Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fertilizer Questions

As I mentioned in the last post, I routinely use synthetic fertilizers.  I'd like to stop using them outdoors because (A) I do honestly believe that organic fertilizers would be better for the soil, and (B) I find eutrophication frightening.  (A classmate of mine in middle school did a self-designed experiment where she killed several innocent guppies [fish] demonstrating the harmful effects of too much nitrogen and/or altered pH on...well...guppies in a really yucky fishtank.  It was very convincing.) 

I have used the occasional organic fertilizer, mostly what is available at the big box store: liquid seaweed emulsion for seedlings and bagged Miracle Gro organic fertilizer in the garden.  I've also tried mixing my own Complete Organic Fertilizer (COF, popularized by Steve Solomon) from organic ingredients available in local stores and nurseries.  However, a few problems keep my consistently going back to the synthetics:
  1. Difficulty purchasing seed meal locally in large quantities
  2. Animals (rats? opossums?) attacking my ingredient stores
  3. Uncertainty about proper nutrient balancing
  4. Uncertainty about application timing
  5. Uncertainty about the ethical propriety of the most readily available ingredients
 The last three are the real kickers.  I could probably get a big bag of seed meal if I really wanted to, and I could store it in tougher containers on my back porch.  And I know that the whole idea of COF is that it is a "balanced fertilizer" that won't kill any of my vegetables, but I seem to feel this compulsion to tweak the balance just so for different plants, as long as I am mixing my own.  And as many sources will tell you, organic fertlizers don't make nutrients available to the plants as quickly.  Additionally, the time and rate at which they become available is variable depending on the ingredient.  For example, I typically use bone meal for phosphate, but I've read that phosphate from bone meal isn't actually available to the plants for several months, depending on the temperature of the soil.  And ultimately, none of these things actually belong in my garden's soil.  Kelp meal, this far inland?

And should I assume that the bagged organic fertilizers available at the big box stores don't suffer from any of these problems?  Of course not. 

Really, what I need is animal manure.  I am just fresh out of animal manure!

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