Getting the Most Out Of an Organic Soil
You’ve been pricing different potting soils, trying to decide which one to invest in; how do you choose?
Our first piece of advice is not to buy high-priced soil that “contains mycorrhizae.” Beneficial fungi are great, but they can’t live in a bag of soil. They need a root zone to glom onto and create a colony. Also, bags of soil usually reach temperatures too high for mycorrhizae to survive in. If you buy soil advertising that it has mycorrhizae, you’re paying extra for something that’s probably already dead (sad, right??).
Next, look for a soil formula composed of a broad spectrum of amendments. Feeding your plants with lots of different goodies is a better strategy than hitting them repeatedly with just one component. Think of how plants grow in the wild: they eat anything and everything that is peed, pooped, or has died on top of them! They pick up whatever particulates rain drops on them (hopefully beneficial ones), and they ingest matter from other plants that are decomposing around them. Plants do not naturally adhere to a meat-and-potatoes diet; they like variety. Check out the descriptions for our Gaia’s Gift and Zen Blend to see examples of well-rounded soil formulas.
Back to our first point—if you want boost results with an organic potting soil, inoculate with mycorrhizae and beneficial bacteria during transplant, and even after. Then, help these critters thrive and create a healthy rhizophere by feeding them with liquid fish. Even better, feed them with compost tea several times throughout the growing season! We advocate this strategy because microbial action makes the nutrients in your soil more available to your plants. As you add beneficial bacteria, fungi, etc., they multiply, eat the nutrients, and spew them out in a form better suited to plant uptake. Certain bacteria, such as those in the Bacillus family, also help protect against root blight and systemic powdery mildew, so you’re doing a long-term strategy just by creating a strong root zone.
Let’s say you invested in really good soil last spring, and you want to save some money this upcoming grow season.
You may be able to cut costs by reusing your soil! While we would love it if all our customers purchased dozens of yards of brand-new soil every year, we also want them to get the best bang for their buck and use sustainable methods. High-quality potting soils, especially ones based on coconut coir and/or peat moss, are reusable for several years. As time goes on, the particles do break down and reduce air porosity and drainage, but it takes time for that to happen. For the first three or so years, the drainage and porosity are usually adequate, which means all you really need to do is re-amend the soil. To that end, we released a brand-new product in spring 2018: Refresh 6-6-3. It’s essentially the same amendment package that goes into our Gaia’s Gift potting soil but in slightly different ratios. It has a great NPK for vegetative season, and it’s good for tilling in or top-dressing. It’s multi-purpose, too! Add what you need to your grow operation, then spread the leftovers in your melon patch (or other edible that likes a nice nitrogen kick). If you prefer to tailor your own amendment package, we recommend the addition of slow-release meals and minerals as well as materials containing soluble nitrogen, such as composted chicken manure, blood meal, fish bone meal, and alfalfa meal. Good examples of slow-release materials are soybean meal, crustacean meal, feather meal, seabird guano, and pelletized chicken manure.
If re-amending isn’t for you, we suggest one more way to get the most out of your soil: repurpose once-used soil to grow flowers. We have a customer who reuses season-old Gaia’s Gift to grow amazingly healthy petunias, dahlias, and other flowers.
His property is abundant in pollinators thanks to this ingenious sustainability, and we’re pretty sure those little ladies are just as happy about it as he is! If cultivated flowers are too much to add to your plate, try a simple packet of assorted wildflower seeds and broadcast them on a heap of used soil. If they’re native species, they should do fine with just a little water and likely won’t need any care. On the pollinator crisis and its causes, I once heard a honeybee expert say, “The world would be a different place if everyone just went home and planted some flowers.” What have you got to lose? If you have the soil, get more out of it by giving back to the creatures that sustain our food crops!
Written by Kale (Kayla) Rau