The organic versus synthetic debate
Organic fertilizers have low solubility and rely on micro-organisms and organic-matter acids to release their nutrients. They actually activate microbial life, and their nutrients become available when the plants need them. Working slowly, organic fertilizers encourage long-term fertility rather than the immediate fertility that synthetic fertilizers provide.
Several weeks ago my wife, Lorraine, and I were standing in the backyard veggie patch, feeling quite discouraged. Despite great growing weather, many of the plants looked spindly and diseased. Our hopes for a bountiful yield of fresh vegetables were quickly fading.
“Maybe next year we should forget the vegetable garden and replace it with grass,” I suggested to Lorraine, although I knew that she really enjoyed the garden.
I had barely spoken the words when I heard, “What are you looking so perplexed about?” It was my next-door neighbour, Larry, leaning over the fence.
My wife told him we were discouraged that all our hard work seemed to be wasted.
“What kind of fertilizer do you use?” asked Larry, whose own garden plot flourished with ripening veggies.
“Just some stuff we picked up at the local nursery,” I answered. “Do you think that could be the problem?”
“Just might be,” he said. “I’m coming over to have a look.”
After Larry had done a bit of digging and sifting he asked, “Where did all your worms go?” He suggested that the fertilizer we had used might have killed the earthworms that tunnel, carry organic matter, and aerate the soil, allowing the roots of the plants to access nutrients and water.
“I thought fertilizers were supposed to promote growth, not slow it down,” I said.
Larry explained that many of the processed fertilizers contain too much nitrogen, which encourages quick plant growth at the expense of strong cell growth. The plant cells end up watery and weak, which leaves them susceptible to insects and diseases. Plus, he noted, if it rains soon after application, nitrogen leaches into the soil, eventually entering the water table where a buildup of nitrogen compounds could render well water unfit to drink.
My neighbour Larry said that he also had concerns about the two other main ingredients in chemical fertilizers–phosphorus and potassium. “The phosphorus actually ties up trace minerals such as magnesium and manganese, which stops plants from accessing the minerals and hinders their growth. The potassium derived from muriate of potash or potassium chloride is hard on soil because it can increase chloride levels, which reduces plant development and yield.”
“So what should I be using to encourage my plants to grow?” I queried.
“I suggest trying organic fertilizers,” replied Larry, “because they have low solubility and rely on micro-organisms and organic-matter acids to release their nutrients. Organic fertilizers actually activate microbial life, and their nutrients become available when the plants need them. Working slowly, organic fertilizers encourage long-term fertility rather than the immediate fertility that synthetic fertilizers provide.”
Larry explained that choosing fertilizers isn’t just a gardening issue–it’s a global issue, too. Not only do excess processed fertilizers damage our water system, but they create waste and take a tremendous amount of fossil fuel to make. According to the Ecological Agriculture Project at McGill University, the energy released from 4.5 tons of coal is required to make 0.9 tons of nitrogen fertilizer.
After Lorraine and I thanked Larry for his advice, we made a quick trip to our local nursery and were pleased to find that a good selection of organic fertilizers is available.
Although it may be too late to salvage this year’s harvest, we’re looking forward to next year when we can reap the full benefits of natural, organic fertilizers.
Organic Fertilizer Options
Source: Canadian Organic Growers cog.ca