Building Soil Health
AMCoT Nutritionals™ are designed to support and improve soil health organically and promote strong plant growth by developing the soil food web. Our objective is to design products that provide a foundation of nutritional components that support the growth of soil microorganisms and build soil health. These organic blends are varied to fit the requirements for which the product is labeled. They are then modified with traditional plant nutritional components to meet the Guaranteed Analysis. These includes vegetable protein hydrolysate, humic and fulvic acids, kelp and other organics. When provided throughout the growing season, these natural products provide an additional nutritional input to soil microorganisms thus allowing the plant to use the energy produced by photosynthesis to be directed to plant growth.
Vegetable protein hydrolysate provides a source of over 21 different amino acids. Humic acid help build a recalcitrant pool of carbon to support long-term needs for both microorganisms and plants. Fulvic acid provides a liable carbon pool providing a short term carbon source to soil microbes. Kelp and other organics provide an excellent blend of trace minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates, growth regulators, and amino acids all contributing to growth. These plant based products help provide a natural way to implement the symbiotic relationship between the soil microbes and the plant. It is this relationship, between the plant and the soil in which it grows, that is known as soil health.
The key to building soil health is to:
- Understanding that soil is a biological system
- Soil health is improved by disturbing the soil less
- Maintaining living roots in the soil as much as possible
- Growing the greatest diversity of plants
- Keeping the soil always covered with residue(Mulch)
What is Soil Health? Why Should I Care?
First, you need to understand soil is a biological system.
A simple definition of soil health is the capacity of a soil to function. How well is your soil functioning to filtrate water and cycle nutrients to support growing plants?
Soil works for you if you work for the soil. Consider yourself as a caretaker. Knowing the correct practices that improve soil health will increase your enjoyment immediately and into the future. A fully functioning soil produces the best plants at the least cost. Maximizing soil health is essential to maximizing positive results from your labor and dollars spent. Soil will not work for you if you abuse it.
Soil is a living factory of macroscopic and microscopic workers who need food to eat and places to live to do their work. Managing for soil health (improved soil function) is mostly a matter of maintaining suitable habitat for the myriad of creatures that comprise the soil food web. Amazingly, there are more individual organisms in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on earth; thus, the soil and its processes are controlled by these organisms. This living “soil factory” is powered primarily by sunlight which is converted to food by photosynthesis. Microbes are natures original most efficient chemical manufacturing plant. The more you feed the soil with the correct balanced diet of organics the great the output of food for the plant.
Homeowners are provided with soil, water, and sunlight. The challenge is to feed the soil, harvest sunlight for growth and care for your lawn and garden sustainably to maintain your home investment now and in the future. Fertilizer, pesticides, and other management tools can be used to improve soil health, or they can significantly damage soil health if not applied correctly.
Second, you need to realize that disturbing the soil is a nightmare to the natural biological system.
The damage wrought on the soil of a newly constructed home is the equivalent of an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, and forest fire occurring simultaneously to the world of soil organisms. Physical soil disturbance from heavy equipment and construction residue results in bare or compacted soil. This is destructive and disruptive to soil microbes and creates a hostile, instead of hospitable, place for them to live and work. Simply stated, the soil surrounding the construction of new homes is bad. Very bad.
If your home has been preowned, the soil may also be disturbed chemically or biologically through the misuse of inputs, such as fertilizers and pesticides. Taking the time and spending some up front dollars for a soil analysis will help you understand your soil needs. This service is obtained through Texas A&M Soil Analysis Lab. It is your link as a homeowner to seek help from your Local County Extension Agent in making sure you have the best lawn and garden possible. (Link to TAMU Soil Analysis)
What happens when we supply inputs to the soil? Soil and all the organisms that live and grow in it have been cycling plant nutrients for a very long time without any human intervention. Consequently, soil and plants have very efficient and sophisticated ways of working together to ensure their mutual sustainability. When we add chemical inputs to the soil, we need to understand and respect existing soil and plant relationships, or we might actually be setting the system up to be inefficient, or worse, to fail altogether. The natural components in AMCoT Nutritional’s™ provide and excellent way of providing consistent nutrition to the soil web. Having a consistent feeding program is preferable to one which focus on feeding once or twice a year.
If fertilizer nutrients are applied to the soil in excess, plants will develop excessive top growth but does not develop associations with soil organisms that help them acquire water and nutrients. It is a great visual for the homeowner but after the “party is over” and the synthetic fertilizer is gone, the plants are left “high and dry” with few to no soil factory workers to help them access water and nutrients for the remainder of the growing season. Using a feeding program that provides small amounts over the growing season is the intelligent way to maintain a lawn or garden. This prevents the plants from giving up valuable energy (sugars) in an attempt to make connections with microbe’s mid-way through the growing season. Providing the correct nutrition early in the growing season to aid in the development of a healthy root systems is very important. A healthy root system is critical. It is required to access moisture in the heat of summer and to support plant growth when applications of nitrogen are added to increase the color of the lawn. Plants become very inefficient as they try to function without the soil health support system with which they evolved.
By pacing of nutrient inputs, we can take advantage of the nutrient cycles in the soil to supply nutrients and allow plants to make essential associations with soil organisms. This ensures that plants are able to achieve their full potential, and the soil is allowed to perform all of its desired functions to its full potential. If we acknowledge the complex life in the soil and work with it instead of disturbing it, we will harness a tremendous biological engine.
Third, it is about the roots and the natural microbial processes that occur under your feet every second of the day.
The soil food web is a complex association of organisms responsible for breaking down plant residues and cycling plant-available nutrients in the soil. Every organism has something that it eats…or something that eats it. There are many sources of food in the soil that feed the soil food web, but there is no better food than the sugars exuded by living roots.
Living plants maintain a rhizosphere, an area of concentrated microbial activity close to the root. The rhizosphere is the most active part of the soil factory because it is where the most easy to eat food is available, and it is where peak nutrient and water cycling occurs. Microbial food is exuded by plant roots to attract and feed microbes that provide nutrients (and other compounds) at the root-soil interface where the plant can take them up.
When carbon is not available from living roots, nutrient and water cycling occur at a much slower rate. The process is slower because the microbes involved have to do more work, often allocating parts of tasks to many other organisms and transporting the resources further.
Soil organisms feed on sugar from living plant roots first. Next, they feed on dead plant roots. This is followed by above-ground crop residues, such as grass clippings, flowers, and leaves. Lastly, they feed on the humic organic matter in the soil.
Dead plant roots and plant residues have to be shredded by soil microarthropods, such as mites, springtails, woodlice, earwigs, beetles, and ants. Plant residues have to be transported from the soil surface to living plant roots through long lines of multiple organisms. The humic organic matter must be processed by a wide variety of organisms before the nutrients locked up in such material are available to the plant.
Healthy soil is dependent upon how well the soil food web is fed. Providing plenty of easily accessible food to soil microbes helps them cycle nutrients that plants need to grow. Sugars from living plant roots, recently dead plant roots, grass clippings, leaf residues, and soil organic matter all feed the many and varied members of the soil food web.
Forth, plant diversity in the landscape brings microbe diversity in the soil.
A living functioning soil depends on an efficient flow of the light energy originating from the sun. Using chlorophyll to absorb sunlight energy, green plants transform atmospheric carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates (starches, sugars, lignin, cellulose) in a process known as photosynthesis. The sun’s light energy is stored in these carbon compounds, which provide the building blocks for plant roots, stems, leaves, and seeds.
There are two primary mechanisms for carbon to get into the soil and feed the organisms in the soil food web. The first mechanism involves the association between plants and particular types of microbes. In a process called rhizodeposition, sugars made by the plant are released from their roots and traded to microbes for nutrients that support plant growth. This mutual feeding system between the plant and the microbes is driven by a highly complex chemical sensing system. Using products that help establish and maintain this chemical communication form the basis of how AMCoT Nutritionals™ has designed its products.
The second mechanism is by soil life decomposing dead plant material, such as leaves, stems, and roots, and subsequently releasing carbon into the soil in their waste products or as they die and decompose. In these ways, carbon that was once in the atmosphere is transferred into the soil as organic matter. This carbon deposit provides the homeowner a positive long-term payback in the quality of their landscape investment. The humic and fulvic acids in AMCot Nutritionals™ such as Humic 15% and Kickstart add to help build carbon in depleted soils and provide new construction homeowners a resource begin the process or soil restoration.
Soil microorganisms are responsible for decomposing organic matter and releasing plant available nutrients. A diversity of plant carbohydrates is required to support the assortment of soil microorganisms that live in the soil. To achieve this level of diversity, different plants should be grown in the landscape. The key to improving soil health is that food and energy chains and webs consists of several types of plants or animals, not just one or two. A guiding principle is that diversity above ground (plants) equals diversity below ground (the soil food web). Growing a diverse landscape plants is an excellent way to increase the diversity of the soil food web.
Biodiversity is ultimately the key to success of any landscape system. Lack of biodiversity severely limits the potential of any system and disease and pest problems are increased. A diverse and fully functioning soil food web provides for nutrient, energy, and water cycling that allows a soil to express its full potential. Increasing the diversity of plants increases soil health and soil function. A feeding program that includes AMCoT Nutritionals™ contributes the amino acids, carbohydrates and other carbon resources to support a diverse soil web.
Fifth, It is all about shade and moisture. Provide the soil a natural mulch roof.
Direct heat from the sun is a natural enemy of a healthy soil. Soil cover, such as mulch, conserves moisture, intercepts raindrops to reduce their destructive impact, suppresses weed growth. It also provides habitat for members of the soil food web that spend at least some of their time above ground. If improving soil health is your goal, you should not see the soil very often. Soil should always be covered by growing plants and/or their residues and, it should rarely be visible from above.
Soil cover protects soil aggregates from ‘taking a beating’ from the force of falling raindrops. Even a healthy soil with water-stable aggregates (held together by biological glues) that can withstand wetting by the rain may not be able to withstand a ‘pounding’ from raindrops. When water-stable soil aggregates are covered by crop residues or living plants, they are protected from disintegration by the hammering energy of raindrops. When soil aggregates remain intact at the soil surface, water infiltrates the soil and is available to plant roots.
A mulch of plant residues on the soil surface suppresses weeds early in the growing season. They also keep the soil cool and moist which provides favorable habitat for many organisms that begin residue decomposition by shredding residues into smaller pieces. If these “shredders” have good residue habitat they can increase residue decomposition, and therefore nutrient cycling, by up to 25%.
For a homeowner to become a successful lawn man or gardener requires access to products designed to build influence the biodiversity of the microbes in the soil web. AMCoT Nutritionals™ are the result of over forty years of experience working with microorganisms and know what is required to achieve optimum performance. We look forward to hearing your success stories.