Here at the Howdy Farm we proudly grow all of our fruits, vegetables, and flowers using organic methods*. Choosing to grow organically can prove to be challenging, especially when it comes to soil nutrient management and availability. It can take several years of ammending the soil with compost and other forms of organic matter before you start to produce bountiful yields. Healthy soil is absolutely the most important component for growing nutritious and delicious foods, and we have a couple tools to share with you that will help improve your yields naturally.
If you take a stroll through the "health food" section of your local grocery store, you might notice a new drink that is gaining in popularity - kombucha. Kombucha is a probiotic drink containing millions of beneficial bacteria, which have been shown to improve digestive health. When you hear the word "bacteria" you might automatically think disease or sickness, but our bodies actually contain and thrive on beneficial bacteria as well. Our garden soil is actually very similar. Beneficial bacteria in the soil can do wonders for the health of your plants. An example of this is bacteria in the Rhizobium genus. Rhizobium is a group beneficial bacteria that form symbiotic relationships with plants in small nodules located in the plant's roots. The bacteria are capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen, which is when they convert the nitrogen in the air into a form that the plant can use. Nitrogen is usually the most limiting plant nutrient in the soil, so this symbiotic relationship can be extremely beneficial if your soil is lacking. In return for providing nitrogen to the plant, the bacteria consume organic compounds produced by the plant through photosynthesis. Rhizobium can be used when you are growing anything in the legume family, which includes peas, beans, lentils, peanuts, soybeans, and more. The best part is that you can purchase Rhizobium anywhere you purchase seeds. Application of the bacteria is very easy - first you wet the seeds so they are slightly damp, and then you sprinkle on the bacteria so it coats the seed. That's it! So the next time that you plant beans and peas, be sure to pick up some Rhizobium powder and you will be amazed by how healthy and productive your plants turn out.
In addition to bacteria, beneficial fungi in the soil also play an important role in the health of your crops. Mycorrhizal fungi are an example of this, as they also form a symbiotic relationship with plants through the roots. Soil naturally contains mycorrhizal fungi, but by adding the fungi to your soil and plant roots, you can help build up their levels to ensure that your plants are growing to their maximum potential. Mycorrhizal fungi work by attaching to the plant roots and essentially they create a network of smaller roots that will seek out water and nutrients for the plant. The fungi benefit from the plant by receiving sugars from the plant roots in return. Dipping the roots of your transplants in a mycorrhizal drench can help alleviate transplant shock, help your plants establish faster, and it will allow the plants to grow quickly with the potential for less disease pressure. Here at the Howdy Farm we use a mycorrhizal concentrate produced by Wildroot Organic Inc., located in Boerne, TX. The product is extremely easy to use; you just mix the powder in water and then dunk your plant's roots in the solution before planting. The results are well worth the minimal effort and the addition of mycorrhizal fungi will help your soil thrive for years to come.
If you are looking for natural, quick, and effective results in your organic garden then we highly recommend that you use Rhizobium and mycorrhizal fungi the next time you plant. These two biological tools - in addition to high quality compost, organic fertilizers, and proper soil management - will help you build a soil that is alive and functional. All great gardens start with great soil, so feed your soil and prepare to reap the benefits. Happy growing!
Written by Corey Wahl - Howdy Farm Manager
*We grow using organic methods, but we are not certified organic by the USDA.