The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Soil nutrients

Soil food webFor plants, the primary purpose of soil is as a reservoir of water and nutrients.  If you fertilize your garden with commercial fertilizers, the nutrient cycle is simple --- the fertilizers dissolve in the water and the plants suck them up.  But if you're an organic gardener, nutrient cycles are a lot more complicated.

Some nutrients, like potassium, calcium, and magnesium are extremely soluble in water.  The good news is that they quickly leach out of debris, and the resulting solution of nutrient water is easy for plants to absorb.  On the other hand, if plant roots can't suck the nutrients up fast enough (such as in the winter or during heavy rains), these nutrients are washed away into the surrounding streams or deep into the soil where roots can't reach.  One study showed that half of the calcium and potassium leached out of soil in just four hours.

Other nutrients stay put in dead plant leaves and other debris.  Although they don't leach away as often, these nutrients present their own problems to plants --- how to get at them.  Luckily, soil microorganisms are just waiting for their chance to enter the food web.

This post is part of our Living Soil lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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