The use of organic fertilizer in sustainable gardens and farms is quickly gaining in popularity - the number of acres of organic agriculture increased from 59 million in 2004 to nearly 81 million in 200975 - especially as their mitigating effects on the environment are demonstrated through more and more studies. While the use of synthetics amendments is both dangerous and expensive, not all organic amendments can be considered sustainable.
Nitrogen fertilizers break down into nitrates upon application. Nitrates are necessary for the plants growth but an excess will leach into groundwater supplies and can contaminate sources miles away. Because nitrogen leaches through the soil more quickly, over-application is abundant. These chemical fertilizers have a hugely negative effect on plant and aquatic life, as well as human health.76
Numerous studies have shown the negative effects chemical fertilizers have on our environment and health. One study from Stanford University77 is a great example of the difference between the use of chemical and organic fertilizers.
According to its findings, soil fertilized with organic fertilizer contained naturally occurring microbes that turned any excess nitrogen into a benign gas, dinitrogen. These microbes are found less frequently and were less active in soil fertilized with chemicals. The more leaching of nitrogen, the greater application is applied, the fewer microbes and the more poisoning of land and water.
And when comparing chemical fertilizers vs organic fertilizers it's important to mention one study from the University of California, Berkeley75 that states sustainable farming can indeed "feed the world", despite what proponents and manufacturers of chemical fertilizers would have us believe. It produces as high harvest rates, using less inputs and virtually eliminates the pollution or contamination that leads to health and environmental issues.
There are many kinds of organic fertilizer and the options can be overwhelming. But as mentioned before, organic doesn't always mean sustainable. The best tip to keep in mind for home gardening is to avoid purchasing your amendments from the store. Purchasing a garden amendment still contributes to waste, instead of eliminating it. Alternatively, creating a closed-cycle within your home or community accomplishes two tasks at once.
With most other organic fertilizer, avoid mixing amendments in more than a few inches; any deeper can cause a microbial burst of energy and quickly diminish nutrients, as well as stir up weed seeds. Tilling for the home gardener should be done rarely if at all.
Comparing chemical fertilizer vs organic fertilizer is an important step to make for our environment. But it's not all you can do! Be sure to keep moving forward with other Big Strides.
When you're ready for a few more steps:
Whatever step you take, remember to have fun!
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