Maybe you’ve been gardening for a while and decided to shift to organic products, or you’re just starting out. Either way, using organic gardening products differs from conventional bagged soils dominating the shelves. Let’s talk about organic soils and how to use them successfully.
What is Organic Soil?
The soil in an organic farm field isn’t the same as bagged organic soil products, but the idea is identical–no synthetic chemicals are present or used.
When discussing soil and gardening, the term organic has two different meanings.
- When talking about a product, such as Kellogg Garden Organics Amend Garden Soil for Flowers & Vegetables, organic means approved by an outside agency like OMRI to meet strict criteria for the sourcing and composition of ingredients.
It means the product meets strict standards for natural, synthetic-free materials, just like we think of when discussing organic produce or organic farming.
- The word organic can also mean derived from living organisms. Adding organic matter to your soil to enhance its properties means adding stuff that was living, like grass clippings, compost, aged manure, or leaves. It doesn’t mean OMRI came and certified those autumn leaves you raked up as being free from synthetic chemicals.
At Kellogg, we use both meanings! Our organic soils are made with organic materials, in both definitions of the word. You’ll find ingredients like worm castings, kelp meal, and aged composted wood fines (just like on the forest floor).
We source these organic materials as local as possible and then blend them according to our recipes. So, Kellogg brand organic soils are made from natural materials certified to be organic.
How is Organic Soil Different from Conventional Bagged Soil?
As mentioned above, organic bagged soil products meet strict certification requirements to guarantee that what’s in the bag is free from harsh, industrially processed chemicals and ingredients–no artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides. It will contain a bunch of stuff the helpful microbial life in your soil finds delicious, like poultry meal, kelp meal, and worm castings.
Conventional bagged soil is mixed to provide a plant-and-go customer experience, often with synthetic fertilizers and other chemicals blended in. Unfortunately, those ingredients are often unnatural and don’t provide the same benefits to your soil microbial life or plants!
Organic soils are different because organic gardening is different. Instead of artificial, factory-made chemicals, organic soils provide natural nutrient sources.
How To Use Organic Soil Products in Your Garden
Using bagged organic soils from Kellogg is initially similar to other conventional products. You’ll select the right soil based on needs–in-ground, raised bed, or container plants. The need for drainage remains the same.
Organic soils may look different–aged wood fines can look a bit like mulch–and that’s okay (you won’t find little yellow balls of fertilizer either). Compost and aged wood fines are basically decomposed versions of organic materials you might use as mulch or put in your compost bin. Broken down wood fibers are a key component of humus, the stuff that makes natural healthy soils so fertile.
While the organic materials in organic soil will nourish your plants, the NPK in organic soils is much lower than conventional soils – which means growth is slower, but it’s also much better for the soil and the plant! Organic soils will need to be replenished over time with organic fertilizer(s) for best results. Many organic fertilizers are available, like Kellogg Garden Organics All Purpose Fertilizer. Composting, mulching, actively aerated compost tea (AACT), and cover crops are other ways to enhance fertility in your organic garden.
Because organic fertilizers are made from natural ingredients, they are often of lower potency per unit weight than synthetics, which you’ll see on the container looking at the NPK numbers (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium). Our general-purpose organic fertilizer is 4-4-4, while many synthetic fertilizers have higher numbers, like 24-8-16 or more. That’s okay–organics work gently and holistically to feed your plants. It’s also pretty hard to overfertilize on accident using organic products.
Organic fertilizers typically take a while to break down and fully release nutrients to the plants. This means they are less likely to leach or wash away into areas they shouldn’t be, like our watersheds. Overapplication leading to loss through erosion and leaching is a common problem with synthetic fertilizers.
When planting, we recommend fertilizing with organic products at the same time (toss some in the hole) and again about once a month during the growing season for granulated products. Water-soluble products like fish emulsion may be applied more frequently. Of course, with any purchased organic fertilizer, follow the directions on the package.
Organic methods focus on natural solutions over time, not instant results from harsh chemicals. As you gain experience with organic soil and organic gardening, your soil health will increase, nutrient profiles will build, and natural processes will develop. Eventually, you’ll create a seasonal rhythm of understanding and supplying what your garden needs.
About the Author:
Andy Wilcox is a freelance writer and flower farmer who is passionate about gardening, horticulture, and forestry, and believes healthy soil leads to healthy people. He is a Master Gardener and a member of the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Wisconsin. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.