How Nitrogen Fixation Happens In Your Soil

crops bringing nitrogen to soil

Why is nitrogen important?

In our video on cover crops, and in other blog posts, we keep talking about how important it is that legume cover crops are able to fix nitrogen in the soil. You might be asking: Why is nitrogen important?

Available nitrogen in the soil is the essential nutrient for green leaves, and new roots and shoots.

What happens with legumes to fix nitrogen in the soil?

Legumes work in harmony with a group of bacteria that live on their roots. These bacteria take nitrogen from the air and “fix” or concentrate it in pink root nodules, adding nitrogen to the soil in a form the plants can absorb. To get scientific about it, Rhizobia spp. bacteria have a symbiotic relationship with legume plant roots. The bacteria live in nodules in the legume roots. Plants cannot absorb nitrogen (N2) from the air. The bacteria convert nitrogen (N2) from the air by adding hydrogen to create ammonium ions (NH4+) which the plants can absorb. Converting the nitrogen by adding hydrogen is what is called "nitrogen fixation" in legumes.

For other plants, other bacteria add oxygen to fix nitrogen. Inoculate the legume seeds with rhizobacteria to make sure this process occurs.

Inoculate with nitrogen-fixing bacteria

We advise using inoculants with raw legume cover crop seeds to give an extra boost of rhizobacteria. Average soil has some rhizobacteria, but not enough to fix a large amount of nitrogen. Some of our legume cover crop seeds come pre-coated with inoculant ("rhizocoated" or "nitrocoated") and others need to have it added just before planting.

For more information on the wonders of soil, and how cover crops help build healthy soil, take a look at Teaming with Microbes, an award-winning book that tells the scientific story of soil in easy to understand language -- with action photos too. Wait till you see the photo of the nematode being lassoed by a fungal hypha. You'll be glad you're as tall as you are.

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