Olive Growing: Soil biology as a part of soil health.

Soil organisms contribute to soil structure, water holding capacity, pH and nutrient availability, while the physical and chemical soil environment determines what organisms can live in the soil profile.  There is a strong interaction between all of these components, where changes in one aspect will influence others!  The holistic approach of looking at the soil as a system will enable you to use the natural soil processes to improve production, health and long-term yield.

A major function of soil biota (which includes many organisms from microscopic bacteria to giant tunnelling earthworms) is the breakdown and release of nutrients of organic matter decomposition.  Carbon is a major component of organic matter and is integral to all energy functions/transfer in living matter.  An active microbial population is responsible for the rate of this breakdown and the more diverse and abundant the carbon source is the more diverse and abundant the micro-organisms are.  Microorganisms make up 80-90% of the soils biological activity and are the end stage of all decomposition.

Living organisms need to be considered in any soil evaluation and adopting a more sustainable, natural or organic approach rather than using chemicals as an easy short term fix will certainly help these organisms work for you.  You can use organic products and methods even if your grove does not have organic certification.

Repetitive use of inorganic chemicals may not promote the ‘beneficial organisms’ in your soil and can build up harmful residues in your soil and rapidly degrade soil structure.

Inorganic chemicals, especially in concentrated forms, require special care with storage, handling and application and because of their nature may pose unacceptable risks to staff, olive trees and your final product (i.e. oil or fruit).  The health risks associated with unnecessary use of toxic chemicals may have preventable medical, legal and financial consequences which any grove manager will naturally want to avoid.

Trying to improve microbial activity in the soil is pointless if there is no organic matter (i.e. food or carbon).  Most of new population will simply die. This is why any successful inoculation program has the deal with the business of building a home for bacteria and then “stocking the shelves”.  Microbes work always work to increase and multiply – if they can.  Thus the soil life profile is always ‘in process’.

The problem is that under certain cropping condition, many soils become elementally depleted or unbalanced.

Read more about the Function of Nutrients

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