Greenhouse Nutrients

Organic No Till vs. Synthetic Bottle Feeding

When choosing a nutrient regime, one must keep in mind both what is in the soil as well as what the long term goal of the soil is. Here are some questions to start out with:

  1. Does your soil contain a food web?
  2. Is that web active enough to break down organic solids and deliver them to the plant as needed?
  3. Will the soil be reused?
  4. Are you growing in an area with fertile native soil and a long growing season?

If the answer is no to these questions, then a bottled nutrient line will yield the best results. Most lines consist of a products containing a base w/micronutrients and recipes for vegetative and flowering stages of plant growth. These nutrients are water and plant soluble meaning they will be easily absorbed by the plant. At the end of the growing period and without an active food web, the soil mass will contain high levels of salts, be compacted with roots, and left with residual unused nutrients deeming it unfit to be replanted in.

If your answer is yes and your soil contains an abundance of microbial life, the options for organic fertilizer inputs are endless. Microbes are the key to nutrient breakdown and delivery as well as disease and pest resistance.

In an organic system, the plant will excrete sugars through its roots, thus stimulating bacteria and fungi, which break down and deliver nutrients at a rate the plant needs to flourish. A complete soil food web can be installed by numerous compost tea applications, microbial inoculants such as IMO, and/or a no-till gardening practice. In this situation, organic inputs are top dressing around the root ball of the plant, and then left to be broken down as needed by microbes. These Inputs are chosen and applied before and at the beginning of each stage of plant development. At the end of the growing period, dead roots are broken down by the soil food web and turned into nutrients for the next generation. Over time the soil will require less additives with increased plant vitality.

Soil Fertilizers & Microbes

Microbes play an important role in soil by breaking down matter and converting chemicals into a form that can be used by plants. When soil has a healthy microbial population it has more carbon available to nourish that environment. Microbes also consume chemicals from the environment and provide two major services in doing this: the first is that they modify nutrients like nitrogen into a form that plants can use and the second is bioremediation. Bioremediation in the process of microbes in the soil absorbing toxic chemicals, like heavy metals and pesticides, from the soil and either storing or digesting them. The overall effect of a rich microbial population is a healthier environment for the soil and the plants to flourish.

Fertilizer quality is also important and can strongly influence crop productivity and ability to use nitrogen. Organic fertilizers increase activity and population size of microbes resulting in more carbon stores. Synthetic fertilizers, also called chemical or inorganic, do not impart this advantage to the degree that organic fertilizers do. In the long term, inorganic fertilizers reduce microbial populations and activity. Unfortunately, it can take years for microbial populations to recover from long term inorganic fertilizer use, so it is important to avoid depleting the soil in this way.

Nutritional Attributes

Nutritional content is one aspect of quality that provides information about the advantages and disadvantages of agricultural systems. Plants take up nutrients from their growth media (soil and water) which is commonly enriched with fertilizers. Nutrient availability from fertilizers differs between organic and synthetic fertilizers due to the amount of nutrients as well as how fast they are released to the plant’s roots. This influences the plant's growth and production. As an example, the nutritional value of tomatoes is indicated by the levels of calcium, lycopene, and vitamin C they contain while tomato quality is affected by amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium the fertilizer adds in. Organic has been associated with a better nutritional quality as organic tomatoes tend to have higher levels of calcium and vitamin C.

Only a certain level of nutrients is needed in a food crop to provide health benefits. Even if an organic tomato has higher levels of nutrients than a synthetically fertilized or genetically modified tomato, the levels may be in excess to what human nutrition requires. These are just some of the factors to consider when deciding on a nutrient regiment. It is also good to keep in mind that more nutrients does not necessarily mean a better overall product; consulting with an expert on the topic can be beneficial in finding the right balance for your crop.

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References Cited

  1. Fauci, M.F., & Dick, R.P. (1994). Soil microbial dynamics: short-and long-term effects of inorganic and organic nitrogen. Soil Science Society of America Journal, 58(3), 801-806. Retrieved from https://dl.sciencesocieties.org/publications/sssaj/abstracts/58/3/SS0580030801
  2. Paustian, K., Parton, W. J., & Persson, J. (1992). Modeling soil organic matter in organic-amended and nitrogen-fertilized long-term plots. Soil Science Society of America Journal, 56(2), 476-488. DOI:10.2136/sssaj1992.03615995005600020023x Retrieved from https://dl.sciencesocieties.org/publications/sssaj/abstracts/56/2/SS0560020476
  3. Rye, C., Wise, R., Jurukovski, V., DeSaix, J., Choi, J., Avissar, Y., et. al. 2017. Chapter 22: Prokaryotes: Bacteria and Archaea. In OpenStax: Biology (563-598). Houston, TX: OpenStax. Retrieved from https://openstax.org/details/biology
  4. Rye, C., Wise, R., Jurukovski, V., DeSaix, J., Choi, J., Avissar, Y., et. al. 2017. Chapter 46: Ecosystems. In OpenStax: Biology (1367-1396). Houston, TX: OpenStax. Retrieved from https://openstax.org/details/biology
  5. Kaya, S., Caturano, E., Tuzel, Y., Okur, N., & Leonardi, C. (2008). Response of tomato plants to organic nutrition in soilless culture. JOURNAL OF FOOD AGRICULTURE AND ENVIRONMENT, 6(2), 303. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Y_Tuzel/publication/235799210_Response_of_tomato_plants_to_organic_nutrition_in_soilless_culture/links/0f317530b47a55bde5000000/Response-of-tomato-plants-to-organic-nutrition-in-soilless-culture.pdf
  6. Magkos, F., Arvaniti, F., & Zampelas, A. (2003). Organic food: nutritious food or food for thought? A review of the evidence. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 54(5), 357-371. Retrieved from https://mediasrv.aua.gr/eclass/modules/document/file.php/AOA105/ORGANIC%20FOOD/food%20for%20thought.pdf
  7. Premuzic, Z., Bargiela, M., Garcia, A., Rendina, A., & Iorio, A. (1998). Calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin C content of organic and hydroponic tomatoes. HortScience, 33(2), 255-257. Retrieved from http://hortsci.ashspublications.org/content/33/2/255.full.pdf