On my recent video where I mix up a batch of fertilizer with Steve Solomon, I had this interchange in the comments:
The dialog between what is “organic” and what is “chemical” is a busted conversation. Many of us come from a “chemical BAD/organic GOOD” background that doesn’t actually explain how the world works.
The Problem with “Organic”
Gardeners often add manure to their gardens to provide nitrogen and other nutrients, as it’s an “organic” amendment. This is seen as superior to just adding, say, diluted ammonia, which also contains nitrogen. Or urea fertilizer. Or MiracleGro, which has nitrogen along with a bunch of other nutrients.
If the manure source is from a non-medicated cow, on non-sprayed grass, not being fed imported hay or feed with pesticides and herbicides in it, then that manure could be considered a good source of nutrients with the additional benefit of providing organic matter, enzymes and microorganisms.
Yet if that manure is contaminated with heavy metals, aminopyralids, de-wormers, etc., then you’re probably better off with bagged fertilizer or some lab-engineered nitrogen source.
DynaGro is a popular soluble fertilizer that contains all the elements (that we know of) which plants need to thrive. They address the organic vs. chemical argument on their FAQ page:
“In chemistry, organic means a molecule that contains carbon. Accordingly, gasoline, motor oil, paper, etc. are “organic.” Plants do not take up any organic molecules. They must be broken down into their constituent ions, none of which are organic! In soils, these organic molecules are broken down by the action of a wide range of microbes including bacteria and mycorrhizae. However, many, if not most, certified organic fertilizers contain significant amounts of heavy metals including arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium, and others which can be dangerous to any animal consuming plants grown with those “organic” fertilizers. To avoid issues with heavy metals, Dyna-Gro uses only highly refined, technical grade raw materials in the production of all of our plant nutrition products. While this ensures high quality, nutritionally healthy crop production, it prevents our nutrients from being considered “organic”.
Organic certification is based upon the source of the raw materials, not upon the absence of heavy metals or other contaminants. A check of the analyses of registered fertilizers will reveal that some “certified organic” fertilizers contain levels of arsenic, for example, that would be illegal in drinking water! The one sensible part of the “organic” movement is minimizing or eliminating the use of chemical pesticides. Providing your plants with proper levels of Pro-TeKt, The Silicon Solution, can eliminate the need for pesticides. Dyna-Gro does not encourage the use of any chemical pesticides.”
That is about how I feel as well. After getting DESTROYED by a nice, organic amendment, my thinking on the topic started to shift. Now, as I’ve seen more and more people get hit…
…well, let’s just say I trust refined “chemicals” more than I trust potentially contaminated “organic” amendments.
And are these “organic” amendments even “organic?”
Not in the way we think of “organic.” Organic makes us think of stuff that isn’t contaminated with toxic poisons. Animals grazing on good land. Pastures fed by lightning and snowmelt.
This isn’t the way things are supposed to be, but we work with the hand with are dealt.
You may say, “but wait – isn’t it just manure that is the problem?”
The problem is what is happening downstream to the supply line, to products such as mushroom compost – which has traditionally been a good garden amendment.
Shaun H. writes:
“So take a peek at the attached photos of some of my pepper plants, with strange leaf growth and curling. I wondered if it was possibly Grazon induced? I didn’t ever put manure or hay/straw on my garden, but I did apply mushroom compost, which appeared to me to have some manure in it! So now I’m wondering if mushroom compost is another no-no since it often has manure as a component?”
I have heard reports of contaminated hay, mushroom compost, potting soil and purchased municipal compost.
But wait – there’s more!
Remember the arsenic in chicken feed thing?
“Turns out that when you feed arsenical drugs to livestock, the arsenic doesn’t just magically disappear. Instead, trace amounts of arsenic fed to chicken are excreted in their manure — and when hundreds of thousands of chickens are raised on a factory farm year after year, the arsenic can accumulate pretty quickly, eventually contaminating soil, groundwater and surface waters.”
1. Pesticide run-off into the oceans has caused arsenic and
heavy metal contamination. Lead and mercury has been found
by scientists who study marine botany.
2. Fertilizer run-off into the oceans has caused petroleum-
fueled, oversized seaweed.
3. Oil-spill dispersant contamination from the gulf oil spill has
4. Radiation contamination continues– seaweed sucks up
radiation like a sponge. Fukushima nuclear reactor showed us
5. Fresh water seaweeds such as spirulina absorb
contamination which deposited from soil contamination run-off
and radioactive fall out.
So forgive me if I step over to the “chemical” side of things now and again. The most dangerous thing I’m putting in my garden right now is probably the cottonseed meal – and it’s the most “organic” amendment!
My current thinking is to first mineralize the soil with various amendments, then grow cover crops and recycle them into soil life and organic material. In a food forest system, chop and drop is highly effective for this. Yet in this soil, I would still give the system lots of good micronutrients at the onset, as well as adjust the pH. Then nature can take over from there.
The soil life is important. In the short term, we are shooting for highly nutrient-dense food. As the plants get what they need and thrive, we will build up organic matter levels and feed the microbiology as well.
I wrote Compost Everything for a reason. I hate the toxic mess the world has become. The supply line of organic amendments being screwed up inspired me to seek out alternative ways to make enough compost to feed the garden. I am still composting and will compost a lot more as my gardens grow.
One piece at a time, one foot in front of the other…