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Feed the Soil; Feed the Plants

by Mike Murray

We all have to eat. In a forest, leaves fall and enrich the undisturbed soil. Bacteria and fungi decompose the litter and provide nutrients to the trees. In a residential garden bed that has been turned over, dug up and may not have such good soil to begin with; things might not be so rosy.

Of course, the best way to improve the soil is to incorporate compost, with its rich organic matter teeming with life. I almost think compost has magical qualities that make life in the soil and the plants rooted in it, thrive. However, working compost into the soil of a garden bed can be disruptive. Two or three inches of compost-based mulch that breaks down over time really helps. I’m surprised how many gardeners on our program no longer use any mulch. Other people use bark or wood mulch to keep down the weeds, but that stuff builds up and decomposes very slowly, not providing much of value to the soil.

Most of the beds at my own house are covered with leaves, either mulched or composted. I like things to look a little wild so as to make a nice little home for any small animals that like to scurry about and scratch in the soil. Even with natural sources of nutrients, the plants still love a hearty helping of our special sauce.

Our Special Sauce

To add more nutrients where they are most accessible to the plants we have designed a soil drench program that provides a nutritious banquet for perennials, vegetable gardens and shrubs. With the help of Fred Newcombe of PJC Organic, we have come up with formulas that adapt to the seasons and the needs of the plants.

We use a liquid blend of humic acid, seaweed extract, even some beneficial microorganisms together with fish emulsion fertilizer. This blend provides nitrogen, minerals and trace elements that plants need to access nutrients in the soil. It also contains plant hormones that relieve plant stress. And plants have enough stress as it is these days. My corn and tomatoes love this. They may be dawdling around in the spring, but the fish really gives them a boost.

We apply this liquid fertilizer and conditioner with a feed needle that goes just below any mulch and delivers the mix directly above the root zone. If there is no mulch, we can spray it directly on the surface. We do three applications a season. The early spring has a little more fish to give plants a boost. The late spring application and early fall application (done in late August) has more humates and seaweed extract to help reduce and recover from summer stress and gives the plant a growth spurt before it goes into the winter. We usually use 30 to 40 gallons on each property, but are ready to use more if someone has extensive plantings.

The purpose of our soil drench program is to stimulate biological activity and improve the soil. It makes for healthier, more resilient plants and, just as, important happy gardeners and homeowners. I know when I go out, plant the needle and pull the trigger I feel like I am giving each plant a gift that it will appreciate.

About the Author

Mike Murray owns and operates Organic Soil Solutions, an all-organic lawn care company based in Woburn, MA. The company uses a completely organic and proactive approach to plant and soil health care.


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