5 natural ways growers improve quality in their organic produce
The organic market is increasing and more consumers are looking for organic produce than ever before. We are supporting the Soil Association’s #OrganicSeptember initiative by taking a look at 5 ways organic growers can get the most from their soil and improve the quality and yield of their fruit and vegetable crops to satisfy the demands of this growing group of consumers.
1. Supplementing a soil’s natural resources
Organic farmers depend on a healthy soil to provide a sustainable food source for their crops. By growing and rotating a mixture of crops, regularly adding organic matter such as compost or manure and using clover to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere they can achieve a more healthy and fertile soil. But however well-maintained the soil, nutrient deficiency and stresses will still occur and to reduce their impact on healthy growth and development, growers can make use of supplementary feeds that are made from naturally occurring materials and approved by their regulatory body. (Soil Association or Organic Farmers & Growers)
For over ten years now, Ilex have been working with organic growers and their regulatory organisations to provide a range of plant-derived fertilisers to supplement the key elements: Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus(P) and Potassium (K) in a wide variety of crop situations. Complete (6-2-4) liquid for example, will ensure the correct balance of nutrients is available for the initial growth of transplanted crops and K-Max (3-1-8) will provide additional Potassium, to support later growth and fruit formation.
“We sometimes need to use nutritional inputs when we are propagating young plants but to keep inputs to a minimum, it is important to only treat the plants that need it. Product consistency is really important here. We need to know that once diluted for application, the plant is still going to get what it needs to overcome the deficiency, and it is that consistency that we get with the Ilex products.”
Pete Dollimore, Hankham Organics, East Sussex
2. Increasing use of soil-held nutrients
For centuries, farmers have used seaweed as a natural nutrient source for crops and livestock, but seaweed does more than just supply essential nutrients, it also helps the plant make better use of the nutrients that are already there. For example, Stimplex a natural crop biostimulant extracted from sustainably harvested North Atlantic Ascophyllum nodosum seaweed, has been shown to improve plant nutrition in three main ways: encouraging the plant’s production of natural growth substances (auxins and cytokinins) to stimulate root growth and increase uptake of soil-held nutrients; feeding the soil microbes that convert unavailable nutrients into a form that plants can actually use; and supplying organic acids to act as natural ‘chelators’, binding nutrients into a form that can be more easily taken up and transported through the plant.
“When we need to use a foliar feed, we find we get the best results by spraying regularly with a combination of Complete 6-2-4 and the seaweed-based Stimplex. By mixing the two together, the seaweed stimulates the plant’s natural processes, helping it make better use of the nutrients and in turn, we get better healthier plants.”
Edwin Broad, Riverdale Organic Farm, Cambridgeshire
3. Reducing plant stress
Organic farmers know that a well-fed crop with robust and healthy roots is better able to withstand the pressures of pests, disease and adverse weather but some natural substances can also increase the plants’ natural defences. Research carried out on seaweed extract Stimplex, has shown that plants treated with Stimplex have stronger cell walls and produce more antioxidants during times of stress, preventing the breakdown of cell walls and increasing resistance to water and temperature stresses. Stronger cell walls produce a stronger plant, which is a significant advantage in the fight against pests, disease and weather stress.
4. Fighting off weeds
Weed control is a crucial and time-consuming part of organic farming. Using a protective film to cover the soil surrounding the growing plant is a highly efficient way of preventing the early growth of weeds, either from seed already present, or those carried through the air. It also creates a micro-climate that speeds up root growth and plant establishment. Ilex Bio-Film Mulch is ideal for organic growing systems as it is made from fully bio-degradable cornstarch which the soil microbes can break down completely after use.
“We use Ilex Biofilm Mulch on nearly all our crops. It saves us a lot of time overall: we can start planting earlier – if we can get it down in good conditions; we get better rooting and plant establishment; good moisture retention; and it means we are not spending valuable time on weed control.”
Edwin Broad, Riverdale Organic Farm, Cambridgeshire
5. Encouraging consistency and yield potential
With a better understanding of the nutritional needs of a particular crop at different growth stages, organic growers can use naturally derived supplements to help maintain yields and produce a more consistent crop. Better nutrition encourages more even growth patterns, which, in turn encourages more consistency in the size and quality of the crop. The bioactive agents in natural materials such as seaweed can also stimulate crop development at important stages of growth. Using Stimplex at key timings for example, can help tomato plants produce more flowers or strawberry plants to produce more crowns, resulting in enhanced yield potential. Stimplex has also been shown to promote the growth of the stems in clusters of grapes (rachis length), allowing fruit to grow bigger and improve the airflow around the fruit so reducing the likelihood of disease.
Check out more grower stories on the Soil Association website:
Meet Guy Watson – Founder of Riverford and this year’s BOOM Award winner for Best Organic Farmer & Best Organic Market Innovator
For further information on #OrganicSeptember visit The Soil Association website
For further information on the Ilex range of fertilisers and biostimulants CLICK HERE