Maximum Soil Health: Organic vs. Synthetic
From Chapter 4 of "Healthy Garden Healthy You" by Milo Shammas
You may think of soil as little more than an anchor to hold plants in place. That's like thinking the ocean is nothing more than a liquid to float ships on. The soil itself is like an ocean filled with life and needing regular feeding.
As an organic gardener concerned with being healthy and living on a healthy planet, you must understand the difference between feeding the soil and feeding plants. Organic fertilizers and synthetic fertilizers work in fundamentally different ways. Organic fertilizers feed the living microorganisms in the soil. Synthetic fertilizers feed plant roots directly. You might ask, what is the difference as long as my plants grow? The difference is a short-term result that looks good for a while (synthetic chemicals), as opposed to the lasting benefits of improved soil health, plant health, and in the case of edibles, even your own health (from organics).
When you feed the soil with organic fertilizers, you build nutrient reserves. Plant roots can regularly tap into these reserves. This approach builds soil structure and makes it more porous, encouraging roots to expand into the rhizosphere. Using organic fertilizers also suppresses disease, creates biological diversity, supports a neutral pH, forms humus and adds minerals and micronutrients to a living soil.
Chemical fertilizers feed plants directly while ignoring the soil. Plants can grow this way, because the growth factors in chemical fertilizers are in a form that plants can absorb immediately. While this sounds attractive, it adds nothing beneficial to the soil. In fact, repeated use of chemicals over time can actually deplete the soil.
Organic fertilizers and amendments feed the soil that feeds your plants, slow and steady as Mother Nature intended. Because organic fertilizers and amendments are pure, natural ingredients, beneficial microbes in the soil digest them as a food source. Then the microbes convert the organics into a simpler form that plant roots can absorb as needed.
By contrast, chemical fertilizers leach through the soil, contaminate the water table and waste nutrients. The notion that plants will look good and be healthy if we add the right mix of chemical salts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to the soil, is yesterday's view.
Do not be misled by the giant agribusiness scientific community that touts "miracle" results by using advanced blue liquid potions. The corporate agricultural industry has a large financial interest in selling water-soluble blue potions that have high dollar profit margins. Because of this, I have become quite pessimistic about governmental agencies and universities that receive research funding from giant agribusinesses focusing on the vital concept of nurturing the soil.
Expanded awareness leading to changes in widespread practices will have to come from people like us who care about our family's health and what we put into our bodies. It is up to us in the organic community, including amateur gardeners, to lead the way in discovering (or rediscovering) methods to nurture and protect the soil.
Everyone wants good looking, healthy plants, but many prefer, organic, sustainable ways to reach those goals. Organic gardeners provide plants with the nutrients they need for maximum health potential through the addition of organic fertilizers, soils, kelp meal and fish bone meal. They use non-toxic insect controls. Marketers have claimed chemistry creates a better life. However, our greatest opportunity for a better life, through better soil health, is to leave chemistry behind and move toward biology instead.
The soil is alive. Instead of just adding a particular chemical needed by plants, our soil treatment should support and nurture a diverse web of soil life, as complex and well organized as an ocean ecosystem. By doing so, we nurture our own web of life on earth.
Milo Lou Shammas
Founder and Formulator