Organic Plant Nutrition – Nature’s Way

Organic Plant Nutrition - Nature's Way

Already, much has been said and written about organic food and organic plant nutrition. There is still a gap between public understanding, (with “organic" are actually meant “natural") and science, (“organic" means coming from a living organism).

The role of autotrofic plants, (plants that photosynthesize), in the natural food chain are to produce organic nutrients (sugars, starches) from inorganic elements (carbondioxide from the air and minerals from the soil).

Compost, i.e. the organic content of the soil, is a good starting point. Compost is more than rotten plant material. It is a key element of natural (organic) plant nutrition, where the active ingredients are key components of the environment and structure thereof, within which the natural feeding processes are happening.

The water soluble parts of compost (humic acids, fulvic acids, amino acids) play a key role throughout:

  • 1.Soil structure
    Soil is the arena within which the plant nutrition activities play out. There must be sufficient storage space for the nutrients (fertility), as well as enough space for water ( the nutrient carrier) and air movement A loose, crumbly, organic rich soil structure is needed for this. An organic deficient soil becomes as hard as a block of cement (closed up). In an organic rich soil the humic acid binds the soil particles into agglomorates, resulting in the needed crumbly structure.

  • 2.Root development
    A plant absorbs it’s nutrients with its roots in liquid form, and therefore needs a well developed root structure for effective nutrition.
    The plant develops its hair roots, with which he absorbs his nutrients, the best in an organic rich soil.
    Deficiencies of the essential minerals like phosphate or boron (or any of the other seventeen) can cause serious damage.

  • 3.Availability and absorption of mineralsThe soil organic matter increases the nutrient storage capacity of the soil and the water soluble part (fulvic acid) supports the solubility of the minerals. It also helps to create the right conditions (chemical balances) around the roots for easy and efficient nutrient absorption.
    The soil’s pH is also crucial for mineral availability and movement and can easily be monitored.

  • 4.Plant vitalityThe fulvic acid part of compost is also absorbed and plays an important vitamin type role in the plant’s biochemistry. (Heard of the juicy nethouse tomatoes without taste?)

The result is bigger, greener, healthier, stronger plants. (the vitamin effect)

Compost is thus fundamental to an optimal, natural plant nutrition process (organic plant nutrition).

A Gardener’s goals

  • 1.To build-up and maintain the organic content of his soil;

  • 2.To understand the natural feeding process;

  • 3.To plant with compost and later to refill with the water soluble parts (humic and fulvic acids);

  • 4.To leave as much as possible plant residues in his garden (mulching);

  • 5.To apply the water soluble parts of the compost in places where application of solid compost is impossible;

  • 6.To use plant nutrients that are integrated in an organic medium;

  • 7.To monitor his plants nutrient status by simple observation and measurements.


Soil quality is the foundation to successful gardening. Key to soil quality is soil structure and soil fertility, both highly dependant on the organic (humus) content of the soil.

Missing from the present day picture, hindering environmental friendly gardening is the detailed, scientific management of humus (or carbon in it's multiple forms) as part of the fertilizer program. Carbon (as humus in the soil and CO2 in the air) is the most important building block for life. Without it, the soil is non-productive and no plant can thrive. Imagine the feel and smell of a rich, fertile soil - crumbly and granular. The granulation ability (soil structure) of a given soil is driven by one key component - the humus (carbon) content.

What is required to manage carbon with the same level of proficiency as the other plant nutrients?

The question arises, why are plants, growing in humus-rich soils, greener, healthier, bigger, more productive than plants in organically depleted soils?

The answer is that the humus content, which is variable, together with the clay content, which is fixed, determines the soils work-ability, nutrient and moisture holding capacity, drainage and aeration ability. Soil loses it's physical and chemical structure with the depletion of humus, a sure and continuous process without proper maintenance.

Groups of organic acids which includes the humic acid group, the fulvic acid group and the amino acid group, are the important active ingredients of humus. These weak acids are key to soil structure, root development, plant vitality and nutrient availability and uptake, and can easily be integrated into any dedicated gardener’s fertilization program.

Restoring the proper scientific management of humus (the element carbon) is imperative to the success of environmental friendly gardening

The nature and properties of soils.
Nyle C Brady (Cornell University and US Agency for InternationalDevelopment) : The nature and properties of soils; Macmillan PublishingCompany NY


Gardening is surely one of the most popular (and satisfying) activities utilizing the valuable resources, time and money, of John Citizen.

How should the gardener then keep himself busy to gain optimal satisfaction?

It may initially sound superficial to answer, “the plant and its environment", but it becomes significant in the context of the gardener’s needs and goals:

  • A beautiful, healthy, strong plant is a happy plant in a plant friendly environment.

  • An organically rich environment - healthy, fertile soil with high humus content.

  • A strong root system is a necessity - humic acid and boron playing a key role.

  • Strong, healthy vegetative growth - the result of a regular, balanced plant nutrient program, with a strong organic base.

  • Abundant flower and fruit production - trace elements and calcium, again in an organic medium, are vital.

  • Healthy plants with strong recuperation ability after a traumatic event like frost, plant transfer or pruning - the organic components taking centre stage again.

Alas, as in other areas, there are a few aspects that were not addressed. New approaches that deliver better results, as well as new developments that contribute to more plant friendly, environment friendly and last but not least, gardener friendly gardening.

One such development is the availability of the water-soluble ingredients of compost to the gardener and the integration thereof with the essential plant nutrients.

Not only can the gardener apply the most important active ingredients of compost with his watering can or spray applicator - he can also feed his plants a well balanced nutrient program, based in an organic medium - equivalent to the way plants obtain their food in nature.

Chris Potgieter