Many gardeners have a preference for which fertilizers they use in their gardens.
They also argue about which commercial fertilizers are best for their gardens, but many have begun to use organic fertilizer.
With that in mind, let’s go over some of the benefits and drawbacks of organic fertilizer. After reading through the pros and cons of organic fertilizer, you can make an informed decision about which fertilizer is best to use in your garden.
Organic fertilizer is a form of fertilizer that undergoes minimum processing and retains more nutrients than commercial fertilizers.
However, commercial fertilizers often contain nasty chemicals, and natural fertilizers often contain harmful microorganisms. Therefore, it can be tricky to know which is best to use.
What is an organic fertilizer?
Mined rock minerals, animal resources, and natural plants are components used to make organic fertilizers.
For example, manure, guano, dried and powdered blood, ground bone, crushed shells, finely pulverized fish, phosphate rock, and wood are among the constituents of organic fertilizers.
While inorganic or synthetic fertilizers may contain some organic elements, they have a fundamental difference. This difference is that they work rapidly to feed the plant without truly enriching the soil.
Therefore, when you use these products excessively, they can contribute to a hazardous buildup of salts and other harmful components in the ground.
Many fertilizer labels claim that inorganic or synthetic fertilizers are “made with organic components” simply because they contain some organic elements. But, unfortunately, the truth is that they are probably not organic or natural. And, yes, it’s aggravating!
Look for phrases like “slow-release,” “natural organic,” and “low analysis” to ensure you’re getting a product with safe and natural ingredients.
Also, consider items branded as organic but have an N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) ratio greater than 15. These types of organic fertilizers enrich the soil and support plant growth.
Organic fertilizers also come in diverse forms, including powders, liquids, and solids, each of which you need to apply differently. Manure or guano-based organic fertilizers come from the droppings of livestock, worms, bats, and seabirds.
Manure, food scraps, and leaf mold are among organic elements in bagged organic compost. Other organic fertilizers to look for include blood meal, bone meal, fish emulsion, and shellfish fertilizer.
What are your methods for applying organic fertilizer?
It depends on the type you’re using, so read the package label and directions carefully.
Some fertilizers act as soil conditioners. You can apply fertilizer to the ground before planting or work it into the soil throughout the year, around the plants. You can also use fertilizer on plant leaves as a foliar nutrient. Each has a distinct purpose and benefit.
Organic fertilizers have piqued the interest of farmers in developing nations in recent years.
The reason for the growing interest is that they enable them to achieve larger crop yields. Another benefit of using organic fertilizer is that it doesn’t contain pesticides or other artificial fertilizers, which harm crop quality.
Using organic fertilizer in gardening improves the soil composition and allows the plant to develop comfortably while feeding it with all necessary nutrients.
Most people are unaware that organic fertilizers have been around for quite some time, not just in the last decade. The origins of organic fertilizers trace back several millennia.
The application of fertilizers to the soil dates back in ancient Japanese, Korean, and Chinese literature to many centuries BC. In the distant past, ancient cultures used livestock, bird, other animal droppings, and human feces as organic fertilizers to increase harvests.
Ancient Egyptians also applied fertilizers that they collected naturally along the Nile river following heavy rains. As a result, the soil and debris along the river became saturated with silt, providing a rich source of fertilizer.
This natural matter served as the primary supply of organic fertilizers for the Egyptians, significantly boosting the fertility of their farmlands.
Other ancient civilizations such as the Mesopotamians can also brag about using river mud and peat-silt as agricultural fertilizers.
The ancient Greeks, known as the Hellenes, made the most progress in this area. In his books, Theophrastus of Eresos, a notable botanist and ecologist, discusses the need to enrich the soil to produce abundant vegetable crops, including wheat.
More thorough descriptions and information about the characteristics of organic fertilizers and application methods can be found in his books.
Columella was a Roman Empire agronomist and scientist who flourished in the first century of our era.
He was the first to write a dissertation called “On Agriculture,” He further classified natural fertilizers, engaged in a significant amount of work in the agricultural sphere, and compiled all the Roman Empire’s centuries of experience.
Pros of organic fertilizer
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) claims that organic fertilizers are an essential tool when establishing agricultural programs.
OTA further claims that 82% percent of U.S. homes buy organic products, with organic fertilizers being a significant addition to enrich the gardening experience and small-scale produce.
Here are five benefits of organic fertilizer products.
1. Soil Structure
Soil structure improves due to the organic matter in organic fertilizer. The soil’s ability to store water and nutrients improves as a result.
2. Microbes Thrive
Synthetic fertilizer includes carbon-free chemical compounds. However, these chemicals can be disruptive at times, and they are inaccessible to microorganisms. On the other hand, organic fertilizer is high in organic content, which aids healthy microorganism growth.
Carbon, together with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, is part of the chemical makeup of organic fertilizer. It is also the nitrogen along with the carbon, potassium, and phosphorus content that feeds microbes.
This means that these components make nutrients accessible to plants in a biological process that occurs naturally.
3. Sustainable and Environmentally Friendly
Synthetic fertilizers pollute our rivers and oceans, causing harm to marine life and degrading water quality.
Organic fertilizers are compatible with the natural soil structure and do not flow off easily (if at all). The (OTA) Organic Trade Association says that organic fertilizers also improve species biodiversity by 30% compared to synthetic fertilizers.
4. Reduce Fertilizers and Pesticides
Organic fertilizer is more expensive than synthetic fertilizer, but it can reduce pesticide use and overall nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium requirements.
Thus, organic fertilizer can be cost neutral or even cost-saving due to these beneficial qualities.
5. Plant Damage Threat Avoided
Some synthetic fertilizers can harm the leaves and roots of plants.
Organic fertilizers are less likely to cause harm.
Cons of organic fertilizer
Like any product on the market, there will always be drawbacks to consider when incorporating organic fertilizers into your gardening process.
1. Not All Products are Equally Created
Many organic products generate variable effects since they are not all made equal.
Review any case studies to learn what makes for organic and inorganic fertilizers so that you know it has undergone a thorough evaluation.
2. Nutrient Levels are Low
Organic fertilizers frequently have a low nutrient content. Furthermore, because the nutrients are often complex in their chemical structure, using organic fertilizer may not generate the same burst of plant color as a chemical fertilizer.
Using organic fertilizers is also a process of enriching the soil, not a one-time event.
3. DIY Compost is a Complicated Procedure
While it is possible to make your compost, it is a dirty and time-consuming procedure that frequently has inconsistent results.
How Does It Compare To Other Types Of Fertilizer?
Plants, like humans, require nutrients to thrive. Therefore, it is necessary to calculate the correct amount of these healthy nutrients to have the best NPK ratio.
The elements nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) are components required for a solid organic fertilizer base.
Therefore, it is helpful to understand the differences between organic and mineral fertilizers (chemical fertilizers) so that you know what you’re dealing with.
1. Organic Fertilizers
Natural components such as bacteria, molds, insects, worms, and other organisms make up organic fertilizers. These natural elements help to keep the soil alive, healthy, and thriving.
Organisms in the soil are frequently part of the decomposition process in producing organic fertilizer, which is necessary before plants can benefit from its nutrition.
The specific plant will determine the time, amount, and order in which it consumes these nutrients. Organic fertilizers also provide additional protection for plant growth by increasing their resilience to bacteria, viruses, and various diseases.
For some gardeners, using organic fertilizers has its drawbacks.
It typically has a strong, unpleasant odor because of the natural compounds of plant or animal ingredients. Apart from this downside, organic fertilizers provide a slew of benefits, as detailed in the pros section in this article.
2. Chemical Fertilizers
Chemical fertilizers, often known as mineral fertilizers, are not entirely natural because they go through a chemical process. However, you can also find many of the components in these fertilizers occurring naturally in nature.
Plants absorb all elements in mineral fertilizers because no conversion of these elements is necessary.
This status is viewed as a benefit because the fertilizer is not reliant on the soil’s ability to survive. Furthermore, these fertilizers are readily soluble, making them simple to apply to the plant. Again, you can tailor the nutritional scheme of the fertilizer to the plant’s needs.
As opposed to organic fertilizers, mineral fertilizers allow the plant to “select” one or more nutrients at the time. Therefore, mineral fertilizers provide the opportunity for more targeted nutritional uptake. As a result, the plant gains all its nutritional requirements as determined in the healthy scheme, so crop options are no longer necessary.
Mineral fertilizers do not add to the soil’s life, which is a disadvantage. In addition, the sodium content of mineral fertilizers is greater than that of organic fertilizers.
If you do not use mineral fertilizers appropriately, sodium can build up and cause damage to plant roots. You should always consider this when using mineral fertilizers.
Should I Use It?
Organic fertilizers improve soil structure, a year-round supply of nutrients, and better water-holding capacity, to name a few advantages.
How does an organic versus synthetic inorganic fertilizer affect a corn or tomato plant?
Is the lycopene and nutrient content of organic tomatoes higher than that of ordinary tomatoes?
Both consumers and manufacturers should think about these questions to understand the plant nutrient absorption process.
Plants can only receive nutrients in specific forms, regardless of whether they come from organic or inorganic sources.
Nitrogen, for example, is only absorbed as nitrate (NO3-) or ammonium (NH4+) ions, while potassium absorbs as K+ ions. Therefore, plants do not distinguish between nutrients from organic and inorganic fertilizer sources.
Inorganic fertilizers that dissolve in water conveniently deliver nutrients in these forms. When organic matter, such as compost or manure, is dug into the soil, microbes will first break down the organic matter. Then, nutrients are liberated as ions, which enables absorption by plant roots.
Consequently, the nutrients that organic fertilizer generates are more difficult for plants to absorb than nutrients from soluble synthetic fertilizers. Organic sources also have a lower NPK grade, necessitating the use of large amounts per acre.
The nutritional levels in most organic fertilizers are also closer to the 1-1-1 ratio recommended for balanced soil fertilization.
Let’s not forget about the numerous advantages of organic fertilizers. The steady release of nutrients ensures a season-long supply. Because it is less soluble, it releases fewer nutrients into the environment and causes less salt damage to plants.
Organic fertilizers enhance soil health with organic matter, which increases water-holding capacity and cation exchange capacity. They boost microbial activity while also improving soil structure. Plants benefit from organic fertilizers since they are rich in micronutrients.
An example can illustrate another factor when discussing the value of organic fertilizer.
Some sources claim that organic tomatoes have a higher flavonoid and vitamin content than regular tomatoes in terms of the product’s nutritional worth. These findings are noteworthy, but they aren’t always constant.
According to research, factors such as tomato type, season, and maturation stage have a considerably stronger influence on some chemical properties than the source of fertilizer.
Consumer views of human health, on the other hand, continue to support organic food consumption in general. However, the incorrect use of animal feces as an organic fertilizer source in fresh crops causes E Coli contamination.
The upshot of this discussion is that you should be careful about where it comes from if you prefer organic fertilizer.
Also, check whether it has undergone any treatments to eliminate harmful microorganisms. You don’t want to deal with harmful parasites, viruses, and bacteria while thinking you’re adding value to your garden soil.
Whether you’re considering using organic fertilizer or want to learn more about it as a gardener, the benefits and drawbacks of organic fertilizer should help you learn more about this environmentally friendly fertilizer option.
The drawback of buying organic fertilizers is that you will most likely spend more money and have a lower chance of quickly enriching your garden soil and plants.
However, knowing that you’re feeding your plants a more natural, environmentally friendly option will probably make you feel a lot better. It will also be more beneficial to the earth in the long term.
Tyler C Rich is the founder and chief editor at TopsyGardening.com. An experienced gardener and a professionally trained agriculture development expert, Rich has worked in the gardening and landscaping industry for more than a few decades. Although he has retired, his spark for developing the best urban and indoor gardens has not faded a bit. He uses TopsyGardening.com as a platform to come across enthusiastic gardeners and share the unique insights he has acquired through years of experience. Rich is interested in aquaponics and technology apart from conventional gardening techniques.