Healthy plants need healthy soil for healthy growth so that they can accurately absorb what the plants need. Soil needs to contain minerals, and research on active soils shows that the widespread use of synthetic fertilizers leads to a soil that no longer has the biology needed to support healthy plants.
The text is my translation of the video “PHC Film: soil is a living organism” which gives information on how to get healthy soil and healthy plants. It explains the role of bacteria (rhizobacteria), fungi (mycorrhizae) and organic matter (humus) in the function of plant roots and the growth of healthy plants.
Video – PHC Film: Soil is a living organism
Chemical fertilizers, come from a time when there was no understanding of the long-term effects on soil. For farmers, artificial fertilizer was a miracle. Crops yielded twice as much and farmers could produce the food needed for an ever-increasing population.
But now, after years of using synthetic fertilizers, the effects on soil quality are becoming more and more apparent.
What is happening is that fewer and fewer nutrients are being retained in the soil, with the result that crops quickly become weak and easily diseased.
They are no longer protected from bacteria and fungi, but are instead attacked by them. In addition to this, using synthetic fertilisers means that farmers today have to dig deeper as the soil becomes quickly compacted. This work adds extra costs to the crop for farmers and is destructive to the soil.
There is a better way that is not widely known.
Plant roots can grow longer in an environment that is rich in old roots.
Here you can see the current ploughing method in which the soil is stirred to a depth of 25 cm. This means that the plant has a really hard time finding the thousands of small tunnels that other plants have created in the soil with their own roots. Often the roots do not reach the ploughing boundary, ploughing with heavy equipment.
A surface cultivation method can provide the solution to this. In this shallowly worked soil means that roots can easily access the tunnels left by decomposing roots. Under these conditions, the roots need to be squeezed until they reach the edges of the tunnels. This means they can root deeper and deeper each year and find more soil and water available for growth.
Plant diseases and insecticide spraying
Treating diseases with sprays does little more than suppress the symptoms that a healthy plant could withstand.
Most plants get sick as a result of the negative effects of fertilizer use.
Insecticides are used to save the crop.
The conclusion we have drawn is that plants that are given only fertilizers will eventually get sick. Fertilizer is the direct cause of the use of most insecticides to address the global problem of over-fertilization.
The vicious circle must be stopped.
The question we have to ask ourselves is how can we improve the soil
The answer is surprisingly simple but it needs some explanation.
How do plants grow?
Like every other organism on the planet, a plant does not function independently. Its health and growth depends on a cooperative of specialized bacteria and fungi.
Plants, fungi and bacteria create a wonderful system based on the exchange of products.
How this works.
Fungi and bacteria provide nutrients from the soil that would otherwise be difficult to use. In return for this, the plant provides sugars in the form of glucose.
To explain this system we will explain bacteria and fungi separately.
Plants have a problem.
Their delicate absorbent roots have a limited capacity. They use only 4 to 7 percent of the soil and on average are no thicker than a hair. They do not live long. Only one to three weeks.
As you can see, the plants need outside help.
The plants use their absorptive roots to build a partnership. If they don’t find partners, they will die. If they do, it’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
From here on, a symbiosis can be formed.
It is difficult to extract the minerals from the soil, but the root bacteria are skilled at this process. Especially when it comes to releasing phosphate, which is very important for the plant.
These bacteria, perform countless other important tasks including one that is very specialized.
Root bacteria form a kind of natural defense system around the roots. Anything that attacks the plant is kept away from the natural presence of these root bacteria. They ensure that there is no room for disease-causing bacteria. That’s because they act in a sympathetic way as the plant provides them with food.
But the bacteria also need help. They are not travellers. Colonies of bacteria do not move to and from minerals and roots.
Most minerals found in soil are found far from where roots can reach and therefore out of reach of the root bacteria.
These can only live close to the roots as we have already seen before.
The absorption zone is therefore very limited. The mycorrhizal fungus is capable of dramatically increasing this absorption capacity.
It may seem like a modern achievement, but it is not. The fungus has always existed, but because of modernisation in crops its role has been neglected due to many years of using synthetic fertilisers. Microrhiza is now sporadically found in cultivated soils.
The mycorrhizal fungus has always lived in a symbiotic relationship with the roots of the plant.
The mycorrhizal fungus creates a living connection between the roots and creates an absorption and transport system. This is essential for the healthy growth of the plant.
Micorhiza fungus in the roots is as natural as chlorophyll is in the leaves. This is beyond any doubt.
As mentioned before, the absorbing roots of plants are 0.2 mm thick. This means that they can only grow in macropores as shown here.
Now we can get closer to see what happens when the plant receives help from the mycorrhizal fungus.
Mycorrhizal filaments are even thinner than most bacteria. They’re as thin as three micrometers.
This means that these thin filaments grow easily in micropores where the majority of nutrients and water are stored.
Without help, a plant could never reach these areas.
It is not only the roots, but also the mycelial filaments that are responsible for the uptake of nutrients and water.
The long fine texture of the fungus that completely occupies the space and takes over the absorption of materials from the roots can also provide disease resistance. Minerals that are far away that are bound to iron and calcium are now easier to absorb.
These fine threads, or texture, can easily be over a mile long in just a spoonful of soil.
The mycorrhizal fungus can make absorption be, on average, up to seven times longer. This means that we can have growth with less water and that the weeds are much less likely to predominate due to competition for space.
The benefit to the fungus is the glucose produced by the plants. For the plants the benefit is a larger uptake zone.
This unique and constant interaction between the plant bacteria and the fungus creates a truly unique symbiosis.
The “payment” that the plant provides to its partners is water, minerals and glucose.
The partnership between the soil and the roots needs healthy biology in the soil. Healthy soil contains organic matter from dead leaves, dead roots and dead animals. This dead organic matter is decomposed by nature, by the life in the soil to become humus.
The humus provides a lot of food for the life in the soil and the soil retains a lot of carbon dioxide.
Many years of chemical fertilizer use have led to the disappearance of humus from farmland.
You can think of humus as the battery of soil. It’s where the energy that life in the soil needs to do its work is stored.
Without the humus it is almost impossible to achieve a natural restoration of the soil.
For a long time it has been believed that nitrate fertilizers activate life in the soil, as more bacteria can grow.
But to maintain the carbon and nitrogen balance they are forced to consume more organic material, which then enters the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
The symbiosis between the plant fungus and the bacteria is not only an excellent partnership, it is absolutely necessary.
Without these organic matter converters we would all be lost in tons of organic matter.
Going back to the question we asked earlier about how we can improve the soil we grow, the answer must be that ultimately plants improve the soil themselves.
They do it through the symbiosis between plants, bacteria and fungi. Plants are in fact the only soil conditioners.
We can see a clear difference between two absorption systems without and with microrhiza fungus.
The plant on the left is completely dependent on the pH value in the soil for access to minerals.
The plant on the right has roots that can ideally self-regulate the pH level through the micorhiza fungus. This results in a healthier uptake that works perfectly with organic fertilizers.
Using this natural system we will achieve healthy soils and then healthy plants that can produce healthy fruits and vegetables. The way we treat our soil has a direct impact on our carbon emissions and the nutritional value of our food.