Is this true?

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

"Chemical fertilizers will kill microorganisms that keep soil healthy, so use them sparingly, or not at all."
I read this on another thread and was wondering how true it was. I realize that organic material will improve the condition of soil but I haven't heard or read that synthetic fertilizers actually kill microorganisms. Just wondering. If there is info on this forum that already address this please feel free to point me in the right direction.

Helena, MT

1lisac, excellent question. I have seen some postings as well on Miracle Grow. I have used MG to jump start some plants in the spring and on my indoor pepper plants. I remember reading a posting in the Tomato Forum by Dr. C., where she said she used MG on her tomatoes. So hopefully you can get some useful feed back here. This has been bothering me since reading several DG member negative postings about using MG.

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

FWIW - For gardens/beds .... I adhere pretty strictly to the idea that you should use organic products/soil amendments that build the soil to minimize the need for soluble (read chemical) fertilizers. That said, there are times you NEED individual nutrients to complete the assortment of essential nutrients plants take from the soil. If you're limited by a 'no chemical' ideology, you either deal with the abnormal growth or wait. If your NOT limited by an ideology, the issue is easily solved with a soil test add the appropriate nutrient via a chemical compound like potash, various nitrates, phosphates .......

IOW, there are extremists on both ends. Some never think about the soil, thinking it's ok to keep adding chemicals to produce growth. Others would never THINK of using a chemical and will chastise anyone who does. I'm in the middle, but leaning heavily toward the organic side, though I stop short of telling you what you need to do to be a good gardener. ;o)

For containers, soluble fertilizers get the nod from me - hands down. They are easier to use; you know exactly what nutrients your plants are getting and when they are getting them; delivery of nutrients does not depend on the activity of soil organisms whose populations vary in boom/bust cycles in containers; you're using a soluble product, not an organic soil amendment that has the potential to clog valuable macro-pores .....

In container culture, I tend to consider soil in terms of it's STRUCTURE, charging the soil with providing the right balance of air and moisture, while I shoulder all responsibility for providing the nutrients plants need to grow. Not having set self-imposed limitations on myself re. the use of soluble fertilizers, I have found they are the easiest and most efficient way to manage the nutritional requirements for containerized plants.


This message was edited Oct 13, 2010 12:09 PM

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

Yeah, what Al said...

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

1lisac - there are many, many references on the internet that say microorganisms are killed by chemical fertilizers.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

I don't believe everything I read on the Internet. Al seems to be pretty informed and since the above quote was taken from a thread regarding a very small garden and containers I just wanted to clear things up. No harm in asking. His answer seems to contradict that info so is he wrong?
I don't want to start an argument if you don't believe his answer you can discuss it further. I got the info I was looking for. I use my livestock's manure in my gardens and I know it contains herbicides and pesticides that come in the grain and hay they eat. There is no way that I can avoid this.
If what you say is true then there is really no need for this forum.
"you're using a soluble product, not an organic soil amendment that has the potential to clog valuable macro-pores ..."

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

1lisac - I have re-read what Al wrote and don't disagree with him.

What I wrote is also true - there are many articles on the internet that state microorganisms are killed by chemical fertilizers.

I don't believe everything I read on the Internet

Neither do I.

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

I'm musing here, and not disagreeing with anyone.

First, let me reiterate that I adhere to an almost entirely organic approach to growing in the gardens and beds, and I'm not defending or promoting the use of chemical fertilizers.

We can say that people are killed by automobiles with the same certainty we can say that microorganisms are killed by chemical fertilizers. In both cases, we need to use some discretion in how we apply the statements. Like automobiles, chemical fertilizers aren't always bad. We just need to be cautious about how we use them.

I realize there are those that feel using chemical fertilizers in any form is not acceptable, but the reality is that in many cases we have only two options: to use them or put up with unacceptable growth. A reasonable approach might be to look at them in the same way we look at IPM practices. Use the least noxious method/product we can to bring plant growth or yields into the acceptable range.

I realize that in most cases, we can do this by adding more OM, but not always. Often too, time is a consideration. We may have someone who wants to plant immediately, in soil that is deficient in one or more nutrients. We probably shouldn't expect someone to forgo their own freedom of choice and wait two years or more while the soil is fortified/improved only via the addition of organic matter.

I'm driven by results, not an ideology. I'm content, in large part, to continue to add organic matter and soil amendments to my gardens and beds, even though I know I could squeeze a little better growth/yield out of my plants by tweaking the soil with a non-organic addition or two. On the other hand, I feel the difference in results and added effort is too stark for me to abandon the use of soluble fertilizers for container culture. Balance in all things .....


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Helena, MT

Well ya'all I'm trying to get my head around all of this and I'm not doing so well. Some of the discussion seems a bit phillosophical to me, but that's probably from my lack of understanding. I would presume I am a middle of the road type of guy, but would much prefer the organic solution to using inorganic chemicals, if I only knew how to do that. I have more than sufficient NPK, based on annual soils analysis, from adding copious amounts of composted manure to my garden each fall, however with our short season I feel it is necessary to 'jump-start' in the spring. I have done this by adding MG several times via the soaker hoses or drip hoses to various plants. When you say soluble organic fertilizer what exactly are we talking about? Please excuse my ignorance here.

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

I think the subject of soluble/chemical fertilizers is often contentious. We have extremists on both ends of the spectrum. On one hand, we have those that think chemical fertilizers in any form are poison, on the other are those who wouldn't consider doing anything to 'build the soil' relying on fertilizers like Miracle-Gro instead. We'll never reach a balance by taking a position at either end of the spectrum, so the philosophizing is something of an attempt to quash contention from either extreme.

Soluble fertilizers derive their nutrient content from non-organic sources. Organic fertilizers are probably more accurately called soil amendments and are based on material that was once alive, though many fertilizers labeled as 'organic' still derive a portion of their nutrients from inorganic sources.

In the end, the nutrients plants take up are exactly the same salts, the same chemicals, that are present in soluble fertilizers like Miracle-Gro, so the plants don't care a whit where their nutrients come from. That they are available is the plant's only concern. It happens though, that organic soil amendments are better for the living portion of the soil - the portion that makes soil a more habitable and friendly place for plants to reside. The other issues, like who makes the fertilizers, who profits from them, what affect they have on the environment or the soil, are issues to be resolved by the individual. There are positives and negatives associated with the use of chemical fertilizers, and they are not always the same in every application. E.g., if a soil test comes back showing my soil is deficient in Mg and S, I'm not going to be the least bit bashful about applying MgSO4 (magnesium sulphate) to my soil, when the alternative is to add even more organic matter than I've been adding and hope that in the next year or two, the Mg and S levels correct themselves.

Where container culture is concerned, it's up to the grower to provide a soil that is already conducive to plant growth. We can build the tilth and friability into our soils with no help from the micro-herd we wisely covet in our gardens. In fact, the point could easily be argued that courting the micro-herd and adding organic amendments that can provide nutrients fast enough to satisfy plant needs, hastens the structural collapse of the soil. A case in point is: You can grow perfectly healthy plants in a totally inert and inorganic medium (Turface, perlite, crushed granite - any of these) with nothing but the medium, water, and a fertilizer entirely comprised of chemicals. The plant just doesn't care.

I often try to get people to bet me that I can't grow healthy plants in a medium of nothing but broken glass. So far, no takers. ;o)

I have no doubt that you can grow better plants with less effort and greater consistency in containers using a durable and well-aerated soil and soluble fertilizers, but still adhere tightly to the idea that recycling our OM and adding OM from other sources while keeping chemical additives to a minimum is the wisest course for gardens/beds ..... , which, philosophically comes full circle to being results oriented and not bound by ideology. Balance.


Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Thanks for the all the info. you actually answered some other questions I had ie. whether a plant can "tell" the difference between synthetic or organic N, P or K. I didn't understand how it could but I thought I might have missed something.

I have also read on DG that "organic" fertilizers don't contain salt. I have read that they do and since my livestock eats salt I don't understand how the manure can not contain sodium. I have heard that horse manure has less salt then cow poop, but have read posts on DG that clearly stated (I have no idea where) that one reason organic is better is because they don't contain salt.

I also take issue with using the word chemical to mean inorganic. It is my understanding that chemicals occure naturally/organically. IMO this wording just leads to further misunderstandings/misinformation. I'm not even completely sure if there is a clear definition for "organic", except that it is derived for a an organism that was a live at some point and contains a Carbon atom.

With that being said I'm going to take coffee grounds down to my garden to recycle them and add OM. However, these grounds are not made from organic beans so do they count as organic? lol

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

There is a technical difference between a fertilizer and a soil amendment, but even that point eventually becomes moot from a strictly nutritional perspective. Plants take up elements that are dissolved in the soil solution and in ionic form. What they take up are salts.The large molecules that make up hydrocarbon chains in organic fertilizers/soil amendments cannot be taken up by the plant unless the hydrocarbon chains are broken down into elemental/soluble form by soil organisms. At that point, the elements from soluble fertilizers are the same as the elements from organic sources, which is why the plant could care less.

If we can only achieve happy healthy plants in a soil teaming with life, using only organic soil amendments and fertilizers, how do we explain hydroponics? .... no medium, or an entirely inorganic one, and only soluble sources of nutrients. At the very least it suggests there is a middle ground in which everyone can seek their comfort level.

Remember - salt doesn't equate to sodium. Sodium chloride is only 1 form of salt. Any reaction between a base and an acid yields a salt. Potassium chloride and sodium nitrate are also salts. The salt index of unleached manure is very high, as would be the salt index of unleached mushroom compost.

It used to be that the term 'organic' applied to things once living, but even some plastics contain carbon and are considered organic compounds as well. It really is misleading when we throw the word around w/o much consideration, but I admit to being guilty of it as well. Technically, urea, ureaformaldehyde, isobutylidene diurea, and crotonylidene diurea (forgive me if the spelling is slightly off) are all organic molecules, and actually do a good job of feeding microbes, which reinforces the idea that synthetic fertilizers are getting framed for the microbial murder rap that should be hung on the effects of reduced OM in the soils.

It's a vicious circle; mineral soils can support optimal plant growth (nutritionally speaking) only if enough young decaying matter is returned to the soil on a regular basis. Prairies and forests are virtually self sustaining because all vegetative matter is recycled back into the soil. If we regularly mow and bale the grassland, or log off the forest, nutritional deficiencies are assured as a result of our removal of the OM that provided the nutrition - thus the tendency to replace the lost nutrients with chemicals.

In our gardens/beds/lawns ...., we can add compost or other OM to replace the vegetative matter we remove and use or discard. For more than 20 years, I've used compost regularly in the gardens/beds, and apply fine pine bark mulch 2-3" thick, usually every other year. I have extremely healthy soil and rarely find it necessary to use anything synthetic.


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Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Thank you for all the time you are putting into this, I'm sure have many more important things to do. My reference to salt = sodium was what I had read I do realize they are different ie. Epsom's salts. But I think you said that they can be found in both organic and inorganic material. I do lasagna gardening because the soil is so bad here it is the only way to keep the soil workable, but I have no problem using MG ever so often.

If you have the time and patience can you express your opinion/knowledge on using aged manure or fresh manure tea when herbicides and pesticides are in the manure do to the feed the livestock is eating. I feel like a kid in a candy shop. I'm getting so many questions answered. Now they are no longer swirling in my head, I do apologize if people's eyes are glazing over, this is just very interesting to me.

The one thing I remember about mixing a base and an acid is a fireball! Not me but my lab partner, I do think it helped get me out of organic chem. They wanted us out for safety reasons! LOL

Nurmo, Finland(Zone 4b)

Yes, the term 'organic' as used by gardeners is confusing. Do you mind a bit of a history lesson? Just skip it if you're bored. Prior to the early nineteenth century it used to be believed that many of the carbon compounds which make up living matter could only be made by living organisms. This doctrine was called 'vitalism'. In 1828 a chemist called Wöhler succeeded in synthesising the organic compound urea from ammonia and various other compounds in a test tube. This was the birth of what we today call 'organic chemistry'. Today chemists use the term organic to mean compounds containing carbon, regardless of how they are produced. It is the basis of a huge range of industries, including the oil industry, much of the drug industry and the fertiliser industry.

The 'organic movement' in agriculture tends to use the term in its old sense - only referring to compounds produced by living organisms. To paraphrase Tapla above, a plant isn't in the least concerned whether a particular chemical compound it needs was made in a compost heap or a factory.

The 'organic movement' has undoubtedly done a great deal of good over the years by drawing attention to the misuse of compounds; but I have to admit I sometimes become irritated by the 'organic' purists who label as evil anything that comes out of a factory.

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

I found that very interesting, PG.

Lisa - With regard to your question about herbicides/aged manure/manure tea ..... I try hard to operate within the limits of my knowledge whenever I post. I find that keeps me from having to eat humble pie more often than I'd like. ;-) I admit to not having given much consideration to the effects of passive herbicide exposure, and particularly not to what extent 'second-hand herbicides' might be present in manures/manure tea - mainly because I don't use them; not that they aren't beneficial, just that I don't use them. So because I don't feel like I'd be on defensible ground if I commented, I'll just have to pass and hope you come up with a question that has an answer I can provide with greater certainty.

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Efland, NC(Zone 7a)

Great topic here, love it!

PatGeorge and Al, I'm pretty much right there with ya'lls thinking. As an "organic" (using the farming/gardening sense of the word) farmer/gardener for over 30 years (actually longer but only 30 years professionally) I, too, get perturbed by the idea that "all things organic are safe and good and all things chemical/man-made are bad". Good to hear ya'lls reinforcement in that area.

Lisa, in your original post, ""Chemical fertilizers will kill microorganisms that keep soil healthy, so use them sparingly, or not at all." I've heard that perspective for years, read about it for years, and have seen first-hand how the excessive use of certain chemical ferts will damage soil, usually from the concentrated granular form.

Here's a question and perspective, and I hope Al will give more enlightened input, and keeping in mind this pertains to in-ground gardening, not containers.

I wonder if "chemical" (or should we use the term "man-made"?) fert is in liquid form and diluted to its recommended ready-to-use solution, does it have the deleterious effect/affect on soil micro-organisms that the man-made granular ferts would possibly have?

If you think about it when people apply the standard granular 10-10-10, 10-20-20, etc, it is in concentrated form and only becomes diluted when irrigation or rainfall reacts with it, then it spreads or leaches throughout the soil. During that reaction it releases its properties all at once and in a small concentrated area until it is dispersed. This sudden concentration of ammonia/ions/etc, would certainly be a harshness to the soil and soil life (or so it seems to me).

Keeping that in mind, would the same fertilizer strength (10-10-10, 10-20-20, etc) if in the ready-to-use form, be as harsh? Be safer to the soil and soil life?

And in this example/question, I'm not referring to man-made CRF types (think Osmocote) which perhaps fall somewhere in-between diluted solution and the granular.

Am I making any sense with this thought, folks?


Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

I wonder if "chemical" (or should we use the term "man-made"?) fert is in liquid form and diluted to its recommended ready-to-use solution, does it have the deleterious effect/affect on soil micro-organisms that the man-made granular ferts would possibly have?

Shoe - I took note of the same comment as well. I didn't comment on what Honeybee said "... there are many, many references on the internet that say microorganisms are killed by chemical fertilizers" because it's true, there ARE many references on the internet that say that, and her comment is written such that it could be taken that she either agrees or disagrees with Lisa's observation. The question in my mind is, is it science or ideology that is at the root of the references?

No one that is an active member of the gardening community can disagree with the thought there is a lot of hand-flapping and ululating going on over the use of chemical fertilizers. You can find opinions all over the net that chemical fertilizers are laying waste to the landscape, and wiping out microbial populations faster than chocolate disappears from the candy dish in the family room. Are these opinions warranted or based in fact?

In research by Texas A&M University, intensely managed (read chemical fertilizers) sports fields with mostly a sand substrate showed no shortage of soil life. That is there were 10s of millions of bacteria, and 10s to 100s of thousands of fungi present in soils regularly. Part of the study included measuring soil life in 11 inches of pure sand, with no organic amendments, over which washed sod was placed. Soil life populations increased 10-100 times as the sod 'grew in'.

Soil life just sort of hangs loose, waiting for something they can digest. If they don't get it, they die and feed off each other. When organic matter is introduced into the soil, they break it down, and their numbers increase. When they've consumed the organic matter, they die and consume each other, but the base population remains, ready to spring into action the minute more organic matter becomes available.

What do fertilizers do? They make plants grow. Sure, extremely high concentrations of chemical fertilizer poured on the soil will kill some microbes, but the o/a affect of chemical fertilizers is actually an increase in microbial populations through increased plant growth. You need only look to the fact that the rhizosphere (root zone) of plants is such a popular gathering place for soil biota to see that plants grow soil life. It's actually the continual 'taking' of OM from gardens, agricultural fields, lawns .... w/o replacing it that reduces or inhibits the communal activity of microbial populations. Even then, they're virtually never in short supply and are ever ready to bounce back ..... if you just give them something to eat.

None of this addresses the hot button politics involved with the use of chemical fertilizers. Again, I'm pretty pragmatic and results oriented, so I tend to approach this subject from a plant/soil perspective and leave the politics to others to argue over. My personal view is that in the o/a picture, a chemical fertilizer judiciously and responsibly applied when it's found to be needed isn't the earth's end; and I prefer to use my own sense of right/wrong to set my course, rather than be told what I need to do to be a good, responsible student of husbandry.

That said, avoidance of chemicals in the gardens/beds to the greatest degree I feel is reasonable, is my normal MO.

Fun thread. Good conversation. Thanks, Lisa.


This message was edited Oct 15, 2010 6:40 PM

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Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

" reinforces the idea that synthetic fertilizers are getting framed for the microbial murder rap that should be hung on the effects of reduced OM in the soils." THIS. I believe, is the missing link, at least for me.

On my area the soil is so bad that people bring dirt in, but the only way to keep it workable and healthy is to keep adding OM( manure and hay). It is usually from cleaning out stalls so it is aged. But since I do lasagna gardening I mulch with hay and then add manure in the winter to break down the hay. Thus the cycle begins again, like the forest floor.

However, I always have in the back of my mind that I'm doing all this work, which does keep me in good shape, while this is OM it contains synthetic fertilizers, and commercial strength pesticides and herbicides. I have no idea how much or if they were applied correctly. I also have chickens but I know they are fed arsenic to ward of parasites and promote weight gain. So I have never put the manure in my garden don't know if I should?

I am also very pragmatic and to me ideology MUST be backed up by science (facts) as much as possible. I have a problem with "Blanket Statements" that have a tendency to over simplify issues and take things out of context. I cringe when I see the word organic because I think of all the money that is made off of it and there is really no universally agreed upon definition for it.

Patgeorge-thank you for the definition. That is my understanding of the word organic but N is N regardless of its source. All this thinking makes me want to stick with MG and a glass of Whiskey straight.

Thank you Al and everyone. I'm enjoying this discussion that isn't overrun by emotion.


Las Vegas, NV(Zone 9a)

Great job girls & boys. Now I will read it 3 more times before I ask any questions. But big thanks coming your way from Las Vegas, NV.

Helena, MT

I am a member of KISS and although as fascinating as this discussion is, I keep coming back to simplistic approaches to my gardening practices. What you have convinced me of is the limited use of chemical fertilizers such as Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate), or Mirical Grow has little or no adverse affect on micro organism populations when adding organic compost (horse or cow manure in my case) on a regular basis. I fret no longer!

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

This is one of several haiku I wrote as filler for a newsletter. I like it because I so enjoy the idea that last year's bounty (compost/OM) is feeding the soil and the plants I grow in it.

beneath spring's garden
last year's bounty, ground alive
unseen beasties toil

I've always been an outdoorsman and close to the land. I worked on farms from the time I was 6-7 years old, starting out picking strawberries, then tomatoes, asparagus, peppers, corn, bagging onions ..... & ending up in the fields tending cash crops. I think my devotion to bonsai came about in part because the trees are such an intimate link with nature. Those that have seen me around can probably see that the time I spend here at Dave's in my feeble attempts to nurture growers is a natural extension of my need to nurture plants. Lol - guys don't talk that way - right? ;o)

The point is, I like to try as hard as I can to follow in Mother Nature's footsteps, but I approach growing from the plant's perspective. I ask what does this plant NEED, then set about the best way to provide it. Generally speaking, my gardens and beds are well-fortified with nutrients owing their presence to the OM I've provided. If I see clear indicators of an Fe deficiency, should I feel guilty for having supplied iron sulphate; or if I see clear indication of a N deficiency, what about urea, or a urea-based soluble fertilizer? Should we feel guilty for using them?

We choose the perspective from which we view our growing efforts. Three illustrations: 1) Some live in the right now - 'I want my plants to grow and I want them growing now, so I'm going to fertilize as much as I want with this guaranteed wonder growth (synthetic) fertilizer.' 2) Others take a longer view and say, 'I'm going to do my best to remember that plants NEED OM in the soil. I'll add as much compost as I can, and I'll mulch, so my fertilizer needs are reduced in the future ...... because I'd rather not use synthetic fertilizers unless I have to'. 3) Still others hold forth that 'The only way to properly manage your gardens is through the addition of OM and then more OM, and chemical fertilizers are not an acceptable way to provide nutrition.'

The first view is what it is. You see it in beginning gardeners & those that want a few pretty plants but don't have the time or inclination (or physical ability, in some cases) to work very hard at it. They generally don't understand thoroughly, the link between OM and healthy soils, or just don't care. The second view seems reasonable and moderate to me. It allows the grower the most freedom and latitude, expanding the number of options available to ensure healthy plants and yields. The third view is usually very rigid. By it's nature, it limits the growers options, which may or may not be an issue, but I tend to like like knowing I have options. ;o)

The point is my perspective might not be your perspective, and your perspective might not be mine. I don't condemn anyone for holding different views - that's life. I try to avoid being ideological as much as I can - because of that self-limiting thing, but in areas where I recognize that ideology is driving my decisions/thinking, I try not to export my ideology, or if I do, I do it responsibly. It's one thing to offer up facts and sound reasoning in support of an ideology or position, but quite another to condemn someone else because the perspective they have chosen as appropriate for themselves doesn't conform to your ideology.

Summed up - different strokes for different folks - we all gotta live together. Balance.


Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

mraider-I grew up with the band KISS (teasing), I think your summation, "What you have convinced me of is the limited use of chemical fertilizers such as Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate), or Miracle Grow has little or no adverse affect on micro organism populations when adding organic compost (horse or cow manure in my case) on a regular basis. I fret no longer!" which is not simplistic, is accurate. But when doing container gardening or gardening in a very small space, man-made material maybe best.

There is no way for me to truely express my thanks to all of you.

Centennial, CO(Zone 5a)

This has been a really useful, informative discussion. Thanks everyone!

Las Vegas, NV(Zone 9a)

I like #2. I get an A on #2. Thank you very much. Mother Winter.

Helena, MT

I think most of us support Al's #2 approach for the most part and it sounds like you all are ready to shut this thread down. I think Socrates would love tapla, and for my part I look forward to more of Al's postings. Dig you pal!

Efland, NC(Zone 7a)

Thanks for answering my question, Al. As always, excellent!

We should pull this thread up every year so we all get a "refresher course" to help keep us grounded (no pun intended), right folks?

Best to all. Enjoy the day!


Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Or excerpts of it as stickies. This is the first time I have ever seen ideology and science put together in such an understandable way. THANK YOU

Bay City, MI(Zone 6a)

I think the great majority of gardeners are somewhere in the middle on this issue, but are often reluctant to be seen in favor of a middle of the road approach because someone is always ready to vilify anyone who dares to use synthetic fertilizers in any form. There are issues to be considered, like run off, but I think the main issues are either political or ideological. Many of the arguments against synthetic fertilizers are misinformed, directed at the idea that they virtually sterilize the soil if we continually use them, but we know that's not true. If they make plants grow, they increase soil life. Soil life populations go into decline as a result of the OM in the soil being depleted, and even then they are still in the soil in amazing numbers, feeding off themselves and just waiting for OM so they can return to their business of breaking it down and making the soil a more hospitable home for roots.

I appreciate the compliments, but in all honesty, the conversation would never have happened if it wasn't for your open minds. In most cases, and especially on someone else's thread, I tend to avoid areas that are likely to lead to controversy; even then, it often seems to find me. ;o) If you look, you can actually see me going through a feeling out process at the beginning of the thread. I was pleasantly surprised to find so many in reasoned accord. Thank you.


This message was edited Nov 17, 2010 1:49 PM

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Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Yes, I did notice you "going through a feeling out process at the beginning of the thread." I wasn't looking for controversy but clarification, which we all got thanks to you.

I agree the middle of the road approach is many times beaten down, sometimes by misinformation and emotion. Regarding the "run off" issue. Lets face it nobody wants to be down river from a feedlot if there is run off and thats about as "organic" as it gets. When we were in the Everglades this summer they were talking about how the algae had increased way beyond acceptable levels in the lakes, killing fish. It had been traced back to cattle manure, from cattle that had been brought in from TX to graze the grasslands. There has also been recent food contamination due to animal manure. That is WAY TOO ORGANIC to me IMHO.

Great picture Al. If I only had the patience and the eyesite.

Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

Middle of the road here too. I just can't be as exclusionary as number 3. OTOH, here in east TX we see runoff contamination ( e. coli ) of the waterways via chicken manures spread too liberally on pastures. That does make me rethink the number 3 position when it affects us directly.

Good information! Thanks all for the questions and the answers.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

2) Others take a longer view and say, 'I'm going to do my best to remember that plants NEED OM in the soil. I'll add as much compost as I can, and I'll mulch, so my fertilizer needs are reduced in the future ... because I'd rather not use synthetic fertilizers unless I have to'.

I manage to get through a large bag of organic fertilizer every season, but my jar of Osmote has been around for several years - so I guess I'm a #2 kind of gardener. :)

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Too little organic matter in outdoor soil is bad because you'll prodably have terrible drainage and aeration, and the only source of nutrients is what you added recently.

Thanks, 1lisac, for pointing out that there can be too much organic matter! Since I bring all my OM home in my trunk, and I ain't rich, I never considered the possibility of "too much compost".

Too little chemical fertilzer, in soil that lacks nutrients, reuslts in little or no plant growth.

Too much chemical fertilizer, or the wrong balance of nutrients or lime, can salinize, burn, or, no doubt, kill some plants and microorganisms.

Balance. Some of each as needed. Nothing in excess, nothing lacking, seems the path of wisdom.

If you can afford (and have the time and energy and legs) to add 6" of rich compost every year, you probably seldiom need any chemicals but lime and micronutrients. If you can only afford 2-3" of compost per year, maybe your "heavy feeders" will do better with a little added N-P-K.

If you're growing in sand and can't afford compost, you have a choice between chemical fertilizers or a bare sandbox.

If I had a truck, I would try to scrounge up other people's leaves and clippings, if I had the time and energy to wheelbarrow them from the front yard to the tiny back yard compost heap ... but I live in what's nearly a city.

Next year, maybe a yard of two of compost delivered, but it was probably 60% sawdust even BEFORE they added yet more sawdust and shavings after composting the biosolids. Is there such a thing as "lean compost"?

Let's see - two cubic yards, 6" deep - that's one bed of 9 feet by 12 feet. I'll be using some Miracle Grow and 10-10-10 again next year!

(And it's still 15+ trips with a wheelbarrow. With my legs, that's two weekends and moderate pain, two weeks I would rather spend on other chores. Instead I bring home a trunkfull of bags of compost when i can, and it is cheaper than the swadust-rich rip-off bulk compost.)


Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Where did I ever say anything about too much organic matter? Too much of any fertilizer organic not, can burn plants thats why manure is aged. N,P and K is the same to plants they don't care if its man made or not.

ALL ferilizers organic and man-made contain salt. I have no idea where that rumour got started. I've even seen a chart that says which animal poop has more/less salt. All I know is that bovine poop has more salt (sodium) then equine poop, so I use horse poop.

Helena, MT

For what it's worth a number of years ago I tried an experiment with anaerobically digested sludge from a wastewater treatment facility. I applied this material in bulk to blow sand along the Arkansas River. This sand would not even hold a weed. After tilling in about two feet of dried sludge we planted native grass and it worked. After EPA decided upon the course of action in the 70's for reuse of this material we began giving it to local farmers for their wheat fields. Results was an overall 40% increase in yield rates and a number of fist fights. For over ten years we had accumulate tons of this material, refusing to incinerate which had been the direction three other large facilities in the state had taken. When the word came finally came down from EPA it took less than a year to remove "morgan's mountain".


Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Hi 1Lisac

This is what I was referring to:

"Regarding the "run off" issue. Lets face it nobody wants to be down river from a feedlot if there is run off and thats about as "organic" as it gets. When we were in the Everglades this summer they were talking about how the algae had increased way beyond acceptable levels in the lakes, killing fish. It had been traced back to cattle manure, from cattle that had been brought in from TX to graze the grasslands. There has also been recent food contamination due to animal manure. That is WAY TOO ORGANIC to me IMHO. "


Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

OK I get it now. Thank you for taking the time to clear that up. You have attention for detail that I am definitely lacking. : )

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I am often accused of being "too detail-oriented". I never understood how that was even possible, until I met someone even more verbose and detail-oriented than I am.



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