“If organic farming is the natural way, shouldn’t organic produce just be called ‘produce’ and make the pesticide-laden stuff take the burden of the adjective?”
The USDA Organic Certification label both helped and hurt organic gardening and farming.
The introduction of the organic certification addressed a growing demand for organic food. It assured quality and created a formalized certification so farmers could sell legitimately “organic” produce in the marketplace.
The certification also defined organic for the general consumer. (In part, the definition says organic food must be grown without sewage, synthetic chemical inputs, or GMO seeds.) On the surface, this sounds like a great thing!
But to an experienced backyard gardener, this definition falls short in explaining what organic growing truly is.
Instead of a list of things that shouldn’t be used, organic growers typically focus on a handful of concepts that should be practiced. Instead of a reactive avoidance of certain farming practices, it’s a proactive effort to promote and enhance biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity.
When gardeners understand these concepts, pesticides and sewage sludge become non-issues.
Without diving into each of these concepts, below are some useful tips about soil biology and how to make your garden healthier and “more organic” by using an incredible fungus called mycorrhizae.
In one spoonful of soil, there are more bacteria than there are humans on the planet.
Healthy soil has tons of microorganisms living in it. (There are literally tons of microbes in an acre of topsoil.) In one cup of soil, there can be 200 billion bacteria!
In one spoonful of soil, there are more bacteria than there are humans on the planet. Microbes are critical to organic growing. They provide nutrients to plants, regulate soil conditions, act as buffers to toxins and other impediments to plant growth, and help plants absorb water and nutrients.
In short, you have to have microbes to have a healthy organic garden. How to maintain healthy soil biology:
In the soil, plant roots and fungus called mycorrhizae partake in a mutually beneficial relationship.
Mycorrhizae fungus colonizes plant roots and extends further into the soil, much like plant roots do. They absorb water and nutrients for the plant, and increase the surface area of the root system by 100 to 1000 times! There are actually 62 miles of fungus in a single cup of soil.
Mycorrhizae also release enzymes that break down more nutrients for the plants. This lowers the amount of water and nutrients you need to add to your soil.
3 Steps to Maintain Healthy Mycorrhizal Fungi
- Minimize tilling, which breaks up fungi.
- Inoculate your garden with mycorrhizae. There are multiple ways to do this, but we suggest placing a Plant Success Tablet at the bottom of a hole when transplanting crops. (Although 90% of plants form relationships with mycorrhizae, the brassica crops actually don’t. Therefore, no need to use the tabs on your broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower transplants.)
- Keep your phosphorus levels low. High levels of phosphorus inhibit the binding between mycorrhizae and plant roots. If your levels are high, avoid using phosphorus-rich fertilizers and amendments.
The Urban Farm Company installs gardens with soil pre-inoculated with beneficial bacteria and mycorrhizae. We also inoculate plant roots with mycorrhizae when we plant them in gardens.
There is another amazing beneficial microbe you can add to your garden that has been proven to substantially increase the health of your beans and pea plants.