Organic Fertilizers Truly Nourish Soil
by Evan DeMarco on Jan 24, 2023
Whether you’re interested in gardening or simply want to patronize regenerative farms, organic fertilizer should be on your radar. Chemical fertilizers can harm the soil microbiome and pollute water, even though they effectively add nutrients back into the ground—but if you want to treat the planet right while getting even better results, organic fertilizer is a much better option.
Here’s what you should know about organic fertilizers.
What is an organic fertilizer?
Organic fertilizers are typically derived from plant, vegetal and animal matter, along with mineral sources. These fertilizers tend to make a more complex biological structure, which takes longer to break down in the soil. This nourishes the organisms in the soil, and allows the plants enough time to fully absorb the available nutrients.
Many farmers have access to organic fertilizers like manure, but they’re also available for the average consumer. These renewable, sustainable fertilizers work with the natural environment to minimize and repurpose waste.
Types of organic fertilizers
There are six different types of organic fertilizers:
- Bone meal: Slaughterhouses produce plenty of waste product, including animal bones, cartilage and more. These waste products are ground up to produce a slow-release fertilizer, full of phosphorus and amino acids.
- Chicken litter: Not to be confused with Chicken Little (the sky is not falling, as far as we know), chicken “litter” is a mixture of chicken manure and sawdust. This fertilizer is used to condition the soil naturally, thanks to the high amount of nitrogen and potash available.
- Compost: You might have a compost pile of your own. It’s an easy and effective way to fertilize the soil, without the problems that come along with chemical fertilizers. This is typically organic matter which has decomposed, such as manure, vegetation and food waste.
- Manure: Manure—yes, cow, goat and other kinds of animal poop—is a popular and readily available fertilizer. Cow manure, in particular, offers nitrogen and organic carbon. Goat manure is full of potash and nitrogen. It’s worth researching which types of manure have the nutrients your soil needs.
- Rock phosphate: If your soil needs phosphate, rock phosphate—a sedimentary rock containing high amounts of phosphate minerals—is a great way to supply that nutrient.
- Vermicompost: Finally, vermicompost is food waste compost degraded by different species of worms.
Why you should use organic fertilizers
The organic fertilizers above provide plenty of benefits, including:
- Better soil structure: Organic fertilizers are full of organic matter, which helps improve the soil structure. This allows the soil to hold onto more water and nutrients, rather than chemical fertilizers washing off into local water sources.
- Improved soil microbiome: The soil your plants grow in is full of life. From insects and worms to invisible microbes, this microbiome is crucial to nourishing plants. Unfortunately, chemical fertilizers typically do not include carbon. That makes it harder for microbes to use the fertilizer, and may even be disruptive. Organic fertilizer includes carbon, which makes the nutrients available to plants and microbes naturally.
- Environmentally friendly and sustainable: Synthetic chemical fertilizers can wash into local rivers, streams, lakes and ponds, polluting the environment. Not only do organic fertilizers not run off, like chemical fertilizers, but they’re also sustainable and readily available. (After all, animals will always have waste product, and plant matter will continue to decompose.) It’s estimated that organic fertilizer can improve soil biodiversity by up to 30 percent.
- Less damage to plants: Some synthetic fertilizers—especially when improperly applied—can cause damage to plant leaves and roots. Organic fertilizers typically do not damage plant matter.
- Reduce the need for pesticides: Finally, organic fertilizers reduce the need for pesticides, which can also pollute the groundwater. Farmers who use organic fertilizers usually balance the increased cost by saving on pesticides.
Of course, organic fertilizers do come with some downsides. Pound for pound, they tend to have lower nutrient levels than synthetic fertilizers. They’re also more expensive, and you’ll need to make sure your technique is consistent and appropriate. However, if you can master application and avoid needing pesticides, you’ll end up with nutrient dense plants and an improved soil structure.
If you don’t grow your own food at home, be sure to ask your local farmers what kind of fertilizers they choose. The more we can patronize sustainable or regenerative farms, the more likely that positive planetary impact will spread.