It wasn’t always like this. We weren’t always so dependent on synthetic fertilizers and chemicals to make our plants and soil healthy. There was a time when we were unapologetically organic, too, meaning we depend on all-natural products and matter to make our soil fertile enough for growing plants, crops, vegetation, flowers, and others. But today, going organic is all the rage again and organic farming is making a comeback. The most hardcore organic farmers are again dependent on organic matter, manure, and compost—the only real fertilizer that was available back then.
These ancestral agricultural practices gave carbon—that broken down organic matter—back to the soil while delivering nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium as well. Somehow, in all the years between now and then, soil organic carbon has become important for farmers once more.
Soil organic carbon is the structural basis for healthy soil. It is the key to long-term soil fertility. Richer soils have more carbon while over-exploited or arid soil is carbon-depleted.
It wasn’t hard to find organic matter. Finding this natural soil fertilizer and conditioner wasn’t the reason why we have become so dependent on chemical fertilizers in the past.
People have become impatient waiting for compost to mature or collecting natural fertilizers such as seaweed from the beach. We want everything instant and synthetic fertilizers are instant and reportedly can hold more concentration of nutrients than organic matter such as manure and compost.
Of course, while these are valid concerns and not all farmers have the time to make their own compost or wait for the compost to mature, they should not deter a farmer or a gardener from integrating applications of organic matter into the fertilization schedule.
The use of organic matter is a form of investment into long-term soil quality. Organic matter used as fertilizer provides more nutrients for the soil and thus, the healthy form of the soil lasts longer and becomes more useful for growing plants.
Carbon helps in storing bioavailable nitrogen for longer periods of time and carbon sequestered in soil does not volatilize to the atmosphere.
Compost is an ideal source of organic matter but we must be careful in applying compost because immature compost can use up the nitrogen in soil because the decomposition of organic matter needs nitrogen. Immature compost can also create anaerobic pockets that host bacteria and toxic substances.
Manure is a readily available source of organic matter but there’s also the possibility of it containing human and plant pathogens, so we must be careful when applying it.