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Grading Landscapes - Part 3

by Dan Eskelson on Apr 30, 2012

Please also visit Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this article.

We discussed basic soil work in a recent article, Equipment for Grading Landscapes Part 1 and Part 2, the extreme importance of soil quality to the success of your landscape justifies a few more thoughts. As I was working up to one of my vegetable beds a few days ago, I was reminded of some of the lessons my father taught me many years ago.

He was a soil science major at the University of California, Berkeley. His master's thesis involved extensive experimentation with various natural and synthetic fertilizer combinations in both hydroponic (all water) and soil environments. The experiments produced tomatoes and other crops of almost any color, size and quality by varying the fertilizer type, amount and combination.

The results of these experiments concluded without a doubt that the largest, best tasting tomatoes were grown using a very simple fertilizer - namely, horse #$&*. Yes, plain old horse manure proved to be far superior to anything "modern" agriculture had come up with to that date.

I have read that very similar results have been obtained in recent controlled experiments, and in my gardens have observed that natural soil amendments are far superior to those produced synthetically.

The large synthetic fertilizer companies have long tried to convince us that we need byproducts of the petrochemical industry to fertilize our plants - don't believe it. Centuries old natural fertilization methods and materials are still the most effective.

Proponents of chemical fertilizers will argue that the same basic nutrients (i.e. nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, etc.) are supplied by chemical products. This is quite true - but the essential difference is that only natural materials supply the all important humic acids, beneficial bacteria and other microbial life essential to both the vitality of the plant and its ability to assimilate basic nutrients.

Healthy soil is not an inert, lifeless substance - it's full of microscopic life forms that are essential for the development of plant life. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides not only do not add to this microbial life, in many cases they destroy it.

We could make further arguments for natural soil improvement by citing studies that document the pollution resulting from the runoff of highly soluble synthetic products. Even the turfgrass industry, which supports the cultivation of huge acreages of monoculture crops (golf courses), has begun working to encourage the use of natural, soil-building materials and methods.

So, the next time your garden "expert", TV commercial, or retailer encourages you to buy petrochemical-based fertilizers, ask for the natural alternatives. There is an increasing number of these products, ranging from bulk compost to bagged products formulated from natural sources. Some are indeed more expensive, initially than their synthetic counterparts, but their slow release and soil building qualities make them more cost effective.

OK, perhaps this has been enough about soil management. In the next issue, we'll move on to another topic. Just one more time...healthy soil grows healthy plants.

Please also visit Making the Grade Part 1 and Part 2 of this Article.

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