Molokai_Bernie
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Chemical or organic fertilizers?

The basic concepts of organic farming seem solid but on one point I have some questions. A horticulture professor and friend of mine taught me that plants need to take up nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in their chemical forms to grow. The plant’s roots can’t tell if these chemical are derived from chemical fertilizers or organic sources, like manure. They utilize chemical molecules only. If so, I am compelled to ask, “What is better about using Bat Guano versus using Miracle Grow on my vegetables?â€
Bernie Strehler Molokai Hawaii

cynthia_h
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Unfortunately, said professor seems to have left out the very important aspect of nutrition involving micronutrients. True: NPK are the Three Big Nutrients, but plants can dwindle from lack of, oh, calcium (Blossom End Rot), iron (chlorosis), and across-the-board dead soil (dead plants).

In these regards, the expensive Bat Guano lords it over Miracle Grow like nobody's business: micronutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium (although I like to use my homemade compost, just to be sure, plus worm castings, and occasional liquid kelp at one-half strength rather than individual amendments), and who knows what else?

I fear, though, that eventually bat guano will become inaccessible except to researchers. Already, huge percentages of bats in the eastern United States and Canada have succumbed to the [url=https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/16/8/10-0002_article.htm]White Nose Syndrome Fungus[/url] (this article was published August 2010). Please also see the online map produced by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service [url=https://www.fws.gov/whitenosesyndrome/]here[/url] showing the mortality rates of bats and the rate of spread of this bat-killer in the past five years (the disorder was unknown previously). (Map updated June 2011.)

I don't know how much of the commercial, garden-grade bat guano comes from the eastern U.S./Canada, but pressures on the remaining stocks in the world due to possible spread of this bat-killer are bound to lead to a spike in the price, at the very least.

As for the Miracle Grow and its ilk that your prof invoked, they ultimately derive from petroleum and petroleum products. Since there is a relatively pain-free way to cease at least *this* aspect of petroleum consumption, why not start your own compost right soon? :D

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rainbowgardener
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BIG oversimplification on the professor's part, to the point of making his statement not true. Yes the major nutrients plants get are N P K and those are in organic fertilizers as well as inorganic. BUT But that is ALL the synthetic fertilizers add. If you use compost to fertilize, the compost adds tons of trace minerals etc, plus lots of living biology from earthworms to microbes, protozoans, fungi, etc, plus tilth that adds structure to the soil and helps it to hold water.

This article

https://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/~christos/articles/cv_organic_farming.html ,

reports a number of different studies of yields from organic and inorganic methods and includes this:

Soybean production systems were also highly productive, achieving 40 bushels/acre. In 1999 however, during one of the worst droughts on record, yields of organic soybeans were 30 bushels /acre, compared to only 16 bushels/acre from conventionally- grown [i.e. with chemical ferts etc] soybeans (Rodale Institute, 1999). "Our trials show that improving the quality of the soil through organic practices can mean the difference between a harvest or hardship in times of drought"

So, with plenty of water, the methods compared were about equal in bushels/ acre produced (though not necessarily in other qualities), but in drought times, the organic methods, with compost, did way better, through helping the soil hold moisture. Since in many areas, drought is becoming the "new normal," this will become increasingly important.

Also the N P K in chemical ferts, is not necessarily in forms that the plant can best use. Uptaking of nutrients by plants is a complex process, involving living micro systems. Read the book Teaming with Microbes, which we discussed here https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=43
for lots more on some of these issues.

I could go on and on.... chemical fertilizing over time tends to decrease the fertility of the soil, since you are adding in NPK and taking out NPK and a whole bunch of other nutrients and since the chemicals (and tilling that goes along with them) tend to break down the structure of the soil and kill off the life in the soil. Chemical fertilizing has more negative environmental impacts not only in being a petroleum product, but for e.g. " 60% more nitrate was leached into the groundwater over a 5 year period than in the organic systems (Drinkwater, 1998)" [from the above article].

That's important because nitrates in the groundwater get into the streams and lakes and lead to their death through eutrophication (look it up!
:) ).

And so on and so on!!
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Re: Chemical or organic fertilizers?

[quote="Molokai_Bernie"]The basic concepts of organic farming seem solid but on one point I have some questions. A horticulture professor and friend of mine taught me that plants need to take up nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in their chemical forms to grow. The plant’s roots can’t tell if these chemical are derived from chemical fertilizers or organic sources, like manure. They utilize chemical molecules only. If so, I am compelled to ask, “What is better about using Bat Guano versus using Miracle Grow on my vegetables?â€

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Chemical or organic fertilizers?

john gault wrote: I believe his point being that a plant doesn't care or can tell the difference between organically derived nutrients vs. manufactured nutrients. On that point I agree with your professor.

The differnce being is the amount of energy required to produce the manufactured fertilizers vs. simple home composting. There are other differences, but I haven't had my coffee yet :wink:
I don't believe even that is true, even if you restrict yourself to talking about N P K. The N or whatever has to be delivered in a form the plant can uptake.

"chemical fertilizers provide plants with nitrogen, but most do so in the form of nitrates (NO3). An understanding of the soil food web makes it clear however, that [some] plants won't flourish on a diet of nitrates. ...when chemically fed, plants bypass the microbial assisted method of obtaining nutrients and microbial populations adjust accordingly. Trouble is, you have to keep adding chemical fertilizers and using '-icides,' because the right mix and diversity--the very foundation of the soil food web--has been altered. Once the bacteria, fungi, nematodes and protozoa are gone, other members of the food web disappear as well. Earthworms, for example, lacking food and irritated by the synthetic nitrates in soluble nitrogen fertillizers, move out. Since they are major shredders of organic material, their absence is a great loss. Without the activity and diversity of a healthy food web, you not only impact the nutrient system, but all the other things a healthy soil food web brings. Soil structure deteriorates, watering can become problematic, pathogens and pests establish themselves... "
Teaming with Microbes Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis pp. 25 -27

You can test the earthworm thing yourself. Come take a shovel of dirt in my enriched, diverse, organic garden beds and count the earthworms. Then go to one of the places where agribusiness grows miles of corn on a steady diet of chemicals and dig and dig and dig and see if you can find a single earthworm anywhere.

And this is just the beginning! The make up of soil and the many interactions between plants and soil and the life of the soil, once you start looking at it in detail are incredibly complex and we are just beginning to learn about it.

So we go in and tear all this apart, without having any idea what we are doing/ destroying and think we can replace it, by putting back a few simple chemicals. It just doesn't work like that.
Last edited by rainbowgardener on Sun Oct 09, 2011 5:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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[quote]“What is better about using Bat Guano versus using Miracle Grow on my vegetables?â€
For all things come from earth, and all things end by becoming earth.

Molokai_Bernie
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I appreciate the passionate organic gardening defense and good links and articles offered by rainbowgardener and your comments john gault, cynthia_h and soil. I need to digest some of this data to see where I truly stand.

I hope I don't get anyone's Irish up but "the time it takes" is a pretty big factor in my choosing of methods and materials. "The time it takes" should have some weight in any fair discussion I think. I only have a limited time. Time is precious. For a lot a folks "time is money" and survival of their families for that matter. The time involved to garden organically with organic fertilizers MAY be greater then working with chemical fertilizers.

I would rather work on building up my soil and maximizing my soil's health with compost and diverse, organic plant foods. I love good sweet healthy living soil! I love to garden but I have lot's else going on and run short of time regularly.


Bernie Strehler Molokai Hawaii

john gault
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I don't use any store-bought fertilizers or any type of -icides. I really want a very natural habitat for all the little critters and I do this even at the expense of having the best yeilds from my garden.

As for the organic movement and all other movements, i.e. people against genetically modified foods, ect... I don't agree with them, but don't listen to me do some reading by this guy, the father of the green revolution: Norman Borlaug

Here's one interview with him on NPR and there are others if you just put his name in the seach box. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1794021

He's also written several books, they're listed here in this link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Borlaug

BTW, a very active compost pile can also leach excess nutrients into ground water https://www.puyallup.wsu.edu/~linda%20chalker-scott/Horticultural%20Myths_files/Myths/Compost%20overdose.pdf

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rainbowgardener
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There's a whole new world for you to discover, Bernie! :) Look up Ruth Stout, no work garden book. Or Fukuoka, One Straw Revolution, which is another of the books we discussed here.

Natural gardening is NOT more time consuming, once you get going and understand the principles, though it may take a little work in the beginning getting your garden organized.

Organic farms are more labor intensive than what we now call "conventional" agriculture (which has only been conventional since the end of WWII), the monoculture, chemical kind. But that is because conventional farms are highly mechanized. If you are talking about backyard gardening on a scale where you don't use tractors and combines, etc, then no I do not believe that natural gardening is more labor intensive than chemical gardening.

I call myself the lazy gardener (and I could call myself the cheap gardener too, since I buy next to nothing for my garden except some seeds and potting soil in the spring). I keep a compost pile, but I only turn it a few times a year. Once everything is sprouted and growing, I lay down a bunch of mulch and then never weed again. I don't spray, I don't fertilize. I put down compost when I plant and then usually again mid season and again in the fall, when putting the garden to bed. In drought years, like last year, I water some. This year I only watered a couple times all season - the mulch helps hold the water in.

Anything else I do in the garden is for pleasure, because I grow flowers and herbs as well as veggies. So I deadhead flowers, harvest and dry herbs, etc.

I listen to the chemical gardeners, talking about fertilizing every month (or even more), spraying for this, spraying for that, and it all sounds like so much work!
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My gardening style is pretty much like Rainbow's and I agree with her above post. Organic gardening is the only way I go for my home garden; it really is more enjoyable on many levels.

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soil
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The time involved to garden organically with organic fertilizers MAY be greater then working with chemical fertilizers.
it all depends on how you look at things. for the most part with chemical farming, you start out with good crops, but over time the soil is depleted, the biology dead and or dying, and the soil structure non existant from tilling. things will slowly go downhill and you will have to buy more and more fertilizers and pesticides to keep up with the problems.

on the other hand, an organic natural farm/garden might take a little more work at first. but it gets better and better over time. meaning you spend less time weeding, fertilizing, watering. your quality improves, your profit improves, your overall happiness improves.

if you take it a step further and look into forest gardening systems you will find its even more efficient.
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GomoIsGardening
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The difference for me is the taste.

I listened to people when I started my garden 11 yrs ago and used chemicals. I did get great results, but the stuff tasted the same as what I could buy in the grocery store. What's the point in that result, when I still had to weed and debug every flipping day of my life? If I want to eat a tennis ball, I can always go to the grocery store and buy one of their tomatoes.

The next year I decided organic. I didn't get a bumper crop. What I did get was people paying me huge money for one tomato, one squash or a 1lb of potatoes. The stuff tasted better. Organic gardening saved me, money from buying chemicals and I had a better tasting crop. I didn't have big bug issues. I planted companions and I haven't seen a stink bug, squash bug or any beetle since. That was 9 years ago.

Your professor, gave you the correct information about nutrients. What the professor, didn't tell you is ...you must replenish your soil. I'm not going to get in of what the micro nutrients are needed, I don't have that knowledge. I just know if you give back to the soil, it gives back tenfold.

Now if you decide to do it through compost or rotation is your business. I'm here to tell you if you rely on chemicals, you will get decent results for about 5 years. After that your soil will die. You will have to dig it out and bring in new stuff or create a new garden.

Just in case you're wondering if I'm completely organic, nope! I have no problems, taking any steps necessary to kill Johnson grass and cactus as long as the stuff doesn't flow into my established gardens.
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Molokai_Bernie wrote:...I hope I don't get anyone's Irish up but "the time it takes" is a pretty big factor in my choosing of methods and materials. "The time it takes" should have some weight in any fair discussion I think. I only have a limited time. Time is precious. For a lot a folks "time is money" and survival of their families for that matter. The time involved to garden organically with organic fertilizers MAY be greater then working with chemical fertilizers....
I have to agree with others who already stated that is does not take more time to garden with Organic methods. Once the biology of the soil is restored and/or improved through Organic methods, the gardening is much easier. It takes a lot less effort to work with nature, instead of trying to fight it with chemicals.

Also, don't neglect to look at time "in the long run". How much longer might you and your family members live, if you consume healthy Organic fruits and vegetables from your garden? Organic, nutrient-rich produce that's free of chemical residues ... that's the choice that works for me! :)

Molokai_Bernie
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:flower:
Thank you rainbowgardener for your delightful, encouraging comments and the books and authors to explore. Thanks also john gault for the links, recommendations and perspective. I am learning a lot. I appreciate soil, Mary Ann and farmerlon sharing what they've learned as well. Your real life experiences with real gardens makes compelling reading. Thanks to all. :D
Bernie Strehler Molokai Hawaii

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I must react to the 'time is money' statement.

Money is also money. The only other venue for the organic mateial (kitchen and yard waste) that I use as compost, I would have to pay to have hauled away. After composting it, I neither have to buy fertilizer or pay to have that portion of my trash stream taken to a landfill.

I do not spend much time facilitaing its decomposition, and it smells better. The microherd that does this heavy lifting for me, works for free.

A new garden and a just designated compost area, might get bridged by an impatient gardener with chemical fertilizers. This [s]tightwad[/s] frugal yankee is too cheep to pay for the same thing twice for long.
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Re: Chemical or organic fertilizers?

[quote="Molokai_Bernie"]The basic concepts of organic farming seem solid but on one point I have some questions. A horticulture professor and friend of mine taught me that plants need to take up nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in their chemical forms to grow. The plant’s roots can’t tell if these chemical are derived from chemical fertilizers or organic sources, like manure. They utilize chemical molecules only. If so, I am compelled to ask, “What is better about using Bat Guano versus using Miracle Grow on my vegetables?â€

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I personally prefer a vegetable that has been eaten on by bugs than the perfect vegetable with has been sprayed with chemicals. But thats just my opinion.

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