Infection is defined as an invasion of microorganisms. It is true that some microorganisms can cause disease, but that is not the case with all microbes. Sometimes, an ‘infection’ can be a good thing. As a registered nurse and back-yard farmer, I advocate for ‘infecting’ your soil with microbes! In fact, the key to a healthy, fertile garden is soil that has been ‘infected’ with microorganisms!
For soil to support nutritionally adequate fruits and vegetables, it must be rich in nutrients such as phosphorous, nitrogen and potassium. Chemical fertilizers may contain these essential nutrients. Some may even enhance fruit and vegetable production. However, chemical fertilizers are not without negative environmental health consequences. There is evidence that chemical fertilizers can have a negative impact by damaging and suppressing the microbial life that is essential for soil health. Chemical fertilizers may have negative impacts on human health as well. There is evidence that suggests some of the fruits and vegetables that we eat are less nutritious than they used to be because modern agricultural practices deplete our soils of essential nutrients.
Practitioners of organic and sustainable farming and gardening do not rely on the use of chemical fertilizers. Instead, they rely on methods that conserve environmental resources, including the soil. As I stated earlier, microorganisms are essential for soil health. Microorganisms comprise a world that works in symbiosis to create soil conducive to healthy organic farming. Symbiosis is defined as a close association of two organisms of different species that live together, often to their mutual benefit.
The symbiotic relationship between microorganisms and plants begins when microbes invade the root cells of a plant. Ordinarily, you might think that this would result in a negative consequence. During an infection, most microorganisms feed on their host, causing some type of unfavorable outcome. In this scenario, the microorganisms feed on sugars in the plants root system. As the microorganisms feed on the plant’s sugars, the microorganisms help the plant’s root system grow. The microorganisms concurrently break down nutrients in the soil, such as phosphates, making the nutrients available for the plant to consume. Microorganisms also play a role in the immune systems of plants and help prevent disease. In this context, a symbiotic relationship exists. The microorganisms make nutrients accessible for plants to uptake while the plant simultaneously feeds the microorganisms sugar from the plant’s root system.
Fostering microbial growth in your soil is not a difficult process. For example, adding natural fertilizers such as chicken manure. Chicken manure is high in beneficial bacteria. Chicken manure can also help with disease and bug resistance. Another example is mulching. Mulching is a means of supporting a microorganism friendly environment. Microbes love warm, moist environments! Mulch protects the soil from the summer heat and helps prevent moisture from evaporating. Mulch helps conserve water and extends the wet period following each watering.
In closing, remember that although pathogens may be less abundant in homestead manures, it is recommended to allow three months between application and harvest of root crops or leafy vegetables such as lettuce and spinach to guard against contamination. Regardless of organic or conventional gardening methods, always wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly prior to preparing or cooking.
Eliminating chemical fertilizers, conserving natural resources such as water, and potentially increasing the nutritional value of your food are just some of the environmental and health benefits of ‘infecting’ your soil with microorganisms!
The Nurse Farmer ™