Springtime is coming, and down here in Florida we are granted the opportunity to start now and

begin the build-up of our soil.  There are many things we can do to improve our soil condition,

and foremost of all is the addition of organic matter.  Healthy soil for growing plants should be

approximately 6 – 10% organic material, though often it will measure a bare fraction of 1%.  

There are certain steps we can take throughout the year to progress towards the goal of having

healthy soil, and the singular act of adding organic matter where you are deficient will go a long

way towards making us all better growers, with much healthier and happier plants.


There are many soil conditioning, soil amendment, and soil improvement options out there in the

marketplace.  For simplicity sake and ease of use, I prefer complete and all inclusive solutions

whenever possible, though, it takes much research and shopping around to find good ones.  I

will review some of the individual components and the benefits you should expect with regard to

your soil and plants.  As you compare products, pay attention to see which include the best

combinations of the following:


Humic, Fulvic, and Ulmic Acids

These acids improve soil structure, drainage, root growth and crop quality.  They also stimulate

seed germination, neutralize harmful chemicals, increase cellular permeability and help to nurture

beneficial soil microbe populations.

Many of the humate substances available today originated from prehistoric plant tissue that has

been subjected to millions of years of pressure, heat, and microbial activity. This creates an

extremely rich, compost-like material that supplies a large number of necessary trace elements

and micronutrients that are missing from today’s soil and are not found in more traditional plant

fertilizers.  The very best come from ancient natural humus deposits with improved bio-diversity

due to the fact they are composed of both Plant and Animal tissues.  These are user-friendly in

both dry and liquid forms.  The dry typically comes as either a granular, which is highly suitable

for a lawn spreader, or a fine powder which is better for re-plantings and compost tea starter

kits.  The best of these raw materials are water soluble, and the liquids are formulated by simple

cold-water liquefaction processes that preserve the colonies of beneficial microorganisms that

are so important (more on those later).  A secondarily acceptable option that will result in

impressive “one time shot” are those extracted from Leonardite shale or lignite coal, though the

extraction process tends to eliminate the beneficial microbes, and so these are less complete

solutions.  These are much easier to find, often more expensive, and less effective in all but the

short term.   Overall, humates are an important element in any natural growing environment, and

have been established and accepted for centuries as necessary for healthy plants.     



Your soil may have adequate nutrients as measured by the chemistry set, but nutrients may well

be tied up in forms that are not available for use by the plants.  By repopulating and stimulating

microbial activity, good quality soil amendments speed up the decay process and the

subsequent return of nutrients in usable forms to the soil.  Additionally, healthy microbial activity

loosens compacted soil, encourages deeper root zones which improves drought

tolerance/reduces water requirements, and increases natural aeration.

Two of the microbe species that are especially beneficial are the Bacillus and the

Pseudomonas.  The Bacillus species of microbes are primarily decomposers, and as such, they

are instrumental in the breakdown of organic matter (think grass clippings and thatch) into

nutrients.   Proper soil balance improves tilth and fertility by stimulating the growth and

metabolism of beneficial Bacillus which is critical to the soil system’s healthy processing of

organic matter.  The Pseudomonas is the main microbe for chelating nutrients, which is the

process whereby the nutrients are converted into a form that is readily useable by plants.

Chelated trace elements and minerals are essential for plant growth.  These are vital in the

chemistry of plant life, because plants cannot transpire, grow or reproduce when they lack

sufficient amounts of specific minerals and trace elements.  A good quality product will chelate

directly by converting the available minerals in your soil, as well as indirectly by increasing the

functionality of the native microbes in the plant system.  The chelation stimulated by application

of these products increases the amount of natural nitrogen and phosphorus available to the

plants, and improves the overall efficiency of nutrient uptake.  Unfortunately, many growers do

not understand that the presence or addition of nutrients is not enough, these nutrients be in a

form that plants can use.  All soils should benefit from healthy amendments or conditioners that

add and/or stimulate the growth and metabolism of beneficial microorganisms. Look for the 100%

All Natural and Organic formulations, and be sure that there are healthy populations of these

beneficial microbes in any product you choose.



Carbon plays an important role as a food source for the microbes.  Remember, microbes are

living organisms, and all living organisms need food.  A complete solution liquid soil amendment,

in addition to providing the microbes themselves, must also function as a life sustaining delivery

vehicle for these microbes.  The beneficial soil microbes are mixed with water and while they are

living in that bottle, it is of paramount importance that they have a sustaining food source until

they are incorporated into the soil.  There are additional benefits from using carbon as a food

source. Carbon holds 6 times its weight in water, which will improve pore space in the soil and

help reduce hydrophobic areas. Some studies have also shown that maintaining a carbon to

nitrogen ratio of 30 to 1 will reduce nematode pressure.  The best products available will have

carbon contents above 80%, with carbon contents above 90% representing the very best and

most desirable.


Sustainable and Organic

Now, please indulge me just a moment as I climb onto my soapbox.  The benefits of Sustainable

growing practices and Eco-Friendly soil management have been scientifically proven for many

years, but the siren song of taking the easy way out and just laying on the synthetic fertilizers

and chemicals has been hard to resist.  Furthermore, we are contaminating our ground water,

lakes and streams with continued excessive chemical and fertilizer use to produce food and

green our lawns.  We have had decades of abuse and mismanagement of our soils, and this,

combined with the natural changes we are witnessing makes it vitally important that we make

changes, immediately.   Much like our water, it can also be said that our soil is the sustainer of all

life on this planet.  We depend on our soil for our food and therefore our very existence; and we

must preserve it for future generations.  The addition of the right soil amendment will improve the

effectiveness of traditional fertilizers, if that is your weapon of choice, even reducing the amount

you need to apply over time.  The enriched overall health of your soil improves the efficiency with

which your plants can absorb the nutrients provided by your fertilizer program, and will lower

your overall cost.  Importantly, remember the title of this article.  You will see much better long

term health and vitality in your plants and soil if you use these full spectrum amendments or

conditioners by themselves or in conjunction with organic fertilizers, as opposed to synthetics.  

Synthetic fertilizers and other dangerous chemicals tend to kill the beneficial microbes around

the healthy plant root zone you are trying so hard to cultivate.  I’ve spent a good deal of time with

practical applications as well as research on each of these categories, and if anyone would like

some more in-depth discussion, please contact me via email at JFuller@EcoFriendlyOnline.com.  

There are hundreds of articles by numerous authors who deserve credit and attribution for the

knowledge I have obtained over the last few years and form the basis for the information I have

shared in this article.  I would like to say a special thanks to Dr. Elaine Ingham, whose work is

truly world class, and the resources and research she has produced at her Soil Foodweb, Inc

laboratories is very inspiring.






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