Monday, September 24, 2012

Organic Fertilizer–A Good Choice–Part 1

Good Choice for Our Lives 

This post on Organic Fertilizers is the first in a new series. Each of these seven posts will discuss 1) The Benefits of Organic Fertilizers, 2) The Sources of Organic Fertilizers, 3) Plants Used for Organic Fertilizers, 4) Animals Used Organic Fertilizers, 5) Ocean and Sea Products Used for Organic Fertilizers, 6) Other Sources for Organic Fertilizers, and 7) Minerals Used in Organic Growing,

I have been in the garden my whole life.  My grandparents had an extensive garden and I got to set out bedding plants, water them, and even climb the apple tree to pick as much as I could reach. 

In the early 1950’s, the garden and gardening practices were organic. Grandfather used mulch and decayed leaves (compost) for nutrients.

At that time commercial fertilizers started to come onto the market.  Wow, they were a hit!.  Fast growing plants, dark green color, and the smell ( ! ) let all the neighbors know that we were up on the latest and greatest!
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The more I gardened I had the gradual awareness that something in the garden was different from when I was a child.  We were told to buy ‘veggie wash’ products for our food, water sources were having to be monitored for safety, and the cost of everything was going up, up, up. Feeling the need to be more environmentally responsible, I started to make changes in my own yard.  That’s when I discovered some very troubling things.


As Environmental Protection Agency standards came about, I found that many of the polluters were actually recycling. Wow! Could these rules really be helping?  Well, as it turns out many companies with toxic waste to dispose of were not properly handling this waste. Instead, they were using fertilizer production facilities to incorporate these toxic chemicals like lead, cadmium, dioxin and mercury.
The way these heavy metals got by this process is that only the top three elements of the fertilizer must be named. Labeling laws made this easy. Therefore the remaining or ‘other’ ingredients could be anything.  Consequently, millions of acres of farmland were spread with these toxins. 

label Note : 85.05% of the ingredients in this bag are not specifically named and labeled ‘Other Ingredients.'
Many heavy metals stay in the ground and are taken up in crops used for animal and human consumption. Since chemical fertilizers are generally water soluble, they are taken up by plants rather quickly. And because they are water soluble, they leach out of the soil, into ground water or watersheds that feed our streams rivers, and lakes.

water soluableNitrates are particularly harmful to infants and other health risks are becoming more prevalent.  Since we have only been using these products for about 60 years, we may not have seen the worst yet.
Another environmental issue I have with chemical fertilizers is that in the process of creating synthetic nitrogen, natural gas is heated to combine atmospheric nitrogen with the hydrogen of ammonia. The amount of natural gas to make just 200 bags of fertilizer would heat a home for a year.  Fossil fuels in each 40 pound bag is the equivalent of 2.5 gallons of gasoline.
Organic fertilizers are made with minimal processing using natural sources.  Using plant parts that are left over from the food industry like the leaves and stems is a good use of all the plant.  Organic fertilizers use animal parts that are left over from processing food with little or no waste.
Using materials in this way is a good example of sustainability of this industry. Plants grow each year and animals breed each year so the supply continues.

Organic fertilizers work differently from chemical products

Micro-organisms in the soil feed on the organic material that organic fertilizers provide.  The micro-organisms create enzymes that allow the nutrients to be absorbed by the plant.  Chemical fertilizers, which are generally water soluble, are taken up directly by the plant and leave nothing in the soil for long-term feeding.  The chemicals can actually destroy colonies of micro-organisms and leave the soil dead.  Organic fertilizers feed the millions of microbes in the soil for a soil that is alive.

Since organic fertilizers feed the soil, the nutrients is more steadily taken up by the plants. Quick start and stop feeding of chemical fertilizers can actually weaken the plant’s health. (Some chemical fertilizers are being manufactured with a time-release formula for an extended feed. The feed is still a chemical one, however.)  Plants on an organic regime are healthier and healthy plants are more resistant to damage from insects and diseases.  This long-term feeding can save money by reducing the number of applications the garden needs each season.


These are 17 nutrients that organic fertilizers provide.  Trace elements are key to a healthy plant.  If even one element is missing, the plant can suffer.( This is evident in the case of blossom-end rot of tomatoes.  The nutritional deficiency of calcium is the cause of this disorder.)  The chemical fertilizers on the market have the N-P-K  in the amounts listed.  But a well balanced diet is not available in the chemical products and the other 14 nutrients are missing. 


One last problem with chemical fertilizers is that damage seen here.  The chemicals were put down too heavily, or were not watered in well and burned this yard. High salt levels are common in chemical fertilizers. The low salt levels of organic fertilizers compared to chemical products is safer, too. Organic fertilizers will not burn plants like this chemical fertilizer did.  Organic fertilizers can be applied at any time.  The microbe activity will be low in colder temperatures, but when the soil temperatures rise, and the spring rains come, the organic material will become food for the micro-organisms and make nutrients available to the plants as they begin to grow.  And again, the natural material decomposes – not like chemical products that dissolve.

Next post will discuss the sources of organic fertilizers.  If you have any questions regarding this article, please feel free to leave me a comment.  I will be happy to address any issues.  Thanks for your time today.

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