Greenhouses are incredible growing systems that can take the form of towering solariums, humble hoop houses, or any structure in between. Professional growers are no strangers to the complex needs of greenhouse growing systems, from customizing humidity to balancing light requirements. One of the biggest obstacles to building an ideal growing system is maintaining the health of your soil for long-term success. Growing in a living mix is essential for healthy plant development because the microbiology in the soil is what allows plants to take in nutrients.
When your plants start to exhibit signs of nutrient deficiencies, especially when using a carefully crafted growing media or custom fertility plan, fertilizer might not be the issue in your soil. You may be seeing a lack of diversity in your soil biology. While fertilizing your plants routinely is important, if your soil biology is lacking nutrients might not be getting through. Soil is a living entity. It is a diverse ecosystem made up of organic (living) and inorganic (non-living) materials.
Let’s break biology down into five basic ways it supports your soil.
1. Soil Productivity
Organic matter is a primary food source for plants as well as microbes in the soil. The living microbes store energy and nutrients by breaking down organic material – such as fresh plant material and remaining roots from other plants. For your soil to be productive and feed growing plants, organic matter must be present.
2. Proper Food Source Through Nutrient Availability
While organic matter may be a primary food source, it doesn’t mean those nutrients will always be readily available. Soil bacteria form cooperative relationships with plants to improve nutrient availability. Fungi and bacteria work within the soil to exchange carbon for nitrogen. This is then made available for the plant to use.
This process works in tandem with the continuous cycling of nutrients through fungi and bacteria. Nutrient cycling is the consistent cycle of microbes consuming carbon, releasing nitrogen to feed the plant, then consuming the plant’s byproducts, and so on. While the microbes in your soil only account for 2-5% of the organic matter, they are essential to supplying your plants with necessary nutrients. The health of your plants depends on the health of those microbes.
3. Water Retention and Access
All the processes occurring within your soil through those microbes help to improve the structure of your soil. You probably already know that earthworms are a sign of soil health for in-ground growing systems. That’s because they also feed off the nutrients and expend valuable plant-available nutrients. They also aid in the process of improving soil structure. Microbiology serves the same function in your soil and can be leveraged for greenhouse growth to create a healthier growing media. Soil structure matters because it directly affects your soil’s ability to move and retain water.
4. Stability and Immune Support
Proper access to nutrients has a strong effect on how stable your plant is as it grows. A plant growing in biologically diverse soil is less likely to be affected by disease and other detrimental pests. Pests and weeds often thrive in environments where there isn't a lot of biodiversity, meaning that there's less competition for resources. Cultivating diverse microbes in your soil is a natural way to defend against diseases. Soil diversity means that not only is your soil healthier, but your plants are stronger and more vigorous. Proper nutrition through the soil gives immune support. Healthier, stronger plants mean more produce and more delicious produce, but it also means that your plants are resistant to any pest attacks, and can more easily recover. The soil that feeds your plants is what your plant pushes into the produce it creates.
5. Resist Natural Disruptions
The elements can have a huge impact on your garden. From an excess of rain to drought to high winds, the dangers for soil health are everywhere. Luckily for many greenhouse growers, the elements don’t pose too much of a threat to your plants. However, growers who start plants early in the season, or use hoop houses to extend their growing time, rely on healthy soil and strong root systems to grow healthy plants at any point in the season. Microbes work directly with your plant's root systems and help them grow stronger, supporting lasting growth. Mycorrhizae are a subclass of beneficial fungi that act as an extension of your plant's root system to drive nutrient uptake and support a healthier plant.
What can you do to improve your soil biology?
- Add compost to provide necessary organic matter.
- Utilize a liquid biology product to reestablish the diversity of your soil.
- Use organic fertilizer to naturally support your plants and not harm the valuable microbes.
- Cover your soil with mulch to provide organic material and protection from the elements.
- Avoid disturbing the soil with repeated tilling or digging.
Check out these products that will organically support your soil health: