In the “pre-chemical” era (until the end of the nineteenth century) vegetables and fruits were grown without the use of mineral fertilizers and various pesticides, and now farmers have practically forgotten how it was once done by our grandfathers and great-grandfathers. The use of mineral fertilizers greatly facilitated the work of the peasant and increased yields, however, at the same time, it entailed rather serious negative consequences that affected human health..
In previous articles “Stop destroying the earth by digging and weeding”, “Flat cutter instead of a cultivator”, “Biological protection from pests and weeds”, we found out that one of the main goals of organic farming is to maintain ecological balance and care for the land. Today we will deal with the question of how to properly care for the soil in order to restore fertility, to obtain consistently high yields without the use of mineral fertilizers and any other chemicals..
Already at the beginning of the twentieth century, it became clear that the use of mineral fertilizers negatively affects the environment, disrupts the ecological balance and adversely affects human health. At this time, scientists who are considered the founders of organic farming (Albert Howard, Rudolf Steiner, Ehrenfried Pfeiffer), began to sound the alarm, urging to abandon the use of chemistry and use the centuries-old experience of their ancestors in the use of organic matter to restore fertility.
Today, as an alternative to mineral, regenerative agriculture uses various organic fertilizers that do not disrupt the life of soil and land inhabitants and contribute to an increase in the humus layer of the earth. Organic fertilizers are anything that can rot, that is, the bodies of plants and animals, as well as the bodies of microbes that decompose all this. Biological farming uses various organic fertilizers, the main of which are:
- bacterial fertilizers
Humus (humus) is a fertile layer of the earth. The composition of humus includes humic and crenic acids important for soil fertility. It is humus that contains the basic nutrients necessary for the full growth and development of a plant. Under natural conditions, various soil inhabitants (worms, bacteria and other microorganisms) are engaged in the “preparation” of humus. Before turning into a useful fertilizer, plant and animal residues undergo a series of changes. Initially, microbes and fungi work on them, the result of their activity is the appearance of humus. But after the worms work over the humus, the soil is enriched with a substance irreplaceable for plant life – biohumus. Organic farming has developed a whole system of actions that allows you to influence the population of earthworms in dachas and vegetable gardens. We will talk with you about how to properly keep and breed these useful pets, and how to use the result of their vital activity (biohumus) in the following articles..
Any gardener probably knows what manure is. This organic fertilizer contains nitrogen and most of the other elements that crops need for proper growth and development. The introduction of manure improves the structure of the earth, its water and air regimes and chemical properties. Manure contains calcium and magnesium, which reduce the acidity of the soil, and beneficial microorganisms increase its biological activity. Manure is one of the main sources of carbon dioxide, which is essential for plants. The effect of manure applied to the ground continues for several years. However, it is important to note that this fertilizer cannot be used directly, since the fresh manure contains many pathogens. Manure is best used as one of the ingredients for making such valuable organic fertilizer as compost..
How to prepare compost correctly
When preparing this fertilizer, it is important to remember that compost is a community of microorganisms, worms and insects that work diligently to prepare food for plants. And with these “chefs” you need to be able to communicate, understand their needs and life processes.
For the normal existence of microbes, worms and insects need to provide three main conditions. They need food, moisture and oxygen. As a rule, most problems with food and moisture do not arise, but without oxygen, compost can simply turn sour.
The preparation process for this fertilizer should be thoughtful and unhurried. Compost can only be used of high quality, improperly prepared, it not only does not help, but can simply kill plants.
So, let’s figure out what materials can be used, and how they should be processed in order to obtain high-quality beneficial fertilizer. I would like to note right away that fats, tallow, bones and various synthetic materials should not be put on compost heaps and in compost pits. Other dairy and meat wastes are not contraindicated, but they can attract dangerous animals such as rats, and the smells from such a heap will be, to put it mildly, unpleasant. If you use meat and dairy waste, then you need to lay them as deeply as possible and in small quantities.
All other materials used in composting are divided into green, that is, rich in nitrogen, and brown – poor in nitrogen, but rich in fiber. Brown and green materials behave differently in compost and perform different functions. Greens rot quickly and with warming up – this is the so-called stove for a compost heap or pit. Brown ones rot slowly, but provide porosity by trapping air and moisture in the compost.
Green materials include: manure, bird droppings, feces, various kitchen waste, hay, green leaves, mown grass and tops of various crops, weeds.
The best manure for farming is horse manure, the worst is pig manure, as it is too liquid and contains a lot of acid. Pig manure and poultry manure can produce good compost if it is shifted with sawdust or dry straw and allowed to mature until fully ripe. Before applying such compost to the soil, it must be lightly limy. Faeces, any manure and kitchen waste when stacked on compost heaps must be re-layered with brown materials.
Hay is an excellent component for making compost, but when laying it, it must be shifted layer by layer with ready-made humus or watered with an infusion of decayed grass to accelerate the decay process. Fresh grass and other greens require preliminary drying before stacking on a heap. Otherwise, it will thicken and remain without oxygen, which will lead not to decay, but to acidification (you get poisonous silage). If there is no time to dry, and this is how often it happens, then fresh greens need to be shifted with something dry from the category of brown materials.
Brown materials include dry leaves and straw, dry corn cobs, seed husks, paper, bark, sawdust. These constituents are typically used to sandwich green materials, and by themselves they rot slowly and absorb nitrogen, which is an important nutrient. If you compost only brown, then these materials are moistened with a solution of urea at the rate of 2 kg per cubic meter – this procedure accelerates the maturation process and enriches the compost with nitrogen.
The composting method can be cold or hot. The essence of the cold, that is, slow, method is that the gardener just needs to constantly put different materials on the pile, which were mentioned above. It will be enough to shift such a heap once a season, while changing the places of the layer. By autumn, the compost will be almost ready for use; it can be laid out on the beds and covered with foil for the winter. If the pile is thrown twice or three times during the summer, then the fertilizer will be prepared much earlier, and if mixed every week, the composting will end in 1.5–2 months – this is called the hot method. However, not every person has enough time and energy to do this. Therefore, the cold cooking method is most popular..
It is best to compost organics in heaps rather than in pits as some suggest. Water constantly accumulates in the pits, the mixing process and the access of oxygen is hampered – decay is slow.
Compost heaps are organized as follows. Three walls are made of any solid material, up to a meter high. Ideally, the floor should be made of lattice – this promotes good oxygen penetration from below, which accelerates maturation. But if this is not possible, you can build a pile on concrete, or even just on the ground. It is best to make two compartments at once, so that there is where to shift the matured organic matter in the future..
The minimum pile volume should be one cubic meter, otherwise the compost will dry out quickly. For the same reason, it is necessary to place the compost heap in a shaded area. If the place for preparing the fertilizer is in the sun, then it must be covered (in the summer with something opaque and providing air penetration, and in cold weather – with polyethylene, which will contribute to rapid decay). It is impossible to overheat the compost – microorganisms may die, but it is also not recommended not to cover it at all, since beneficial nutrients are eroded and washed away by rains.
Compost is the main fertilizer for all organic gardeners. When it ripens, the content of nutrients necessary for plants (potassium, nitrogen, phosphorus and others) increases in organic matter. Adding ready-made compost to the beds improves the structure and fertility of the soil, such beds retain moisture better. Ready-made high-quality compost perfectly protects crops from many diseases and contributes to obtaining a high-quality environmentally friendly crop.
We grow fertilizers in the beds
Compost is undoubtedly an excellent fertilizer, but for its preparation it is necessary to have a large amount of different organic materials on the farm, which in some cases is extremely problematic. So what should people do who do not want to use chemistry in their gardens, but do not have the time and opportunities for composting? In such cases, organic farming advises to grow fertilizers directly in the beds..
Here green manure plants (green fertilizers) will come to our aid. The use of green fertilizers is one of the main ways to improve the structure and increase the fertility of the soil used in organic farming. These plants are grown specifically right in the garden beds, but not for food, but for the health of the earth. The green mass of these crops is embedded in the soil to increase the content of organic matter in it, and also used for composting and preparation of various liquid fertilizers.
Mixtures of legumes and non-legumes are most often used as green fertilizers. From perennial legumes, alfalfa, clover, lupine, sainfoin are used. From non-legumes, any cereal will do, except corn. Various cruciferous crops are perfect for greening: mustard, rapeseed, radish, rape. Many gardeners use any seeds for these purposes in general, which, for example, have passed the expiration date..
There is nothing complicated in the cultivation technology itself. In the beds where it is planned to plant heat-loving crops, in early spring, you can sow the seeds of any green manure. Before planting a tomato or pepper, you will be guaranteed a knee-deep green carpet that can be embedded in the soil without mowing. In this case, you can plant seedlings directly into the wilting tops..
After harvesting garlic, carrots, potatoes (that is, those crops that will no longer occupy the garden until frost), the empty areas can be planted with any green manure. To do this, just walk on the ground with a rake and a bag of seeds. After the emergence of shoots, if there is no danger that the greens will outgrow and stiffen, you can leave it for the winter, and in the spring you just need to loosen the garden bed. If the greens have risen long before the onset of cold weather, then they need to be embedded in the soil, and immediately sow a new portion of green fertilizer on top for the spring.
In general, sideration is a creative process, the main thing here is to observe the basic principle of organic farming – not to leave the land bare and adhere to some simple rules:
- siderates cannot be overgrown, the more powerful the plant, the more difficult it is to cut it;
- green fertilizers must be sown thickly;
- it is not recommended to use rhizome crops as green manure;
- to reduce efforts and time for planting green fertilizers, you can scatter their seeds before harvesting or before spring loosening.
Sideration is a great way to improve and restore the fertility of the site. After green fertilizers are embedded in the ground, their root and leaf mass decompose and enrich the soil with organic matter and nitrogen. Further, under the influence of microorganisms and earthworms, plant residues are processed and converted into humus.
Green manure plants provide the soil with oxygen, help to retain moisture and improve the structure of the earth. Green fertilizers create a dense cover that protects the soil from weathering and leaching of nutrients, which, during green manure, remain in the upper fertile layers.
As we have already found out, organic fertilizers will not work without the work of microorganisms. They are involved both in the creation of humus and in the maturation of compost. To increase the number of microorganisms, scientists have invented special preparations – bacterial fertilizers, affectionately called by the people “emochki”. These are not ready-made nutrients, but microorganisms in the form of spores or cells, which, under favorable conditions, begin to multiply and process organic matter..
Today, Vostok-EM1 and Biostim preparations are considered to be quite well-known bacterial fertilizers. Vostok-EM1 contains more than 80 varieties of fungi and microorganisms, which, under the influence of Biostim, begin to actively multiply and do an excellent job of processing the excrement of various animals and birds, thus turning them into highly nutritious humus. Microorganisms that make up these drugs produce substances that can suppress the growth of microflora, which causes various dangerous plant diseases..
It should be noted that the production of bacterial fertilizers is still far from being studied, and this branch of agriculture is just beginning to develop, but it is already considered quite promising in many countries..
In our time, when the world is on the brink of an ecological catastrophe, the problem of refusing to use mineral fertilizers and pesticides when growing food sounds especially urgent. And, as we found out, the developments of agricultural scientists who work on the ground, adhering to the principles of organic and biodynamic agriculture, can help in solving it. By learning how to grow green fertilizers and prepare compost, you will be able to provide your family with organic vegetables and fruits, which will contribute to the health of the body and the nature around you..