Part 1 - The Potted Ecosystem
In this mini-series we want to highlight and explain why our soil works so well! As a small business we have always been keen to educate and share our love for dirt. We’re so proud of what we have created and the hard work we have poured into formulating our magical mixes! The last thing we wanted to do is to throw a product out there and hope for the best. We’re not just here to get dirty, we’re here to give guidance and help keep your green gang thriving!
What makes soil work!
Part one involves arguably the most important factor in the equation - the potted ecosystem. You may be unaware of the microscopic world that lives in every pot on your plant shelf. That tiny little world with that pot is what keeps your plant growing strong.
Every bag of Soil Ninja contains beneficial mycelium (the webby network body of fungi) which has a symbiotic relationship with your plant's roots. These fungi friends fight off root-based pathogens whilst increasing nutrient and water absorption. They do this hugging the roots and extending the roots 'reach' by bringing water and nutrients towards the roots, as well as turning certain nutrients into the bio available version the plant needs. In turn, the roots feed the fungi with carbohydrates to benefit both lifeforms.
But it's not only mycelium and our plants that populate this ecosystem. Worm castings we put in every mix contain a huge population of beneficial fauna and microfauna such as springtails, worms and many species of helpful microbes that eat decaying matter and creating more fertiliser as waste. Our own living soil recyclers!
The science behind our dirt is truly fascinating, there’s so much more to talk about...
Part 2 - Premium components, soil physical structure and chemistry.
So moving onto the second part of our mini series 'Why Soil Ninja', we are talking about our premium ingredients and how they effect the physical nature and chemistry of our dirt. Understanding the physical structure and chemistry of a soil mix and how its components can interact with water, air and nutrients is vital in keeping your plants happy long-term. So let's catorigorise a few of the things that's important to understand, and how a few star components in our mixes significantly contribute to our mixes physical and chemical characteristics.
Oooh we love a good acronym, CEC = Cation Exchange Capacity. Basically, CEC describes the soils ability to hold positively charged ions (cations) and exchange them with surrounding water. These ions include a bunch of plants' essential nutrients, sooo you can start to see why this might be important for soil to be able to hold onto these guys, as well as letting them go when watered.
So, what components in our mixes boost CEC?
Well let's start with the base - Coco coir. Our coir is specifically washed and buffered to remove the massive amounts of sodium and potassium that's naturally found in the coir, which vastly increases the CEC of the soil. Having too many Sodium and Potassium ions in there disrupts the soils ability to store and hold other positively charged particles.
Seeing as we are already talking about CEC, let's chat Zeoli The reason Zeolite is such a star component is because it can significantly alter many of the soils physical and chemical properties positively, including CEC. Because Zeolite is negatively charged, it absorbs and stores nutrients and when the plants roots come into contact with a piece of Zeolite it can then exchange the stored nutrient with H+ ions that roots naturally pump out!
You've all heard of this one. Aeration is basically the amount of air that exists in and can travel around the soil. Why is this important? Well - roots growth through the airgaps in the soil, not the soil itself! That's why keeping plants in minimally aerated soil is pretty difficult as there isn't a lot of room for error in terms of over/underwatering!
Components can aerate in two ways.
1. By naturally existing in the soil blend, any rock or bark chip or (even on a microscopic level) sand will aerate the soil by breaking it up and creating small air chambers around each component piece. If you've ever used a transparent pot you'll be able to see how granules naturally create these air pockets.
2. By storing air inside the granule itself. Pumice is an excellent example of this as it's dotted with micropores all over that act as little tunnels for air to be stored. This increased surface area means these components act as extra air oasis' in the mixture creating an ideal aerobic environment for root growth!
Water retention and drainage.
These might seem conflicting, and in a way they are! When watering we want our soil to be fully saturated, meaning we want it to to absorb as much water as it can physically. But we want all excess water to drain right through, and out the bottom of the pot, otherwise 'puddles' will form in the important air crevasses which can easily lead to rot. So what components can help with this?
Coco - Due to the capillary action that Coco coir possesses, it can draw in water and distribute it evenly amongst and within itself, and when fully saturated can lead the rest of the water downwards between it's fibres and out of the pot!
Aerators - pretty much all of our aerators such as Zeolite, Perlite, Vermiculite and even Bark help in both retention and drainage. By being a physical hard object in the soil they can create easy passageways for excess water to drain through to different sections of the mixture and eventually out the pot. Similarly, they are able to absorb and store water in their pores, leading to greater water retention of the mix!
Interestingly, Sand and grit can be used to decrease retention and increase drainage! By being non porous materials, water just runs straight past their surface. Sand itself actually creates thousands of micro passages in the soil, increasing drainage.
This is why these components are used heavily to cacti mixes as these blends want minimal moisture retention, and maximal drainage.
Thanks to all who made it this far! That was a long post. Hope you all had a good read and Part 3 coming soon!
Part 3 - Let’s educate and share our dirty knowledge!
We've already discussed the soil ecosystem and how the different components change the properties within the soil - this final part is about our mission to educate the community so they can develop their own green thumb!
When we launched Soil Ninja we promised ourselves we would be as transparent, authentic and open as possible about our substrates/components - along with how and why they work. Coming from the community ourselves, we knew there wasn't a lot of direction and willingness to educate from the big players in the big stores. It was important to us to prove to you guys we cared enough to actually teach the fundamentals so you could then leave the Soil 101 nest and understand the underground portion of this hobby with confidence.
Moving on two and a half years later, we have a complete and extensive Houseplant-Soil matching index, blogs discussing components to repotting guides and a customer service team of one (Our girl Amy)! Who is keen to give advice and share knowledge to anyone that needs it.
For us there's always more to learn and always more to teach. If there's anything you guys think is still a mystery in the soil game, let us know and we will work on some content to fill in those gaps.
Thank you all so much for reading this blog on "Why Soil.Ninja" and what we do to try and improve our tiny part of this growing sector. We couldn't have made this impact without you! Here's to you all!
Love from the Soil Ninja Team x