ello fellow Earthlings and welcome to the garden.
In our ongoing quest to grow healthy gardens without the use
of synthetic and potentially hazardous chemicals, we are often
faced with some very basic problems.
asked by a reader a few weeks ago to explain why I thought natural/organic
fertilizers were better, when chemical compounds seem to work
so much faster and appear to be benign. I wrote back, asking
this reader if they were serious and not just my first heckler.
The reader said that he was, in fact, serious, even though he
had been reading my weekly column for more than two years and
was very familiar with my "dogma".
I got the
hint and thought about how to convince this doubter, who has
read about soil quality, water pollution and biological diversity,
why our way is better. Logic didn't seem to work and the common
sense of naturally tending to the garden wasn't convincing enough.
So I came up with an answer to this detractor of the natural
way that he couldn't argue with.
This is what
I came up with.
Dear Gilligan, [Name changed to protect the environmentally
Thank you for your insights regarding plant growth
and the perceived ephemeral trendiness of organic and natural
gardening. I have to respectfully disagree with your statement
that blue crystals (product name deleted) and other synthetic
chemical fertilizers perform better than plant foods and fertilizers
that are of natural origin. Your statement that chemical fertilizers
are harmless to the environment and to the people exposed to
them is also something I have to take issue with, but your question
challenging me to give you a quality that organic plant foods
have that chemicals don't is what I'll address.
Natural/organic plant foods provide a far greater
abundance of essential plant nutrients than chemical compounds
used for this purpose. No chemical fertilizers manufactured today
have the capacity to supply plants with the variety of micronutrients
that organic plant foods commonly supply. Natural/organic fertilizers
inherently carry these minerals along with them. Without resorting
to flowery language, this essence of life is the one thing that
synthetics can never provide. The subtle, natural way these organic
plant foods works depends on their ability to promote stimulate
plant growth by focusing on the soil-plant dynamic.
These natural plant foods promote the growth of symbiotic
bacteria and fungi in soil that allow soils to more effectively
supply plants with the essential minerals needed to function
properly. Although organic plant foods do not often work as quickly
as your chemicals, they do work far longer. Long after the nitrogen,
phosphorus, and potassium in your chemicals are depleted or flowing
down the storm drain, organic plant foods combined with sunlight
continue to provide nourishment to the complex biological process
known as photosynthesis, thus plant growth.
Plant growth is not sustainable by providing only
major nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (what
are referred to as "complete fertilizers" in conventional
chemical manufacturing). For the most part, chemical fertilizers
only provide these three nutrients. Some have a little sulfur
and iron or calcium added, but they are nowhere close to providing
the other minerals essential for healthy plant growth. Boron,
magnesium, chlorine, manganese, copper, zinc, and molybdenum
are commonly provided by natural/organic plant foods, in addition
to the N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium), sulfur, calcium
and iron sometimes provided by chemical products.
It is also good to note that chemical fertilizers
are often antagonistic to the symbiotic organisms in the soil
due to their high analysis, which can commonly be more than 30
percent nitrogen. The really bad part of this is that most of
these nutrients are lost to runoff that ends up in the storm
drain system. They eventually find their way into our lakes,
streams and ocean, causing one of the most destructive types
of water pollution.
Your argument for the use of chemical fertilizers
is a good one. These products do, in fact, supply high quantities
of a few nutrients. But if any single ephemeral quality exists
between chemical and organic plant foods, it is with chemicals.
These products are potentially dangerous to the environment and
are certainly antagonistic to the natural systems that nature
and four billion years of evolutionary improvement have provided
for plants. Soon, chemical fertilizers will be found out by the
general public to be temporary (ephemeral) solutions as plant
foods. Then, the innate common sense of gardeners and farmers
alike will then kick in and natural/organic plant foods will
be the norm. Thank you for your interest in this subject. I hope
I have stated my argument to your satisfaction.
that is how it went. To all of you users of organic plant foods
that are periodically waylaid by neighbors willing to criticize
you for your practices in the garden, I offer you this argument
in favor of your plants, the environment, and common sense.