Very few know what a soil activator is. We explain what this is all about and how to use soil activators for healthy soil life.
The term might sound a bit strange at first, but it is a very useful thing that you should know as a hobby gardener. In times of low humus soils and nitrate pollution, the health of soils comes more and more into focus – that’s a good thing, we at Gardender think. So that you know what a floor activator is all about, we have summarized everything on the subject here.
Do you know what a soil activator is, what it’s used for and what it’s made of? All of these questions are answered below and we show you what to consider when choosing and using a soil activator.
What is a soil activator?
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Soil activators are nothing more than soil fertilizers. This means that the application of a soil activator is not aimed directly at nourishing plants but at increasing soil quality. In turn, healthy and active soil has a positive effect on the plants that grow in it. The effect of soil activators is largely based on the fact that organic material is brought in together with a limited amount of nutrients.
Some mixtures contain living microorganisms that can repopulate impoverished soil. In addition, any soil additives should create an optimal environment for microorganisms. The effect is increased activity and reproduction of microorganisms as well as a promotion of humus build-up and other important processes that take place in the soil.
Why do you need a soil activator?
To understand the meaning of soil fertilizers, the soil has to be viewed with slightly different eyes: What at first glance looks like a lot of dust and dirt, in the case of a healthy garden bed of 10 m2 can contain a good 25 kilograms of microorganisms. There is an enormous variety within these organisms: bacteria, fungi, roundworms and insects, worms, and woodlice are just a few examples. Roughly outlined their life’s mission and the basis of their life is the implementation of all kinds of organic material that accumulates on and in the soil. On the one hand, they ensure that new, fertile humus is built up, on the other hand, they release nutrients.
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However, if there is not enough organic material available for the community of microorganisms, the little helpers begin to starve and sometimes even die out. This happens particularly strongly on intensively and commercially cultivated arable land, so that in some cases only four to five tons of soil organisms per hectare of land remain – around a fifth of the original mass.
Tip: The entirety of the soil flora and fauna is called the Edaphon. The composition can vary greatly depending on the type of soil, vegetation, and environmental conditions, but the following table provides some guidelines:
|Part of the earphone
|Algae and mushrooms
|Macrofauna: larger insects, snails, millipedes, etc.
|Microfauna: Smallest insects, mites, nematodes, springtails, etc.
But why is a loss of soil organisms something negative? You’d think that all these springtails, nematodes, fungi, and insects want to harm our beloved garden plants to feast on their tissues. But that in no way corresponds to reality. In fact, all plants that grow in the soil are associated with microorganisms. Since they can only get nutrients naturally through small living things, many plants even attract bacteria by secreting a carbohydrate-rich gel at their root tips.
They even form such a close bond with the mycorrhizal fungi that their root cells are in constant direct contact with their fungal threads. The fungus supplies nitrogen, phosphate, and water, in return it receives a simple sugar as an energy source that it cannot produce itself. Apart from this direct influence, the activity in the soil has a strong influence on the water and nutrient balance, the pH value, and the thermal conductivity of the soil. If these physical factors are stable, this will facilitate plant growth.
Using a soil activator makes sense on emaciated, stressed soils when no organic material is available from other sources. The soil can only be revitalized through nutrition and the possible resettlement of microorganisms so that humus reproduction gets going, soil compaction and waterlogging are reduced and plants can benefit from all of the positive effects mentioned.
What is a soil activator made of?
Ultimately, a soil activator is only what a wrongly or too intensively cultivated soil is missing: organic material, i.e. the nutritional basis for microorganisms and the starting material for humus formation. In addition, there may be living organisms or their forms of persistence. The organic material itself usually also brings with it the nutrients that are required by soil life. If nutrient information is given on a soil activator, these primarily serve to supply microorganisms.
Above all, nitrogen is important because it is needed to build enzymes and DNA. Lime is also often added because the bacteria involved in humus formation have an easier and more productive life at higher pH values. In addition, the natural ingredients contain all trace nutrients that are important for plants and that mineral fertilizers do not provide. Clay minerals such as bentonite, which are mineral soil additives but with which microorganisms do not interact much, are contained less frequently.
Soil activator in the test: you should pay attention to this
How soil activators work can be used to determine what to look out for when buying:
- A soil activator should not have a high nutrient content, as this would reduce the formation of humus.
- Liquid soil activators bring in microorganisms and nutrients, but structural materials are often lacking in impoverished soils much more urgently. The use of liquid soil activator on the soil should only take place with the simultaneous incorporation of organic material.
- Soil activators can be based on raw materials of animal or vegetable origin. If you do not want to support commercial factory farming, you should therefore keep an eye on the declaration of soil activators and choose the animal-free variant.
You can read more about humus management – the humus-promoting cultivation of soils – in this special article.
Mineral soil activator
Since organic matter is the most important ingredient in a soil activator, there are of course no mineral soil activators. Rather, it is only the increased use of purely mineral fertilizers that makes the use of a soil activator necessary. The chain of effects is as follows:
- Mineral fertilizers provide nutrients to soil organisms, which stimulates their activity. However, it lacks fresh, carbon-rich compounds as an energy source.
- The microorganisms thus attack other organic substances in the soil: fertile soil humus is decomposed and the carbon it contains is absorbed and then partially exhaled by the bacteria as CO2.
- Boosted by the supply of nutrients, soil life has increased significantly, a lot of humus is mineralized, and even more, nutrients are released.
- The humus content drops and so does the nutritional basis of the microorganisms. The microorganisms can no longer multiply and die again. Their bodies also contain carbon, are broken down by other organisms, and even more, carbon is breathed into the air.
- The result is soil with less humus and a decimated number of soil organisms. Many nutrients were available in the short term. However, this is only a poor consolation, considering that valuable humus takes months to build up and only a few centimeters form over several decades. The soil quality has therefore decreased with the loss of humus.
So soil activators are therefore always organic fertilizers – possibly with small proportions of mineral nutrients. Read more: Organic-Mineral Fertilizer: Properties And Effects
Organic soil activator
All soil activators are therefore mostly organic. But where does organic matter come from? As with all organic fertilizers, there are two options: The raw materials can be animal or vegetables. Because slaughterhouse waste and animal excrement are often too rich in nutrients, various raw materials are usually combined. However, anyone who attaches importance to the fact that animal raw materials come from sustainable and organic sources should pay attention to organic certification. This should especially be the case with animal lovers, vegetarians, vegans, and environmentally conscious gardeners.
Organic soil activator
Soil activators with organic certification promise a sustainable and ethical source of their raw materials. The Gardender organic soil activator developed by us is also one of the certified organic soil activators. It does not contain any animal ingredients and is presented separately here in this article. In addition to the component of conscience, the smell is also a plus point of animal-free soil activators and fertilizers in general: Ground slaughterhouse waste often has an unpleasant odor that can even attract corvids or the cats in the neighborhood.
Use of soil activator
Soil activators can be used on all surfaces on which the soil is to be improved. Some areas are of course more in need than others: lawns and vegetable patches are heavily used by the recurring mowing, processing, and removal of crops or lawn clippings. However, all areas that have been fertilized almost exclusively with mineral fertilizers in recent years show improved performance after the application of a soil activator. Since these are complex and sometimes lengthy processes that lead to the build-up of humus, an immediate effect is of course impossible – just as one-off mineral fertilization does not immediately lead to a dramatic decrease in soil quality.
The application rate of the soil activator depends on the type and condition of the fertilized soil. Lawns and vegetable and greenhouse areas have a higher demand than more natural bedding areas, on which a stalk or leaf occasionally falls to the ground and could be consumed by soil organisms. Correct application is important: soil activator is scattered and then only worked into the upper layer of soil. If the weather is dry, it can be watered afterward. Usually, the next rain takes over this task.