often can result in degradation of soil quality, reduction of biodiversity, and increased occurrences of diseases and pests.
Use of organic and natural products can contribute to the development of ecological balance and generate biodiversity. A soil rich with active biodiversity further promotes sustainable crop systems. Establishing biodiversity begins with the soil food web.
The Soil Food Web
The soil food web is a diverse community of organisms and plants living in and above the soil. The underground food web is comprised of a myriad of soil microorganisms ranging from bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, micro-arthropods, to larger soil dwellers such as earthworms, insects, small vertebrates, plants, and many, many more. These organisms interact closely with plants root systems and perform many important ecological and soil functions.
Why Use Organic and Natural Fertilizers?
The United States Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program defines organic as a labeling term that indicates the "food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used." Food products labeled as organic require farmers to use third-party-verified fertilizers that meet USDA's organic requirements.
The term "organic," when used to describe fertilizers, has a slightly different definition. Organic fertilizers are made from plant and/or animal by-products and, as such, they are not chemically derived. Organic fertilizers can be made from, for example, soybean, corn meal, animal manure, bone meal, or even feather meal.
Source: USDA, Soil & Water Conservation Society
Another common term used to label fertilizers and soil amendments is "natural". Natural fertilizers include inert ingredients extracted from nature such as rock phosphate and limestone.
When purchasing quality organic fertilizers, look for third-party certification on the packaging. Well-known third-party certifying agencies include the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), California Department of Agriculture (CDFA), and the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
Applications of GrowBetter™ organic fertilizers are proven to improve soil structure and enhance the soil food web. Not only do GrowBetter™ fertilizers provide plant nutrients, but they also condition the soil with organic matter to promote and conserve biodiversity.
Visit our online store to purchase GrowBetter™ organic fertilizer products.
Why use organic fertilizers? What is the Soil Food Web?