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Nutrient Cycling: nature's way of fertilizing

Nutrient deficiencies can be so frustrating!

Whether its crops or turf, synthetic inputs or organic, just when you think you’ve dialed in your fertilizer regimen, some plants can take a turn and start showing signs of deficiency - what the heck is that all about?

Well, I’ll tell you what its not: a personal vendetta plants have against us. Though, it does feel that way sometimes… (I'm sure they feel the same about us!)

Often, the way we treat the rootzone (i.e. with a good deal of disturbance and without consideration for its biology) results in a very bacteria-dominant soil, with little to no predators. This is important: when a predator eats prey in the soil, they produce waste which is chock full of plant-available nutrients. So, a soil lacking organisms which feed on bacteria means the nutrient cycle is restricted, leading to powerless plants reliant on our ability to pick and choose the right nutrients to feed them (the pressure!)

Even when we seemingly get these concoctions right, often we’ve merely found a pathway to “green” up the plant, without actually addressing the underlying vulnerabilities.

A plant is simply less vulnerable when in partnership with the microbial populations they evolved with.

Do you know what predator and prey organisms are functioning in your soil or amendments?

If you have mostly bacteria, know that you’re not alone - this is ground zero ecologically speaking and a very common place to find ourselves in designed and cultivated landscapes. A good next step is to find or make an amendment that has bacterial-feeding organisms living in it - like flagellates, amoeba, and beneficial nematodes. You’d also likely benefit from an increase in fungal biomass, depending on the plant type.

You may be thinking, “easier said than done”, right? Unfortunately, it can be challenging to find excellent sources of compost. Hopefully that changes as existing compost producers start feeling the pressure of the increasing demand for biology-based compost, and as consumers demand more nutrient dense crops.

In the meantime, a little testing can go a long way! You can at least know what is or isn’t in your soil and the amendments available to you. This will inform the next right step, and before you know it you’ll have a much more empowered approach to stewarding your plants and their nutrient cycling team belowground.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Comment below or email me your thoughts / questions directly at

- Andie

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