What is a food web?
A food web is a series of related food chains depicting the movement of energy and matter through an ecosystem. In relation to organic lawn care, the food web we are most concerned with is located in and near the soil. Food webs are extremely intricate and complex but can be best understood from a diagram.
How does it effect lawn care?
The food web of an organic lawn care program consists of the surface of the lawn as well as the soil beneath it. A healthy organic soil is teeming with insects, fungi, nematodes, and countless microorganisms at once eating, digesting, living and dying in a complex relationship that results in a sustained, natural feeding of the grass. The food web is intricate and fragile with each organism and process depending on the other. If a component is missing, the entire web is weakened or lost altogether. A complex and thriving food web will nourish and sustain healthy grass.
The science of the food web is complex and for our purposes not important to fully understand. What is important is to realize that every aspect of the web is integral to its overall function. For example, insecticides are not wanted in an organic program because they don’t just kill grubs, they kill dozens of other insects crucial to the breakdown of organic matter and the development of plant available nutrients. The success of an organic program depends on keeping the web thriving and in tact.
Synthetic fertilizers bypass most of the breakdown processes in the soil and feed the plant directly with ready to use nutrients. This method is not necessarily wrong but it is not natural, can contribute to leaching and excess run-off, and does nothing for the long term health of the soil.
Organic fertilizers feed the soil by enabling, encouraging, and assisting the natural processes of the food web. Organic matter is broken down by microorganisms which transform and release plant nutrients, essentially turning them from non-usable to plant-digestible nutrients.
An organic lawn care program depends on a functioning food web. Topdressing with compost and using organic fertilizers are the best ways to promote the natural processes in the soil. Maintaining proper soil pH is also an important factor as many of these processes require close to a neutral pH to most effectively do their job. Have your soil tested to determine your soil’s pH and nutrient content.