Valuing all contributors in the garden

It is easy to focus on plants, the largest inhabitants of our gardens, as the most vital and important component of the system. But there is so much more below the soil that deserves as much, if not more, attention. The health of our plants comes from the health of the soil.

In the garden, every species, above and below the surface, has its own unique set of tasks. Every individual makes a contribution towards the benefit of the whole system. Together, the species work as a system with an intricate set of relationships based on cooperation and alliances.

In order for one plant to grow and flourish, it requires the assistance of hundreds, if not thousands, of species of bacteria, microbes, fungi and other microorganisms beneath the surface of the soil. These helpers work within the soil to convert energy and nutrients to make them bioavailable to the plant; ward off bad bugs and bacteria; and create aeration in the soil.

Understanding why our gardens attract pests

We tend to think that plant-feeding insects and microbes, commonly referred to as “pests and diseases” – are the cause of our plants’ problems, but they are only the result. There are a number of reasons why this is true. First, pest pressure only reaches harmful levels when there are more “bad bugs” than “good bugs”. This only happens when we are not feeding the good organisms in our soil, who will in turn fight off the bad and protect our plants. It is a simple chain reaction.

Second, we can explore the communication network between plants and insects. Insects perceive their environment with their antennae. Just like man-made antennae, they are tuned to receive one or more electromagnetic frequencies. Plants, on the other hand, emit pheromones and many volatile substances. When they are healthy, a plant’s vibrational frequency differs from when it is deficient in one or more nutrients, making it weak or sick.  It is only when a plant enters certain ranges of vibrational frequencies that it attracts pests who are searching for food. In other words, a healthy plant is invisible to its predators. This means that pesticides, which eradicate the pest, only provide a short-term solution to the problem of pest predation in the garden. A longer-term strategy is to ensure the health of the soil, so it can provide the growing plant with the proper nutrients to maintain health.

Shifting our perception of pests and weeds

The cause of plant disease is poor nutrition and an unhealthy soil ecosystem. The fate of plants is as inseparably entwined with that of the soil as our fate is entwined with theirs. If we want to eat nutritious food we need to take care of the soil, for we too are part of this web of life. We think we protect our plants by killing the plant-feeding insects and microbes, when in fact they remove only the weak and diseased and keep plant species strong. Instead, we should thank the insects for removing the nutrient deficient plants from our own food supply.

In nature, each insect, bacteria and microbe serves a function, but as gardeners, we view those who attack our plants to be negative, even if their natural function is to destroy the weak. Gardeners generally consider insects to be beneficial when they prey on plant “pests”. For instance, ladybugs eat the aphids that attack a wide array of crops, and so in our eyes, ladybugs are beneficial, while aphids are not. Although introducing ladybugs to a crop with aphids may provide a short-term benefit, this again is not a long-term solution, as it does not address the root cause of the aphids’ presence. We must understand that a healthy plant may have a few pests and be nibbled on, but it will not be infested with insects or microbes. These only seriously attack nutrient deficient plants; within the natural world, this is highly beneficial as it allows the strongest plants to survive and reproduce. In a healthy system, we should see both aphids and ladybugs naturally, with the ladybugs having a healthy population that can survive on a diet of pests, whereas in an integrated pest management system, the ladybugs would be present in abundance for a short period to eradicate the pest, and then would leave or die off, as there would be a food shortage.

But what about weeds? There are no definitive weed species; weeds are simply plants that are better adapted to the growing conditions our garden provides than the plants we would rather see. Weeds help to fill the ground when we leave it bare so the soil organisms there can continue to fed. They add biodiversity and attract pollinators and beneficial bugs. If we look closely at the species present, they also indicate the nutrients our soils have in abundance or are deficient in. If weeds are taking over, they do need to be controlled. This can be done by ensuring the ground is covered and the soil is adapted to grow the plant species you desire. 

Finding long-term solutions

We’ve learned that in order to keep the plants in our gardens healthy, we need healthy soil and soil organisms. But how do we keep soil healthy? We keep soil healthy by giving its inhabitants the basic necessities of life. The soil needs to be well-watered in times of drought; the soil should be mulched to provide shelter, prevent erosion and help to retain moisture; cover crops should be added to fallow lands throughout the year to add nutrients, decrease weed pressure and decrease erosion; compost, manure and natural fertilizers should be added to feed the soil microorganisms, which will, in turn, feed the plants. It’s really that simple.

And of course, remember to use PlantCatalyst®! For more than 40 years, growers have been using PlantCatalyst® to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers, enhance seed germination, substantially increase yield, and maximize profits.