Often our western soils have a problem with many of the 42 essential elements of plant nutrition being inhibited by the alkaline chemistry of the soil. This simply means that the elements such as iron, zinc, copper, calcium, etc, etc, etc, are cemented into the matrix of the soil by way of a precipitation reaction called concretion. This is where the term ‘Concrete’ comes from, where the mineral elements are not soluble with just water. The process of getting these elements available for plant uptake requires a “solutioning” of the elements from the concreted soil, which is provided by the supramolecular chemistry of the organic matrix of humic molecules, and by the mycorrhizal fungi that are hopefully also present. It’s one of the Mechanisms of Action for the Humic Molecules and the Mode of Action for the Mycorrhizal fungi.
Another limiting factor is the availability of nitrogen in the form of amino acids, caused by a slow or weak Soil Food Web. The SFW is the Terrestrial Biosphere of Micro-organisms and soil animals of all sizes, which all contain protein. The largest most abundant part of this terrestrial biosphere should be coming from the cycling of mycorrhizal hyphae as they are constantly being replaced. It’s been reported that the individual hyphae of mycorrhizal fungi only function for 5 to 7 days before they are replaced! The cellular tissues of the hyphae have huge amounts of protein, which breaks down into amino acids, which accumulate in the soil and eventually get picked up by functioning hyphae of other mycorrhizal fungi and delivered to the plants as a major source of the nitrogen budget needed by the host plant. Much of the protein organic substances of the cycling microorganisms also gets consumed by the grazers of the soil (other microbes) where the caloric value of the protein is used to multiply into more microbes.
This is where we screw up in landscaping or farming, when we supplement our crops or urban landscapes with high analysis fertilizers rather than find a way to instigate a better functioning Soil Food Web. Sure plants can use the 16% (plus or minus) analysis of nitrogen found in such products, but the best way for a plant to get nitrogen is by way of up-taking amino acids from the soil’s biosphere and not from acidified high salt index fertilizers. The high analysis fertilizers don’t provide a protein caloric value to the soil microbes and most of the nitrogen never gets used by the plant as it’s too easily lost. The result is a feast-or-famine-cycle!
Here’s another way of looking at the situation. The plant needs the nitrogen in order to build important proteins and enzymes (also proteins), which is the same reason why we animals also need protein, for the nitrogen. However what we really need are the amino acids, which are the molecular building blocks of protein and which on a molecular scale contain the nitrogen. Think of it like building a brick wall, where the wall is the protein and the bricks are the amino acids. It’s better and more efficient for a plant to build the wall with bricks that already exist rather than to need to manufacture the bricks before it can build the wall. This is how Nature’s molecular biology of plant nutrition and soil building works, so for us its prudent to apply bio-mimicry as our method of growing any urban landscape or farm crop than it is to just crank the N-P-K into the fertilizer system.
Michael M. Melendrez
Managing Member of Soil Secrets LLC