Friday, January 24, 2014

What’s Wrong with Using the “Blue Stuff” in Your Organic Garden


So you think that just avoiding the use of pesticides and herbicides constitutes an organic garden?  Well, not so fast.  The use of what I call the “Blue Stuff” (aka chemical fertilizers such as Miracle-Gro) is not considered an organic addition to your garden. It is just a processing to concentrate urea and rock minerals and other strong elements that in of themselves are not toxic to the environment.

 
Consider chemical fertilizers like vitamin pills or steroids for your plants.  As the concoctions rise in percentages upwards to 45-45-45, so does the probability the more synthetically concentrated they are.  So what is the problem with using the “Blue Stuff” in your home garden?

 

Organic fertilizers such as manures, compost or bone meal are derived directly from plant or animal sources. They are bulky with nutrients in low concentrations. These nutrients have to be converted by soil bacteria and fungi before plants can use them, so they are more slowly released.

 

But organic fertilizers also reduce soil crusting, and improve water movement and retention. They add structure to the soil and feed beneficial microbes. Though initially more expensive, the increase in fertility by growing your own fertilizer if you incorporate cover crops will reduce your inputs year after year.

 

 The addition of organic minerals such as rock phosphate and granite dust or greensand will last for years in the soil.  Also, manure is a necessary addition to the organic farm or garden to make it work. Well composted manures supply many minerals and nutrients not found in even bagged organic fertilizers.

 

The difficulty is in how much to apply.  Almost all bags of organic fertilizer have application rates on the bag.  As far as compost and manure, can you ever have too much?  Our Florida soil is so horrific that my plants do best IN the compost pile as long as it isn’t too hot. 

 

Research is rarely done by our government to promote the advancement of organic farming. Many farmers say that the inputs and labor make organic too costly to pay back.

Although the world was organic before the industrial revolution with poor results, we now have modern technology that helps us to understand the relationships between plants and the microbes and any additions that are in the soil.

 

When converting from conventional to organic, many farmers are still using conventional practices. That may be the problem with increased costs. Practices such as no-till and cover cropping have shown promising results and cost savings.

 

Gail Fuller, an Organic farmer has reported great results from no-till cultivation by the addition of cover and companion crops. He sites not only stopping soil erosion but replacing it, cutting his fertility costs 25% in the first years, and plans to cut 40% this year.  In addition the reduced costs of labor and fuel have allowed him to farm 2,000 acres with minimal seasonal help..

 

When converting from conventional to organic, many farmers are still using conventional practices. That may be the problem with increased costs. Practices such as no-till and cover cropping have shown promising results and cost savings.

 

According to Ross Penhallegon, horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service, is that synthetic inorganic fertilizers usually contain only a few nutrients - generally nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and some sulfur, either singly or in combination. These nutrients are concentrated and readily available to the plants, but they are easily leached from the soil, especially after a heavy rain. Hence, they need to be applied several times during the growing season unless you use time-release. Also, since they are concentrated, they are more easily used to excess and will burn your plants.

 

The main problem with the “Blue Stuff” seems to be the leaching into the creeks and rivers encouraging blooms of algae that die and then encourage excessive bacteria to eat the dead algae. Hence, it causes imbalance in the ecology. 

 

While farmers will calculate their rates of application with more intent since it is their bottom line, they cannot predict a heavy rain that will come after application to leach it down and out of the field.

 

As far as the home gardener, we all have such diversified planting that we couldn’t possibly know just how much the plants need at any given time, so any excess will be leached out.  Also, use of synthetic fertilizers eliminates the need of adding any bulky compost or manure containing all those water and nutrient retentive qualities that are so important for the soil life.

 

So, I hope I have made my case as to the importance of the home gardener “bagging” the “Blue Stuff’ in order to grow a truly organic garden.

   

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