Nitrogen compounds are essential for many forms of life – including plants, animals and people. Without nitrogen, we can’t have DNA, RNA, amino acids, proteins, or the passage of electrons between molecules. So basically, we can’t survive, and nor can our plants.
So what we call nitrogen fixing is a big deal. Fortunately, nature provided a way, helping you to grow a healthy garden with the right gardening supplies.
Beans Means Nitrates
Any vegetable garden can benefit from at least one row of neatly placed and tended beanpoles with flourishing gorgeous green vines and smelling of sunshine. But did you know that there’s more to the humble bean than just as a pleasant addition to a proper roast dinner?
The ancient Native Americans noticed something special in the relationship between three crops. Corn, pumpkin (or squash) and beans may not look like they have much in common, but what each lacks, the others provide, and so they get along very well as a trio. The three plants are known in agriculture as the three sisters.
Beans help to stabilise corn stalks as they use them to climb, in addition to fixing nitrogen in the soil for plants to grow healthily. The roots of bean plants are home to a type of bacteria that produces nitrogen compounds. The fixed nitrogen that is released once the plant dies and fertilises the ground, is then usable by other plants.
Pumpkin is a heavy-feeding vegetable that helps to both shade the soil and supress weeds by acting as a living mulch. The practice of planting the three sisters together has largely died out, though some growers still pair corn with one or the other sister.
The key ingredient to this relationship is certainly the nitrogen. Nitrogen promotes green growth and many plants simply don’t grow without it; and yet have little means of obtaining it without help.
Other legumes that help to fixate nitrogen are: peas, lentils, alfalfa, vetch, fava beans, lupines, and clover.
Borage is a commercial oil crop, but is also very popular with the homegrower and allotment gardener, as it has attractive foliage and delicate purple flowers that bloom for four to six months. You can then simply dig it into the soil as a fertiliser and it will provide fantastic slow-release nitrogen as it breaks down.
Borage is also known as bee bush, bee bread, and starflower, from which you might gather that it’s a particular favourite of bees. And not just your humble bumble and honey bee – but the small native types too. Great news for those of us concerned about declining bee populations! Borage is also a medicinal herb with edible leaves and flowers that can be combined with other spring leaves to make a tasty salad or pesto.
Birch trees are considered nurse trees for young plantations, as they’re fast growing, and are a great option for improving soil over large areas of ground and providing protection from the weather.
Birch is used to make furniture and paper, as a fuel for smoking haddock, and the bark is used for roofing material and tanning leather. Birch sap is sweet and medicinal when made into a syrup, or it can be brewed into beer or wine. Birch polyvore, a type of fungus, is also an ancient medicine used throughout Northern European history.
Plants of the Rose Family
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that there are close to five thousand species of the rose, or rosaceae, family. But you may not have realised that the family includes many popular trees and plants such as apples, pears, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, apricots, plums, peaches, loquats, almonds, rowans, and hawthorns, to name only a handful.
Many of these are nitrogen fixing, but not all. Look for those that produce seeds such as strawberries and raspberries, along with rose bushes. Paired with the right soil types and their preferred amount of sunlight, these will give your fruit orchard or ornamental garden a much needed nutrient boost.
Did you know clover is a legume? White and red clover are also popular for nitrate fixing but, whether you go for white or for red, largely depends on what you are planting. A peach orchard may benefit more from the red, for the type of pollinator it attracts, for instance, while the white is traditionally found in open grazed grassland and dislikes shaded areas.
These tall, colourful blooming stems are a favourite all over the UK. They’re easy to grow, are available in a myriad of colour options, and are equally popular with the bees. Just a few inexpensive seed packets of these garden delights will cover every spare inch of your plot year on year.
A Quick Boost
Some fertilisers are formulated to work sympathetically with the plant’s natural environment, such as LeafMagic. It supports the microorganisms in the soil, which then support the plant. Much like beans, growing microorganisms to insert nitrates for corn, LeafMagic gives a friendly hand by filling in those gaps where you may not have the knowledge or the means to organically.
It’s not only plants that have nitrate fixing properties. Some freshwater-loving species, including tadpoles, frogs and lichens also have that ability; as does lightning, which converts nitrogen in the Earth’s atmosphere into ammonia.
Here at Greenhouse Sensation, we want to make sure that your garden flourishes and lives a long, healthy life. Whether you need planters, pots, or watering supplies, simply get in touch with our team to know more about how to fix nitrogen in your soil.