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Brown leaf tips? Not here.

Any good farmer knows the signs of plant health.

Leaves that grow large and stretch out straight. Consistent, deep-green hue. Fast growth.

And of course, the leaf tips. In a production setting, growers tend to eye those tips for the telltale discoloration that signals a not-quite-dialed nutrient balance.

It can be tricky getting that balance right. There’s a dizzying array of products on the market, promising a full spectrum of macro- and micronutrients, enzymes, catalysts, etc. Growers rely on these products to deliver consistent quality; from there, they must fine-tune recipes that fit their crops, in their particular conditions.

But as far as we’re concerned, that’s all conventional farming. For us, brown leaf tips are never an issue. When our soil biology is reasonably healthy, we just don’t see them.

We say ‘reasonably’ because healthy-looking leaf tips are not the gold standard of health. (We consider pest and disease resistance to be the gold standard.) But we do see it as a sign that our plants are, to a significant degree, feeding themselves.

In a healthy system, plants secrete carbon-rich compounds below-ground to feed particular bacteria and fungi, which in turn offer back specific nutrients. If the plant gets no response to its offer – because the target bacteria or fungi just aren’t there – the plant begins to suffer malnutrition. Its immune system won’t function properly, making it vulnerable to infestation and disease.

Because of this disruption in the system, the plant must rely on the grower to supply the nutrients it needs. However, it’s virtually impossible to know precisely the concentrations and ratios a plant may require at any given time, so a grower can always expect to be applying either not enough of any one nutrient, or too much (leading to toxicity and runoff issues).

With access to biologically rich compost, this all becomes a moot point. The key, as always, lies with what we see – in the field sure, but most importantly through the microscope. Does your compost contain sufficient decomposer biomass? Does it contain protozoa, nematodes and microarthropods in decent numbers? If we know these things ahead of time, we can predict the results we'll see in the field. And it doesn't take much to get your plants to that threshold of consistently green tips. (Always consider contacting us for help with these assessments.)

Currently, a few small-scale composters are beginning to offer product rich enough to fit the bill (we produce small amounts at FoothillBio, accompanied by data so you know what you’re getting). However, because of the industry’s current limitations, many growers find it worthwhile to produce their own inoculum material.

Once you’ve got the stuff, just prepare an extract (swish a small amount in water to extract the organisms) and drench your soil with it. Small amounts of food, especially fatty substances to feed fungal growth, will help those microbes proliferate.

For more information on finding quality compost or making your own, contact us.

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