Organic Soil: How to Nourish Your Soil

For healthy plants and a healthy planet, use organic soil and fertilizers.

| March/April 2004

  • Organic fertilizer improves soil texture and protects plants against pests and disease.
    Photos Courtesy Common Ground Organic Garden Supply and Education Center

Since the dawn of agriculture, people have known that healthy plants need healthy soil. But modern practices have made even organic soil fertilizing more complicated than it used to be. Here’s the latest on the age-old art of nourishing your soil organically.

Why organic soil?

“It makes no difference to your tomato plant if the atom of nitrogen it is absorbing has come from a compost pile or a fertilizer factory,” states a University of Saskatchewan department of horticultural science publication. So why use organic soil fertilizer? Think of it as feeding your soil, not just your plants.

When you apply organic fertilizers and organic soil amendments, you feed billions of soil microorganisms, which in turn break down the organic matter into nutrients that plants can use—including certain forms of nitrogen. Unlike synthetic fertilizers, which provide only a few major nutrients that can leach easily out of the root zone, most organic oil fertilizers dally in the soil, providing a steady supply of nutrients.

Organic soil fertilizer does more than just nourish plants. It also improves the soil’s texture, buffers the soil against extremes of pH, and helps plants resist pests and disease. About 90 percent of the time, insects choose unhealthy plants to attack, according to John Jeavons in How to Grow More Vegetables (Ten Speed, 2002). “The insect is not the source of the problem,” he writes, “but rather an unhealthy soil is.” And just like people, he adds, healthy plants on a good diet are less susceptible to disease.

How does your garden grow?

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