Saturday, May 25, 2013

Fertilizer Everywhere!

I promised to write about fertilizer a couple months ago.  Sorry for the wait!
Chickens love the compost!

So much can be said about fertilizer, it could fill a whole blog - a book - a library.

Today in this post, we'll get the down and dirty as quickly as possible so you can start your fertilizer journey immediately!

When you buy a fertilizer, synthetic or organic, it will have three numbers.  Our imaginary example today will look like this: 1-2-3.  It represents the N-P-K content.  This number will be found on the box or bag of any packaged fertilizer and most soil amendments, both synthetic and organic...


The first number is nitrogen (N).  It makes green.  
A high first number would be found in grass fertilizer.  I have been known to goose my basil with nitrogen, because the big green leaves are what I want.

Nitrogen can be found in lots of stuff from the air we breathe, to the blood in our veins (blood meal), to the waste we produce (manure.)  It's in plant material. So when you bag and toss your leaves or grass, you are losing nitrogen.  It is the biggest fertilizer need of most plants and you will need a good bit of it to grow big, green, healthy plants and lawns.

Nitrogen run-off is the big, bad, boogieman of pollution, so don't pour on a tsunami of the stuff or apply a year's supply right before the hurricane.

The second number on your fertilizer package is Phosphorus (P). P makes a plant flower and grow roots.  Flowers are vitally important if you want fruit!  Fertilizers with big middle numbers go by names like Colorboost and Bloom Buster.  Get the point?

Phosphorus is found in things like: rock phosphate and compost.  It's kinda of hard to come by, but that's ok because the plant doesn't need a huge amount and again, run-off is bad.

The last number is Potassium (K). This makes for healthy strong stems and tissue development.  It gives your bell peppers strong walls.

Potassium can be found in wood ash.  I had a redneck neighbor in South Carolina who insisted on calling wood ash, "Pot ash."  Nothing I said could persuade him to call it anything else.  This guy owned half the town and was a multimillionaire.  Bought his wife a red Jaguar for Valentines day one year.  
It's not just a good story - "Pot ash" makes it easy to remember wood ash.  Wood ash is a great source of K and the end result of your campfire.  K is the end element in the fertilizer content analysis.  You'll remember it now!

We use mostly organic solutions at our farm.  Soil structure is really, really important and organic is the very best way to build it. 

Here's the part that will bring on the hate mail:  I'm not wedded to organic.  Here's why: 

I'm a borderline vegetarian and most organic fertilizers (manure, fish emulsion, bone meal...) are made from exploiting animals.  A lot of times dead animals.  If you don't believe me, just take a whiff of blood meal.  That's just gross and nasty.

Because the chemical structure is the same, organic is not much different than synthetic as far as fertilizer application and has some important drawbacks:
Whatever was in the exploited animal (example - lead content in fish) just got spread on your veggies.  
Manure contains bio-hazards.  That is why they "sanitize" it, to negate the bio-hazard content. 
It takes a ton of it - literally. 
It smells nauseatingly bad.  Sometimes for weeks.  Even the vegetables sometimes stink.  Hard to eat them raw that way.

Strangely, organic is not always the least harmful gardening method. Try killing squash bugs with organic pesticide. (YES! Organics use pesticide!)  Try it 2-3 times a week all summer! When you are drenched in pyrethrin and go home without any squash - again - you might understand.  Don't bother sending me hate mail from Michigan or Wisconsin or any other Northern state.  I used to live there.  Down here, We got BUGS!!

How we balance concern for animals and the environment while still getting food would fill another blog, book, library...

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