During the past few decades, we have begun to understand a little more about how plants really function, but as with most new knowledge it will be some time, yet, before it has much effect on current practices. Established habits are... well, established.
Looking at the broad picture, nearly all farmers, gardeners, and landscapers have been taught to think of soil as being a mixture of ingredients. Under this view, if you make the ingredients right, then your plants will perform well. This is a chemistry-oriented approach, along the lines of baking a cake, and is simple to understand. A cake without a key ingredient won't taste as good, and a plant lacking some soil element won't be as productive. Simple logic, right?
While this simplistic "ingredients" viewpoint certainly has face logic, a much better starting orientation for growers would be to look at their soil as being a dynamic and ever-changing system populated with living, breathing, reproducing, recycling, eating-or-being-eaten microorganisms, earthworms, and countless other little critters all jumbled together and bumping into each other. In other words, a perfect place for a plant to sink its roots into, becoming a contributing and benefiting member of the club!
Growing plants with only an "ingredients" perspective invariably leads to heavy macro-fertilization (overdoses, by nature's standards), which causes disruption of the natural biological processes that would normally provide nourishment and protection to plant roots. This is currently the norm for both farms and home gardens. "How can I get the soil ingredients right?" is the prevailing guiding concept.
However, plants grown in lifeless soils lack many important natural defenses against diseases and insects. The billions of dollars spent each year on toxic "rescue" products for such plants suggest that there might be a better approach to agriculture and horticulture. That better approach will require growers to ask the question, "How can I promote a strong bio-system in my soil?". You should remember that "system" moment when it happens - it will be the necessary first step toward raising heathier plants with greater yields than you ever thought possible.
We've discussed in detail how to restore bio-activity in soils in earlier newsletters (available for viewing at our website), but in general, it calls for restricting fertilization to small amounts of gradual-release lower-analysis organic types, plus using minimal or no tillage, strategic use of cover/companion crops, introducing beneficial biological elements, and periodically applying broad spectrum minerals.
The system is the solution.
Good growing, my friends. Here in the high desert of Central Oregon, there're piles of snow outside but rows of radishes, peas, carrots, and turnips are beginning to sprout along side their companion-crop crimson clover in my antidote-to-cabin-fever greenhouse. Another good system.
President , BioOrganics, Inc.