Home & Family
Keep Pests at Yard’s Length this Year
3/1/2020 12:00:00 AM


Soil, loam, silt, or clay, whatever term you apply, think before you apply chemical fertilizers to your lawn. If you are concerned about you and your family’s health, also be aware of your garden’s growing medium. Sadly, conventional gardening practices have been degrading our soil for decades.  A few easy practices can help you to rebuild soil health and increase its beneficial diversity. 

Much like human communities, soil communities thrive when their neighborhood of earthworms, fungi and structure is well maintained. Without sufficient diversity and nutrients, soil suffers from immune deficiency, making it unable to fight plant diseases once they show up. Natural fertilization is preventative health care, making crops resilient and more productive: every gardener’s dream!

In a 2016 New York Times article, science writer Carl Zimmer noted that crops worldwide face enemies like harmful fungi, bacteria and parasitic animals. Chemical pesticides, long thought to be the best protection, have not only failed to halt the enemies, but resulted in a loss of "a sizable portion of our food supply,” while damaging animals, humans, and global water supplies.

"When soils are loaded with microbes, they use so many nutrients that it’s hard for a lethal blight or other pathogen to gain a foothold. Some may manage to survive, but they don’t flourish — or wreak havoc on plants,” wrote Zimmer.

Researchers continue to study how healthy soil fights off dangerous invaders. It’s a complex system; plants are also thought to "orchestrate” their own immunity, not just passively receive benefits from soil.  Still, your garden soil’s ability to hold nutrients, water, and other necessary elements helps ward off plant attackers like pathogens. When good microbes move in and are encouraged to thrive, the soil community’s overall health is increased.  

Some factors indicating soil health include:

•    Stable pH

•    Ability to hold and release nutrients to plants

•    Soil life’s biodiversity

DIY soil test kits are now available that determine pH, moisture and light. You can also send samples to agencies like the LSU AgCenter Soil Testing and Plant Analysis Lab. Your analysis will include recommendations for natural fertilizers and treatments appropriate to the plants growing in your native environment. 

Many gardeners mix their own natural fertilizers to avoid adding unwanted chemicals that kill off beneficial insects, pollinators and wildlife. Planting certain flowers and herbs, like basil, mint and marigolds, naturally fight off harmful bugs. Composting is another proactive method that recycles kitchen scraps, leaves, grass clippings and some manures. 

Your soil requires hydration just like you do for optimal health. Avoid over-digging and compacting the soil, which destroys its structure. Apply mulch or a living ground cover to check evaporation, reduce watering needs and decrease nutrient loss. Organic matter does increase your soil’s moisture retention, but always check for consistency. Too little moisture means plants cannot access valuable nutrients; too much causes nutrients to drown. Know your soil and each plant’s water requirements. 

Naturally maintaining soil wellness is the best preventative medicine for stronger plants and greater crop yields. It’s mutually beneficial, maintaining your health as well!

Posted by: Madelaine Brauner Landry | Submit comment | Tell a friend

Categories: Home  |  Yard

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