I'm a skeptic. As to people not absorbing vitamins in pills, I am
*extremely* dubious that the entire world medical community has been
hoodwinked for a century. Similarly *I've seen organic
advocates...claim" butters no parsnips for me.
I would be very interested in a *respectable* -- i.e., non advocacy --
reference to the chemical composition/nutrients in an average load of
cow manure. Yes, manure is good. But is it guaranteed to be the ideal,
totally balanced fertilizer? In fact, since someone was unwise enough
to mention selenium as an essential mineral, I scurried around and
found that it's exclusively drawn from the soil, and if there's a
selenium deficiency in dirt (and fodder), animals don't manufacture
As for science not having discovered all the vitamins and minerals
essential to life, this is possible. However, I'm pretty happy with
the ones they *have* discovered and analyzed, as well as having
recognized the diseases/conditions caused by well-known deficiencies.
"Science" discovered the connection between iodine and various thyroid
conditions. You can use as much cow poo as you choose to nourish veg,
but if you and your cows live in an iodine-deficient area, it's not
going to help that goiter, which used to be quite common before
"science" added iodine to salt.
As I understand it, and I'm willing to be corrected on this, factory
fertilisers cause faster degradation of humus by allowing a greater
quantity of plants to grow. More plants, of course, leads directly to
greater consumption of humus. The other factor, which is present regardless
of preferred fertiliser regime, is that of oxygenation. When we till the
soil we are introducing vastly increased amounts of oxygen and all the
little bugs 'n' stuff just go consumption crazy.
Regarding buildup of salts I understand this to be correct which is why
responsible use of fertilisers includes using lime. I'm not sure that humus
does act as a buffer since it is pH neutral. It may allow a greater
distribution of the salts so that the effect isn't as immediately noticable
but an acid build up is unavoidable no matter what fertiliser is used.
Yes, that is what my personal thoughts are and also the recommendation of
the book that started this whole thing.
Lime was always mentioned in the garden books.. which is totally
inappropriate for my part of the world, as the soils are already
alkaline. So, I figure each person should be aware of their soil PH
and treat it accordingly. Like I read somewhere that one should not
put Oak leaves in the compost bin, because they make it too acidic.
That made Me think I should actively seek out oak leaves as my soil is
alkaline, and in some areas, like where I'm trying to grow blueberries
in areas where all the soil was dug out and a sandy mix of soil and
peat moss was mixed and put back into the trenches. I could use some
compost that leans to the acidic for that area. It's all relative ;-)
Oh, would that were true! The reality is that many of the bagged (dry
granular) fertilizers are industrial by-products from smelting metals.
I did a lot of research into this matter last summer. What I read was
enough to convince me. I no longer have the links so you'll have to Google
for them yourself. The basic idea is that, when the products left the
foundry, they were labeled as 'industrial waste', and EPA regs controlled
their disposal and followed the trucks around, leaving a paper trail. Once
they were put in 40# bags they were no longer a regulated waste but had
become an agricultural product. As a regulated waste they fell under a
fairly stern set of laws. As an agricultural product, they fell under laws
which basically said that the label on the side had to be truthful, but
not necessarily complete. That ended the paper trail and any hope of
linking the foundry chemicals with later health effects. Along with the
NPK, you can assume you are pouring generous amounts of aluminum and
nickle (just two of a long list) onto your soil.
Read a bag of lawn / garden fertilizer sometime. Try to determine the
origin of the chemicals inside or even just a full chemical assay. The bag
claims an NPK ratio and shows the balance as filler. If ALL the bag
contained were the specific chemicals mentioned on the label I would not
be nearly so concerned about using it in my garden. However, the list of
chemicals in that bag only begins with the NPK assay and continues with
another long and unspecified (and thus beyond the reach of informed
It's that second list ... the one that isn't printed on the side of the
bag that concerns me. Because of it, if I were to use commercial
fertilizers, I would not know what witches brew of concentrated chemicals
I might be applying to the roots of the food I intended to eat through the
winter. While I also do not know the full assay of the compost I make, I
have study after study to show me that, so far as any single chemical
except carbon and water is concerned, it is a pretty weak mixture. It's
strength is in its breadth and the fact that, having come from living
things, its chemical composition is primarily the chemicals and ratios of
those chemicals that living things have already found useful. They were
mixed by The Master Chemist.
I garden organically. I use outside inputs in the form of tree leaves
(gathered in the fall from urban curb sides in one busy afternoon,
sometimes two), small quantities of greensand and precious little else. I
do not add N, P, or K directly to the soil but let the compost heap sort
things out. This leads to a nicely buffered soil that has not required any
lime in years. Basically, having begun with layers of clay and sand (SE
Michigan was anciently lake bottom), I now have what appears to be some
really nice potting soil throughout my garden to a depth of over 2 feet (I
haven't dug any deeper than that since I started my beds but there was 2
ft. worth of straw and tree leaves in a trench under that 2 ft of soil).
The only pesticide I apply is a well-timed shot or two of BT for cabbage
loopers and some raw coffee grounds for slugs*. I don't have weak plants
so I don't endure much damage. I interplant and just never seem to have
large populations of any particular pest.
Organic methods do not forbid the addition of rock powders nor do they
forbid the use of outside inputs, such as the tree leaves and grass
clippings of neighbors. If in doubt about what chemicals might have been
applied to the grass clippings, simply allow the finished compost to
season for a year or more. There, problem solved. In an organic soil,
nutrients are released at a pretty even pace over the season, so less
nutrients are required since less of them go to waste. This is why the
initial application of fertilizers to healthy ground results in bumper
crops ... they are held in the root zone by the humic compounds until the
roots can absorb them. However, failure to maintain the humus levels
results in soil that can't hold the nutrients in solution for the plants
to take up. That means that increased application levels are needed to
maintain acceptable levels of availability ... and farmers are crying the
blues over this one as fertilizer expenses go through the roof while
yields hold steady or dwindle.
That's how I see the organic / inorganic debate.
*I've had the debate over the coffee grounds already. I'm not interested
in any level of theoretical argument about why they couldn't possibly
work. I know from direct experience that they DO work.
Search term "slag gardening" turned up 3,250 links including this one:
http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/BODY-VH019 in which the University of Florida
Cooperative Extension Service Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
actually suggest "basic slag" as a source of micro-nutrients for organic
Search term "furnace slag chemical composition" turned this up:
http://www.p2pays.org/ref/13/12842/bfs1.htm which indicates that more than
90% of slag produced "has been used as an aggregate in Portland cement
concrete, asphalt concrete, concrete, asphalt and road bases."
And I also found http://www.tfhrc.gov/hnr20/recycle/waste/ssa1.htm which
says much the same thing. The tables in these last two showing the
composition of slag makes quite interesting reading.
A search for "smelting waste gardening" and "smelting waste garden" turned
up nothing particularly relevent to this discussion. I did note that just
about all the sites referred to smelting waste as being a hazardous
material. I find it unlikely that environmental protection agencies would
allow hazardous waste to just be "lost" and subsequently turn up in
Ummmm ... further reading that I have done indicates that the reason for
the bumper crops is because fertiliser speeds up the transition of organic
material into humus. Humus contains large amounts of water soluble
nutrients whilst organic material (even after composting) does not hold so
Absolutely! And that brings me back to the point that made me ask the
question regarding factory fertilisers. The emphasis was actually on the
need to maintain good levels of organic matter in the soil whilst the point
was that factory fertilisers increase yield.
There is also the issue of trace chemicals in the commercial fertilizers
that build up over time and harm the plants. I understand that a whole
lot of formerly very fertile land is now barely usable.
Of course, there is no doubt that the bulk organic matter of soil needs
to be maintained. If the soil sees only chemical fertilizers, but no
horse pucky or grass clippings or whatever, it's going to lose go
On Tue, 24 Feb 2004 22:43:14 -0500, "Ray Drouillard"
But this is not specific to commercial fertilizers. It is recommeded
for farming operations that both soil AND MANURE be regularly
monitored to balance nutrients.
You're combining two features here. Chemical fertilizer provides
nutrients with little or no organic matter. Composted materials
provide organic matter with, usually, not a great deal of nutrition.
Animal poo provides nutrients and some organic matter. You have a
happier tomato plant with both a soil rich in organic matter AND
nutrients, wherever they come from. If all it took was manure, hog
waste ponds would fields of corn. Unwise application of chemical
fertilizers can 'burn' plants; so can unwise application of chicken
One factor rarely included in the cost/benefits analysis is the problem of
possibly running out of fossil fuels(which is where many of the chemicals come
from). It's kind of hard to establish a value for that, but it might be
important somewhere down the road.
don' email@example.com (The Watcher) wrote in
Well, yes, the problem of *where* the factory gets the supplies from
which the fertiliser is made will certainly be important at some stage.
I have no idea of the quantities of fossil fuel actually used to derive
the fertiliser but I would expect that the amount of fuel used to
provide power to the factories is quite considerable.
The other issue with factory fertiliser is that quite extensive amounts
of mining are undertaken to obtain some chemicals - this also is of
concern and these points, obviously, could be addressed if only 100%
"organic" farming is practised.
I expect that if I, at home, develop my land to a maximum state of
fertility (which I am attempting to do by importing chook poo, grass
clippings, straw etc) and recycle everything - including composting me
when the time comes - then there will be no further degradation. Of
course, this also requires that I export nothing at all (including what
I shall tactfully call "personal waste"). Of course, all this means that
the productivity of land can not possibly *increase* - the best I can
hope for is that it will stay the same. If we factor in losses to the
air through respiration and losses to the water table through leaching
it seems that even using the most radical of recycling isn't going to be
enough to even maintain the fertility that I have created.
Since, at this stage, that isn't practical it seems there are only two
1. Import ever-increasing amounts of organic matter from elsewhere. This
seems like a good idea until the realisation hits that *this* organic
matter has to be grown/harvested/whatever by someone who is facing the
problem that I am avoiding.
2. Use factory fertilisers and accept the environmental damage.
I don't like either option but since it seems inevitable that option 1
leads to option 2 *for somebody* I think it would be far more
responsible of me to just accept the need for option 2 and behave in as
environmentally friendly manner as I can whilst doing this.
Now, despite my arguments above, I can see that it is easily possible
for me to continue importing organic matter since this is material that
will otherwise be sent to the local tip. I can also buy whatever
additional organic fertilisers are required. This seems to be more
expensive (time and currency) than using factory fertilisers and the
only reason I would do this, as I tried to say in the original post, is
if there are definite (i.e. proven) health and/or taste reasons. By
converting just about all of my grass+weed area to vegetable and grain
production I think I'm doing more than my fair share of alleviating the
landfill waste and I will continue to import and compost what my time and
The taste argument has been concluded to my satisfaction (i.e. taste is
more a matter of perception and variety than factory fertiliser) but
there have been few comments on health. I'm quietly confident that not
too many health problems exist directly affecting me or the soil but I
am still curious as to whether or not plants fed factory fertiliser have
a changed amount of bio-available nutrients.
On Tue, 24 Feb 2004 18:25:58 GMT, don' firstname.lastname@example.org (The Watcher)
Now I'm going to have to look up how much petroleum it takes to make a
packet of MiracleGro. :-) Probably less than transporting a couple
of truckloads of manure 20 miles. Encouraging dependence on
'artificial' fertilizer (and petroleum is really 'organic'
ultra-compost) is unwise where it's expensive and organic substitutes
are readily available. When we run out of oil, it's *not* going to be
because we've been using too much commercial fertilizer.
After a recent car accident, I was offered some settlement for "pain
and suffering." While my pain was minor, I replied that I could
'suffer' at Olympic standard. I haven't the self-confidence for
competitive smugging. Although I compete as an amateur.
According to my research (to quote Dorothy Ann), the important thing is
to have soil that is rich in organic matter. If you want to supplement
that with stuff from bags, you probably won't be able to tell the
Chemical insecticides and the like, however, have to be used with
care -- if you use them at all.
Plus it's just plain damn fun to go out to the yard and pick your lunch
and cook it fresh off the plants... :-) Tastier too. :-d At least in my
Sometimes tho' I have to wonder if it's worth the water bills!
Sprout the Mung Bean to reply...
>,,<Cat's Haven Hobby Farm>,,<Katra at centurytel dot net>,,<
That's why we want to buy that bit of property that has a crick running
through it. We are pretty well assured of being able to buy the house
and about ten acres of surrounding land, but the owner doesn't seem to
want to sell us the creek.
Oh well, I can always put in a shallow well and a windmill. It'll add
some atmosphere, and go well with the old barn. :-)
I haven't read the book but I adopt the philosophy of "ideology grows no
By all means take the long view and care for the soil, air and water, and
animals and ourselves. Let's do this using the best information at hand.
Accept that the resources of the earth are limited and need to be managed
There is very good evidence that maintaining organic matter in the soil is
important, that broadacre monoculture using synthetics has drawbacks and for
many other ideas espoused by organic grower.
Consider the converse too: I recently listened to a great heap of claptrap
about why "natural" pyrethrins should be used to kill insects instead of
synthetic. These people were discussing the issue most seriously.
If you are going to kill insects then be aware of the consequences of
killing them and make a good decision whether it is worth it or not. Don't
waste time on the ideological question of whether the poison came out of a
test tube; it's still poison. It is more useful to debate how many angels
can dance on the head of a pin.
It would be similarly stupid to think that you can get sustainable good
results with only "chemical" fertilisers and just as stupid to never use
them under any conditions.
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