Organic Versus Conventional Gardening Fertilizer
Organic Versus Conventional Gardening – Comparing Fertilizer
We all know that organic gardening is better for your health and better for the environment, yet people new to organic gardening have way too much confusing information thrown at them. Worse, they may turn to organic gardening with the mind-set of a conventional gardener. Many conventional gardeners who go cold turkey and switch to organic fertilizer will likely not be impressed with the results.
When you go to a typical big box garden center or department store, you’ll be presented with rows upon rows of synthetic fertilizer, weed n’ feeds, pesticide and herbicide sprays and the like. Yes, there will likely be token displays of organic products. According to a recent poll from the Garden Writers Association:
Eighty percent of consumers said they would use more organic products if they knew they could get an effective result for no additional cost. Sixty percent said they would use more organic products if they could be convinced that organics are just as effective as non-organic products.
The ugly truth, at first glance is, yes:
Organic products don’t “work” as well as conventional ones.
I said “at first glance.” Organics do indeed work as well as synthetics – however, they work in a different way. Let me explain:
Organic Vs. Conventional Fertilizers
If you are thinking about becoming an organic gardener, you must understand that organic products are not a quick-fix solution. Chemical fertilizers are popular because they work, and they work fast. A few days after a typical application, your plants will burst into growth like a miracle (yes, this refers to a certain product), turn a vibrant green and scream a muscular war-cry of “I am gorgeous!” (if they could.)
Here is what is really happening, and the comparison to an organic fertilizer application:
|The fertilizer is locked as a salt, and upon contact with moisture, dissolves and releases the nutrients. They are then is easily absorbed by the plant’s roots. This results in rapid growth. However, nutrients quickly leech away, though slow-release synthetics are available.||The compost or other organic material is slow-release, meaning nutrients are locked into organic matter. Microbes in the soil feed on this matter, gradually releasing the nutrients for the plants.|
|Result: Quick bursts of growth, but additional applications are needed. The plant has the nutrients easily at hand … urr, root, so there is no need to reach deeper in the soil. Your plants are trained to be “lazy”, with glorious show but stunted roots. Over time, such as with perennials and shrubs, they will weaken. Obviously, with annuals, you simply plant new ones the next season, so this is less of an issue.||Result: Slow but steady growth. As the nutrients are locked into organic matter, they last a long time in the soil – years, even. If you actively compost, your source of fertilizer is free, and often one or two applications a season is enough, if your soil is already built up. However, you do have to initially spend more time tending to your soil if it is not built-up.|
|Long Term: Constant application of fertilizers, and a slow decline in output, as your soil only contains basic nutrients but few micro-nutrients and little organic matter such as microbes, fungi, and beneficial insects. The lack of diversity in the soil means more pests and disease, which can only be corrected with pesticides and herbicides. This could turn into a vicious cycle of adding more chemicals to the air and soil. Quick-release nitrogen and/or improper application means more pollution in our rivers and lakes.||Long Term: Your soil begins to teem with healthy microbial life. You do need to spend more time actively composting, adding mulches, testing soil pH for nutrients, and buying composted manures to increase nitrogen levels – though as the years go on, the work will be less and less, as you soil will be stable and self-renewing. Though disease will always be an issue, you will know ways to mitigate and reverse this – healthy organic soil will mean healthier and more disease-resistant plants.|
|The Bottom Line: You spend less time gardening, but continue with the “fast-food” mindset that is getting us all into trouble – things need to be done yesterday, lawns must be green now, plants must bloom this afternoon. I do not need to remind you what fast, easy credit has done to our economy. However, if you live a hectic lifestyle and properly apply your fertilizer, I would not encourage going organic. No matter what people tell you, it is a little more work, and if you have no interest in gardening, you will not appreciate the fact that you can not “spread it and forget it”.||The Bottom Line: You have to initially spend more time in your garden, and change your mind-set from needing immediate results to thinking long-term. You have to spend some energy learning natural methods, and may have some frustrations when things don’t seem to be turning out right (Hey, my entire lawn turned to weeds the first year I stopped using weed n’ feed!) You may have to sacrifice beautiful, blooming plants and a perfect lawn this year for a healthier and stronger garden next year. As the seasons go on, you will spend less to no money on fertilizer because you are using home-grown compost, though you may still need to supplement every now and then. You can even spend less time in your garden, though why would you want to?|
Well, what’s your verdict? If you were a conventional gardener and switched to organic, how did it go for you the first season?
It would certainly be great if everybody became organic gardeners, but the truth is, it does take some work, pre-planning, and thinking long term. It’s not for everybody. I’d love to hear thoughts from others, and appreciate your comments, pro and con.