Organic practices like applying compost and biological fertilisers can be regenerative. But as you’ll read, it depends on how we use them. Relying solely on inputs limits our ability to repair the ecosystems in our soil and therefore their capacity to support us with growing food.

Applying extra compost, mulch, other organic materials and biological fertilisers typically increases our soil’s organic matter and carbon levels and adds microbes and other living organisms that may be missing from our soil. But to sustain these improvements, we have to regularly maintain this level of input. Without suitable living conditions, the microbes and other soil organisms in these inputs don’t survive for long. [1] And only a small portion of the organic materials from these above-ground inputs are stored long-term as organic matter in our soil (see diagram below).[2,3]

Diagram showing limited improvements inputs provide

To retain organic matter and the carbon it contains, we need organic materials from decaying roots and root exudates (the sugars and proteins plants secrete from their roots). [2,3]

Instead of focusing on inputs, we’re better off growing more plant biomass to improve the supply of roots and root exudates and using practices to increase the recycling of leaves, manure and other organic waste materials in our soil. We then provide a natural food supply for our microbes and other soil organisms, enabling them to get on with the jobs for which they have had billions of years of training (see diagram below).[4]

  1. Maintaining the soil infrastructure
  2. Converting organic waste materials into organic matter
  3. Reprocessing the nutrients in the organic matter and releasing nutrients locked in mineral particles in soil
  4. Making these nutrients available for plants to reuse

Diagram showing how to get the ecosystems in our farms and gardens functioning again

We have got used to growing food in poorly functioning soil ecosystems. In applying fertilisers, pest controls, and other inputs, we substitute for the free ecological services functioning ecosystems would otherwise provide.[5,6]

Our reliance on these inputs is not much different from taking pills to reduce high blood pressure! The pills improve our blood pressure, but by understanding why our blood pressure is high, we can take steps to improve the functioning of our circulatory system. We reduce our pill intake and our chances of suffering from side effects.

Understanding the root cause for why we have low organic matter levels in our soil – we design regenerative practices that work well for our climate, and what we grow. We get our soil ecosystems functioning again and off the treadmill of applying inputs.

Get Support with Breaking your Fertiliser Addiction!

Recommended articles –

  1. What is Healthy Soil?
  2. How to Build Healthy Soil – Eco-logically
  3. How to reduce fertiliser costs
  4. What is Regenerative Farming and Gardening
  5. How to do Regenerative Farming and Gardening – Ecologically

Watch the videos in the playlist ‘Fix your Nutrient Cycling‘ on the Learning from Nature YouTube channel.

Or better still, get one of these resources to develop practical solutions for your farm or garden.

References – Compost and Biological Fertilisers

[1] Lavelle, P., Moreira, F. & Spain, A., 2014, Biodiversity: Conserving biodiversity in agroecosystems. In: van Alfen, N., et al., (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Agriculture and Food Systems, Vol 2. Elsevier Publishers, San Diego, pp. 41-60.

[2] Michael W. I. Schmidt, Margaret S., et al., 2011, Persistence of soil organic matter as an ecosystem property, Nature 478

[3] Daniel P. Rasse, Cornelia Rumpel & Marie-France Dignac, 2005, Is soil carbon mostly root carbon? Mechanisms for a specific stabilisation, Plant and Soil (2005) 269: pp 341–356

[4] Wendy Seabrook, 2021, How to Build Healthy Soil – Eco-logically, Learning from Nature

Wendy Seabrook, 2021, What is Regenerative Farming and Gardening? Learning from Nature

[5] Wendy Seabrook, 2022, Eco-logical Farming Handbook, Publ Learning from Nature

[6] Wendy Seabrook, 2022, Eco-logical Gardening Handbook, Publ Learning from Nature


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