Organic Fertilizers And Soil Amendments

Because this is easily the most controversial topic, I was going to save it for last. But it is planting season in a good portion of the country (although not by me, yet) so I thought I’d better get this out there.

My post on Milorganite raised a bit of a kerfluffle late last month when the good folks in Milwaukee sent me all sorts of literature letting me know that they were more than “poop in a bag.” If you missed that and want to catch up, you can read that here.

My defense, and rightly so, was that they made a great product for certain things, but as an organic gardener following CT NOFA standards, I was prohibited from using it. And in drafting these posts about fertilizers and soil amendments, I urge you to take a look at what the NOFA standards say, not just about “sewer sludge” as they generically define products like Milorganite, but about all the types of amendments to the garden. After all, it’s best to know what to use as well.

Another thing they do prohibit, which I also mentioned in the above-referenced post, is any animal manures in certain types of constructed gardens within 120 days of harvest. Heck, in my climate, we’re lucky if we get 120 growing days on certain crops!

So just because you don’t live in Connecticut, don’t ignore these standards. They are wonderful guidelines for all organic gardeners to follow. I’ve been doing so since the first ones came out in 2001 (I think that’s when the first ones were published–they may have been earlier than that).

But what’s nice about a set of published guidelines like this is that–whether you agree with them or not–they give you a framework. When I lecture I can say, “And when I say organic, I am using the definition from….” and we all know what I mean.

But back to the fertilizer and soil amendments chapter. It begins on p. 27 of the CT NOFA standards and continues to p. 38. Pretty much everything I’ve said in my Let’s Not Be Mindless… series is covered there (with the exception of the seed starting and removing a shrub topics)–they even suggest that one not use peat moss.

Since it’s been quite some time since I’d read these, I was pleasantly surprised to see the peat moss recommendation there.

The primary soil amendment that is recommended is compost, preferably made on site. Next best is locally sourced. But of course, we all can’t do that–and one of my loyal readers says she can’t even get decent compost in a bag!

After that, there are discussions of different amendments and why they are not so much recommended but acceptable, and then a list of prohibited amendments.

Please read why sewer sludge is prohibited. It opened my eyes. That section has been expanded as well.

Finally a section on the various rock powders and bone and blood meal are discussed for their various nutrient capabilities. CT NOFA notes that both bone and blood meal should be handled with caution as they may contain pathogens. They even suggest that fish meal be used with caution–or thoughtfully–because of overfishing and possible mercury contamination.

Organic gardening requires a lot of thought but the rewards are well worth it. Please do yourself a favor and be a thoughtful gardener.

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