Written by David S.
“Bio-active,” you see the phrase on many types of products. For example, in gardening, it means “living.” A bio-active product, such as a bag of soil, is full of beneficial organisms. They may not be moving, but many soil biotas go into stasis until environmental conditions support their active lives. Keep reading as we discuss bio-active products, what they do, and why their role is essential.
What Are Bio-Active Organisms
In biology, we refer to living organisms within an environment as biota — life. Bio-active life is a marketing term that describes products that contain living organisms. For this blog, we refer to bio-active organisms as soil bacteria, nematodes, and fungi.
We learn that fungus is a bad thing, and in certain situations, it can be. The most significant rule of nature is that there is a balance. When the natural balance is in place, the negative impacts of fungi, bacteria, and other harmful organisms disappear. Bio-active products are full of beneficial organisms that work to restore or balance the natural cycles in soil. In short, it’s a bag full of goodness.
The Plant and Soil Cycle
Plants take nutrients from the soil, but not all nutrients are in a format that plants can use. Primarily, we are discussing nitrogen. Atmospheric nitrogen, one of the most plentiful gasses in the air we breathe, is not usable to plants.
When we look at commercial fertilizers, their packages have an NPK ratio— nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. All three play a significant role in plant growth, development, and crop yield. They are also naturally present in the soil. Why then do we need commercial fertilizers? The plant and soil cycle is very slow. It is challenging to plant crop after crop in the same dirt and have consistent yields. Artificial fertilizers are a tool that we use to supplement the natural process or replace it.
The Problem with Supplements
When you place plants in a container, you are creating an artificial environment. You add products to the container to suit the plant’s needs, often replacing those products. In a farming situation, using artificial fertilizers becomes one of replacing the natural cycles of the soil. As that process happens, the topsoil layer becomes thinner, and it holds fewer nutrient loads, which requires more use of artificial fertilizers. It is a cycle of its own and not a natural one. The same is true in landscaping.
Re-imagining Soil Health
When we first came to this continent, the soil was full of life. Thousands of seasonal cycles helped to create rich, nutrient-heavy soils. When new settlements began to farm, the soil was incredible. Over time, the nutrient levels in the soil diminished. The tilling of the land caused topsoil to erode. The farming practices removed the humus layer of the soil and, in so doing, removed the nutrient regeneration mechanisms.
The natural nutrient regeneration cycle begins with the humus layer. It is there that more significant bits of biodegradable elements begin to break down into smaller bits. For example, if you have ever dug down under a layer of mulch, you would see bits of white webbing, tiny organisms, and discover a sweet, earthy smell. The white webbing is fungi, those tiny organisms are detritions consumers, and the sweet, earthy smell is healthy soil regeneration. That process is a balance of aeration, decomposition, and converting larger chemical chains into simpler chemicals that become usable to plants.
Soil health has some modern marketing and soil philosophies that include:
- No-dig farming and gardening
- Organic crop production
- Sustainable landscaping and gardening
Bio-active products are a big part of improving soil health, especially when you plant in containers. Remember that a container is an artificial environment, and that bio-active products help recondition bagged soil into something close to the living earth. We are saying that bagged soil is terrible. We are saying that unless it is bio-active, it is not alive. Living soil is part of how we support plants so that they can do the job we expect. For gardens, that means healthy yields. For flowering plants, that means lots of blossoms.
Products that Help Support Living Earth
Mulch — is a fantastic tool. It replicates the humus layer of the soil and allows the top portion of the soil to remain moist for longer. It is in that zone where fungi begin to do their job and where small biota begins improving soil quality.
Mulch can be many things. Many of us would think of mulch like wood chips, and they certainly are. However, dry leaves, straw, grass clippings, and other biodegradable items can also be mulch. The job of fungi is to break down materials. Thus, mulch is an integral part of improving soil health.
FoxFarm Happy Frog soil conditioner contains soil micro-organisms and plenty of organic fill and manure that helps create a plant environment where what you grow can thrive. One of the things that soil biota do is that they improve the root structure of plants. Healthy roots are better able to uptake nutrients. Mostly, this is the role that fungi play in soil health. Fungi can bridge gaps between chemical nutrients and plant roots. In addition, the fungus can break down complex chemicals into usable formats that plants can uptake.
Soil bacteria help to capture nitrogen and convert it into a soluble form that plants use to grow strong branches, trunks, and leaves.
So, when you add a bio-active product to your garden, landscape beds, or containers, you are conditioning the soil to work with the plants.
Soil Activators: There are many varieties of liquid soil activators. They contain some form of bio-active biota in stasis. When a liquid bio-active product enters the soil, the biota continues its lifecycle. Many can encapsulate or pupate and then awaken. The process is different for each type of organism. In short, they can remain viable in a variety of conditions. Once they enter the soil and conditions are correct, they continue with their lifecycle. Healthy soil is full of microbes that perform a variety of jobs.
Each of those jobs contributes to increased soil health. They range from controlling pests, helping to aerate the soil, breakdown complex chemicals into usable formats, and assisting in nutrient uptake and water retention.
Soil is a heritage creation. Farmers realize that how they care for their land directly reflects the benefits and obstacles that the next generation of farmers face. That philosophy also applies to homes and landscapes. For example, healthy soil makes it easier to increase food securities and decrease reliance on commercial food systems. Those innovations begin with good soil health and the biota that thrive in soil.
There are so many bioactive products available that it would be impossible to discuss them all in one blog. So instead, a better solution to know bioactive products is to browse the formidable selection available at Green Thumb Nursery. We have five locations scattered throughout Southern California. We also have plant experts who can help walk you through the products we carry and answer your questions.
If you are looking for a specific product or performing a specific task, we can help. Give us a call, and we can try to order it for you, let you know if it is something we carry or make a recommendation from products we have in stock.
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