What is an Organic fertilizer?

Discussion in 'Conversations Forum' started by cowboy, Dec 5, 2008.

  1. cowboy

    cowboy Active Member

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    Can anyone tell me what materials, besides compost, are consider to be Organic fertilizers? There is a lot of information about what cannot be used but there seems to be a paucity of of information as to what is acceptable. What would be the opinion of these materials?

    bird guano
    potash
    limestone
    dolomite
    bone meal
    blood meal
    epsom salts
    gypsum
    sulfur
    kelp meal or just plain seaweed
     
  2. jimmyq

    jimmyq Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    To me, organic fertilizers are those that are sourced from an initial, renewable resource rather then byproducts of other industry.
     
  3. cowboy

    cowboy Active Member

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    That is very limiting. Can you provide specific examples of materials that meet this criteria?
     
  4. jimmyq

    jimmyq Well-Known Member 10 Years

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  5. Millet

    Millet Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    Actually, every one of the Harvest Farms organic fertilizers that jimmyq list in the above post, contain exactly the very same chemicals that are found in traditional fertilizers. Further, they are taken up by plants as the same ions. Plants cannot tell the difference between organic and traditional. - Millet
     
  6. jimmyq

    jimmyq Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    Not technically true, they contain the same minerals not chemicals, and I agree, they are no different (molecularly) other than their source. You cant 'make' nitrogen chemically or organically, all you can do is extract it from other sources.

    Quoted from: http://wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=chemical

    "S: (adj) chemical (of or made from or using substances produced by or used in reactions involving atomic or molecular changes) "chemical fertilizer""
     
  7. Millet

    Millet Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    "S: (adj) chemical (of or made from or using substances produced by or used in reactions involving atomic or molecular changes) "chemical fertilizer""

    Jimmy, your quote above is true whether man made (traditional fertilizers), or nature made (organic fertilizers). Again makes no difference, there both the same. - Millet
     
  8. jimmyq

    jimmyq Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    I don't disagree, they're all the same mineral when it comes to the plant's uptake. :) The difference is the source, man made or nature made, sometimes renewable, sometime not.
     
  9. greengarden bev

    greengarden bev Active Member

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    My first post to this site, and I'm a bit confused. Isn't this forum for supporters of organic growing? "Millet" is obviously not a supporter. Organic growing is more than just the source of the fertilizer. But that discussion is beyond the scope of Cowboy's original question.

    And so is the fact that most of these "organic" fertilizers would not be allowed under an organic certification program. But for the backyard grower, these materials can help build the health and fertility of your soil. For the truly environmentally conscious, though, be aware that many of these products are factory processed and bagged and trucked in from far away. Local is better. Also, IFOAM's draft standards make it clear that resources used in organic agriculture should sustainably used, and from renewable sources. Most of the inputs on Cowboy's list don't meet this criteria.

    Also, there is no black and white stamp of approval for these things. Is limestone "good"? Well, if your soil is too acidic to grow what you want to grow, then yes, use it to raise the pH.

    Is guano "good"? Well, if you don't mind using something trucked in from Cuba or Mexico, and you're knowledgeable enough to use such a high-N substance without hurting your plants, then go ahead.

    Anyway, here's my attempt at a helpful but very brief response to your question:

    bird guano: very high N. Big carbon footprint (almost always trucked in from southern climes) Expensive. Pot-growers like it. I'd rather use soy meal or some other, more complete, less concentrated form of N.

    potash: "potash" is mineral form of potassium. There are (were?) great deposits of it on the prairies. It is mined and processed into very concentrated K (i.e. 0-0-30)-- in general, not a good thing. Better sources of "natural" K include kelp or seaweed, greensand, and wood ash.

    limestone and dolomite: you probably should do some homework on these two, because they are closely linked. In general, agricultural lime (Limestone) is applied to raise the pH of the soil, to counteract excessive acidity. Limestone and dolomite also supply varying amounts of calcium and magnesium so your use of these materials should be based on a soil test.

    bone meal: a processed and potent source of P (potassium) Fast and dirty compared to, say, soft rock phosphate. Bone meal is a byproduct of the meat rendering industry. Recently it has been under a lot of scrutiny because of "mad cow disease". Expensive. I only use it for ornamental bulbs, and I mix it with soft rock phosphate, which lasts for years.

    blood meal: a fast and potent source of N, in the 10% range. Another by-product of meat rendering. Expensive. Again, it's better to use a less processed, more balanced and complete fertilizer unless you know how to mix these high-test N sources with other materials to get what you want.

    epsom salts: This is just magnesium sulphate. Is your soil deficient in magnesium? Rosarians like to use epsom salts. Google is your friend.

    gypsum: calcium suphate. Usually from mined sources, also a byproduct of phosphate fertilizer production. Most often used to reduce salinity of soils. Not usually an issue for the backyard gardener.

    sulfur: used to make soils more acidic (lower the pH). Again, use if a soil test warrants it. If you're growing blueberries or other acid-loving plants, you can incorporate it into your planting bed. Again, sulphur is a mined non-renewable product.

    kelp meal or just plain seaweed: good sources of K and trace elements/micronutrients. If you have a local source (lake, ocean) go ahead and topdress in the early spring or fall with these materials.
    - - - - - - - - -
    If you haven't already done so, I'd suggest doing some basic reading on soil health from reputable organic advocates like SARE or COG. Organic practices generally reject the "fertilzer" paradigm where soil is treated like an inert substance into which the appropriate combination of chemicals (N-P-K or "nutrients") is added.

    For the organic purist, an organic fertilizer is something that comes from on-site (manure from your own livestock or "waste" from your own garden) that is recycled, often composted. Organic growers may sometimes use, but never rely on, "inputs" to build the soil. They focus on soil health (OM, tilth/structure, organisms) and use rotations, fallows, green manures and compost to maintain fertility.

    Anyway, I hope this has been helpful.
     
  10. greengarden bev

    greengarden bev Active Member

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    Oh, also, here are some other options for organic fertilizers:

    alfalfa fines or pellets: These can often be purchased in 40lb bags at a feed store and they're not too expensive. They're a really nice balanced, mild, and complete fertilizer-- about 2-2-2 .

    soy meal: about 6-2-1. Hard to find non GMO and even harder to find organically grown.

    Pelletized poultry manure: pretty high-test-- some are about 4% N.
     
  11. cowboy

    cowboy Active Member

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    Thank you very much greengarden bev for your lengthy answer. I did a search on IFOAM and found what I had been looking for. I attach the relevant items in this posting. It seems a bit long but I think that it answers the questions I had and others may have had.


    I did have some concerns about a couple of items:

    Isn't this forum for supporters of organic growing? "Millet" is obviously not a supporter.

    Any discussion should allow for all views. To exclude anyone who is not a convert would not result in a sustainable and robust exchange.

    And so is the fact that most of these "organic" fertilizers would not be allowed under an organic certification program. But for the backyard grower, these materials can help build the health and fertility of your soil.

    It seems contradictory that amendments that "build the health and fertility of" soil should be allow in the garden but not in agriculture. As we can see from the lBS, most of these amendments are allow in Organic agriculture.


    Just for the record, I am too much of a maverick to be branded by any certification body.



    Final Revision Draft of the

    IFOAM Basic Standards

    for Organic Production and Proessing

    Version: 20th May, 2005​


    Appendix 1

    General Principles
    Organic production and processing systems are based on the use of natural, biological, renewable, and regenerative resources. Organic agriculture maintains soil fertility primarily through the recycling of organic matter. Nutrient availability is primarily dependent on the activity of soil organisms. Pests, diseases, and weeds are managed primarily through cultural practices. Organic livestock are nourished primarily through organically produced feed and forage, and are kept in living conditions that allow for natural behavior and avoidance of stress. Organic foods and other products are made from organically produced ingredients that are processed primarily by biological, mechanical, and physical means.

    Appendix 2

    Fertilizers and Soil Conditioners

    Substances description, compositional requirements with conditions for use

    I. Plant and Animal Origin
    • Farmyard manure, slurry and urine
    • Guano
    • Source separated human excrement from separated sources which are monitored for contamination (Not to be directly applied on edible parts)
    • vermicastings
    • blood meal, meat meal, bone, bone meal
    • hoof and horn meal, feather meal, fish and fish products, wool, fur, hair, dairy products
    • biodegradable processing by-products, plant or animal origin, e.g. by-products of food, feed, oilseed, brewery, distillery or textile processing.
    • crop and vegetable residues, mulch, green manure, straw
    • wood, bark, sawdust, wood shavings, wood ash, wood charcoal
    • seaweed and seaweed products
    • peat (prohibited for soil conditioning) (Excluding synthetic additives; permitted for inclusion in potting mixes.)
    • plant preparations and extracts
    • compost made from ingredients listed in this appendix, spent mushroom waste, humus fromworms and insects, urban composts from separated sources which are monitored for contamination

    II. Mineral Origin
    • basic slag
    • calcareous and magnesium amendments
    • limestone, gypsum, marl, maerl, chalk, sugar beet lime, calcium chloride
    • magnesium rock, kieserite and Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate)
    • mineral potassium (e.g. sulfate of potash, muriate of potash, kainite, sylvanite, patentkali) (Shall be obtained by physical procedures but not enriched by chemical processes)
    • natural phosphates
    • pulverized rock, stone meal
    • clay (e.g. bentonite, perlite, vermiculite, zeolite)
    • sodium chloride
    • trace elements
    • sulfur

    III. Microbiological
    • biodegradable processing by-products of microbial origin, e.g. by-products of brewery or distillery processing.
    • microbiological preparations based on naturally occurring organisms

    IV. Others
    • biodynamic preparations
     
  12. greengarden bev

    greengarden bev Active Member

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    Hmmm. I didn't realize IFOAM had its own "permitted list". There are several certifying organizations in North American, and each one has its own set of standards. Canadian standards are more stringent. For example, raw manure and human sludge are not allowed. Here's the link for more info: http://www.cog.ca/stds_regs_national.htm

    Re: discrepancy between farmers and gardeners and what organic products are useful. Everyone agrees that Greensand and Kelp are excellent amendments to build soil health. I was trying to express the idea that what is okay on the small scale may not be okay (or cost-effective) on the large scale. I mean, a commercial organic grower would have to buy a trailer load full of, say, greensand and pay a bundle for it, and for shipping. It is really really heavy. Big carbon footprint. A gardener, on the other hand, might have a local supplier, and one bag might do. Also, a main principle of organic farming is reduce off-site inputs-- to be as self-sufficient as possible. So, while off-site inputs might not violate any certification standards (depending on which organization is doing the certification), it would not lead to self-sufficiency. Most home gardeners, I think, wouldn't put themselves under such constraints.

    Re: "non organic" arguments in the organic gardening forum. On other sites these people would be called trolls. Anyway, let them in. We can't stop them. Having to argue with them takes a lot of time that I'd rather spend helping people who want to learn about organic gardening. Logic seldom works on them, although newbies reading some the arguments might be persuaded to come down on our side of the fence. The best we can do is just ignore them. I wish they would stay in other forums where their comments would be more appreciated.

    Re: branding by certification body. With a name like "Cowboy" you're a maverick all right! Next time Monsanto or Dow or ADM tries to buy off the USDA and water down the organic standards so Big Ag can more easily get a share of the profitable organic market (and push the small scale producers out) well, you might see things differently. There's been a mutiny of sorts in the states. The originators of the first organic standards-- the real mavericks-- have picked up and left, disgusted at the sellout. Organic is going mainstream and big-time, leaving the suits and execs to run the show.
     
  13. lorax

    lorax Rising Contributor 10 Years

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    I can't speak to what's going on up north, but I can give you the "Organic" standards for Ecuador, which is currently 89% organic according to the Ministry of Agropecuarial Health, which is the active regulating body for us. They're very strict about what is and is not organic fertilizer, and they do random spot-tests on all farms to check organic procedures.

    We consider "Organic" fertilizers to be:

    Seaweed/Kelp
    Chicken Manure
    Cow/Horse Manure
    Humanure (propery dehydrated and treated)
    Compost (ie non-protein kitchen wastes that have decomposed into black soils)
    Worm Castings
    Animal meals (ie fish meal, bone meal, etc etc etc.)
    Brewery castoffs
    Amendments of plant origin
    Naturally occurring minerals; the only acceptable form of processing is to grind and sieve these.
    Coir (in place of peat, as a soil amendment.)

    Beyond this, if you're on land that was previously used in a non-organic manner, you can't even apply for certification until you've let it rest for 3 years planted in Water Hyacinth and Lupins or other toxin-leaching plants. They tend to reccomend the Lupins, since they also fix nitrogen. Additionally, there are some pretty hefty fines for using restricted chemicals in any form once you're certified; generally this takes the form of land seizure by the DAH.
     
  14. bob 2

    bob 2 Active Member

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    If these "esoteric terms" actually impact the end results in horticulture it should be a relatively easy task to demonstrate any differences.

    If we remain fixated on the potential contaminants the study should also show that and demonstrate a harmful effect if it can be demonstrated.

    I am not taking a side here , but merely setting up a reasonable criteria, at least for my mind,to determine what, if anything, is relevant.
    For the record, I've been a subscriber to Rodale's Organic Gardening since 1975 and for me at least, the jury is still out on the chemistry angle.

    The good earth stewardship is a given though.

    Bob
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2008
  15. greengarden bev

    greengarden bev Active Member

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    Bob, I'm not understanding parts of your comment. Maybe there is a missing or deleted post. What study are you referring to? This one? http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn12245

    I'm thinking about your statement that "end results" are the appropriate criteria for comparing organic vs. non-organic fertilizer. Usually when people make that kind of argument, they are referring to yields. In the short term, as the Green Revolution demonstrated, yields will go up with the chems.

    In the long term, though, the externalized costs of chemical agriculture will have to be, and are, being paid-- in the form of resource depletion; water contamination; aquafer depletion; CO2 emissions/greenhouse gases; soil degradation; species loss (monoculture); and other environmental consequences. The social costs are equally huge: loss of family/indigenous farms/agriculture; the obliteration of small towns and local economies; the sickness caused by unregulated chemical and pesticide use; the drop in food nutritional value; the hunger caused when poor countries produce commodities for export instead of food to eat.

    I know I'm inflating the picture here-- chemical fertilizer is just a component of industrial agriculture. But the two are inseparable. Industrial agriculture cannot work without the chemical inputs. For example, it would be impossible to run a 2,000 acre potato farm using organic fertilizers.

    But to get back to the idea of "end results". I argue that yields and productivity (I know these are two different things) should be only minor factors in the debate over organic fertilizers. The soil/water/air/eco/climate/ systems on which humans and human societies wholly depend-- these come first. Always. In the long term, nothing else matters.

    Today, all planetary systems are under stress, and some are at the breaking point. What does it matter if we manage to squeeze out another few tonnes of calories or protein from the soil to feed an exponentially growing human population and our livestock? It will only postpone the collapse by a few years or decades. Unless some molecular biologists devise a microbe to turn excrement into edible protein. Actually, they are working on the problem now. Except they're trying to get the microbes to create gasoline for our SUVs.

    But I digress.

    When we humans started doing agriculture four thousand years ago in delta of Euphrates and Tigris rivers, we created a monster. We created excess -- an abundant, fixed, and fairly stable supply of food which gave rise to permanent human settlements -- cities-- and the vicious circle of population growth and land acquisition, expansion and collapse. Chemical agriculture represents the most recent, and perhaps last, phase of this expansion. We have no more planet to farm, and babies keep coming.

    So you can see why I'm cheering for Team Organic.
     
  16. Millet

    Millet Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    Bev, you say " We have no more plantet to farm". Get in a plane and fly from New York to Los Angeles. Look down and tell me what you see. Lots, and lots, and lots, AND LOTS of empty space. Lastly you write, "and babies keep coming" Bev, I certainly hope so, babies are great. Take care - Millet
     
  17. bob 2

    bob 2 Active Member

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    Bev, I am suggesting that if there are demonstrable differences in these two definitions of what fertilizer is then a decent study could show that difference.

    To date there is no such double blind reference.

    So the debate rambles on and people starve to death.
    Nice!
    Bob
     
  18. greengarden bev

    greengarden bev Active Member

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    Overpopulation is the issue that no one, not even environmentalists want to talk about. Absolutely taboo, understandably. So I won't rant about it here. My point is that exponential growth CANNOT continue on a finite planet, no matter how much forest/tundra/mountain/desert/bog lands etc. we see from planes and long to "make productive" to feed the billions.

    Millet, I hope you will do some research on the exactly what kind of land constitutes "arable" land. You'll see that pretty much all of it is already being used-- and abused. This link is a good start:
    http://www.ourplanet.com/aaas/pages/population02.html This information is compiled American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, which produces the journal Science) from a variety of respected sources. No crackpots.

    I like your phrase "empty space". None of that space is empty. It might not have humans on it, but it is certainly not empty. It is full of life, the kind of life that we humans think we're separate from. The kind of life that, ultimately, we cannot live without.

    Here's a helpful suggestion for you, Millet. Go round up some venture capital and start a project to farm the Rockies. Or the Amazon rain forest. Oh wait, they're already doing that. Nix that idea. Okay, you can farm the Canadian Shield with its two centimeters of topsoil. Wrong climate? How about a <i>giant greenhouse dome</i> heated with biofuels you truck in from the midwest. Oh wait, that corn was supposed to be feeding people, not machines. Nix that idea. Okay, you can find a forward-thinking entrepreneur who will sell your grandchildren shares on a terraforming operation on Mars. Yeah, that's it! Let's farm MARS!

    Bob, go ahead and split hairs on the meaning of "organic" vs "chemical" fertilizer. I agree that, at the molecular level, a plant can't tell the difference between N from ammonium nitrate and N from blood meal. In the big picture, it is not the molecules that matter. As I tried to explain in my post, it is the ecosystem levels-- the processes in the soil, on the farm, in the community and through the biosphere--that constitutes the important difference between organic and non-organic.

    You guys can have the last word. I'm signing off this thread.
     
  19. bob 2

    bob 2 Active Member

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    Thanks Bev.
    I can certianly appreciate your depth of knowledge and adult approach to solving problems now.

    Bob
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2008
  20. Greengarden Bev,

    I hope you change your mind about signing off from this thread. I have been scouring the internet for clarification of a theory that I am surprised was "not covered" in the previous discussions & that I find quite important. Your continued participation in this thread will be very helpful.

    I read somewhere (in obscure scholarly theses & some commercial postings) that:

    Organic Fertilizers do not provide nutrition to plant until their constituents have been broken down into inorganic forms. A plant doesn't eat guano or animal manure. It eats their inorganic constituents.

    This theory disputes your assertion while providing a very simple & very clear explanation of what organic fertilizers are & how they should be used. If correct, I think we should find ways to disseminate it so that ALL mis-information that organic fertilizers feed plants are corrected.

    Please check my postings at:
    http://www.pcarrd.dost.gov.ph/message/viewtopic.php?pid=55064#55064
    as I pursue the TRUTH behind "What organic fertilizers really are?"

    Gerry
     
  21. Pharmerphil

    Pharmerphil Member

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    Very good gpbaron, saved me some typing...Organics feed the soils micro herds, the soil microbes feed your plants, chemical fertilizers destroy those microbes...enough said.
     
  22. greengarden bev

    greengarden bev Active Member

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    I don't disagree with you, gpbaron. As you say, plants don't eat organic ferts, they eat their inorganic constituents-- which are the 17-ish so-called macro- and micro-nutrients. These are inorganic molecules, created by the transformation of soil minerals and organic matter through the action of soil organisms, rain, weather (atmospheric charges), and time.

    BTW, thanks for joining in my support. These threads so often turn into ideological battles. We had the Christian Fundamentalist and the Industry Scientist, both of whom are entrenched in their respective world views. It is pretty much impossible to discuss anything rationally with ideologues and I often resort to ridicule. Millet called me a zealot and I don't mind, really. Planet Earth needs a few more zealots on her side.

    Here's an analogy I sometimes use when talking to the "blue powder" crowd about what's wrong with chemical fertilizers. Imagine an organism being raised in bathtub kept constantly full of something like cotton candy made by factory scientists. The creature eats all it can, whenever it wants, and consequently becomes fat, lazy, weak, and not able to fend for itself. Imagine the same organism raised in an environment where it had to go out and find food. It would eat what it needs, not what it was given. It innately knows what it needs, and it becomes strong and healthy as it searches out a balanced and healthy diet. When that organism dies, it contributes a lot of healthy organic matter back to the soil, to eventually feed more organisms.

    Contributions to improve my analogy are welcome.
     
  23. jimmyq

    jimmyq Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    FWIW plants dont 'eat' anything, they absorb minerals, water and sunlight.

    Photosynthesis: "A process in which organisms, with the aid of chlorophyll (green plant enzyme), convert carbon dioxide and inorganic substances into oxygen and additional plant material, using sunlight for energy. All green plants grow by this process."

    copied from: http://www.environmentallawyers.com/Environmental-Resources-Glossary.cfm
     
  24. greengarden bev

    greengarden bev Active Member

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    "figure of speech" (from dictionary.com)

    –noun Rhetoric.
    any expressive use of language, as a metaphor, simile, personification, or antithesis, in which words are used in other than their literal sense, or in other than their ordinary locutions, in order to suggest a picture or image or for other special effect. Compare trope (def. 1).
    Origin: 1815–25
     
  25. bob 2

    bob 2 Active Member

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    I am wondering if we should change the topic?
    The original poster wondered what was an "organic" "fertilizer"
    That was actually two questions.

    Right now we are over to which method of agriculture is better.
    So that is a third question.
    I am wondering if one has to be 100% right in order to have a voice in these a discussions or if there is still room for debate ?

    Bob
     

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