Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Benefits of Going Organic in Your Yard and Garden

Want greener grass, vivid colors, more blooms on your flowers, a bigger vegetable crop and do it safely?  Do you want to walk outside in the grass in your bare feet, want your kids and pets to play in the grass without concern?  Then you may be interested in my story.  This is how I created an outdoor haven . . .

In 1998 I moved to Spokane Washington and into a great old craftsman house with tons of potential.  However, the yard and gardens were dismal!  For many years the yard had not been well tended, so the first thing I did was start some flower beds and fertilize the grass, trees and shrubs.  I used all organic products like Ringer fertilizer and steer manure.  Some of my neighbors thought I was a bit "off the wall" until my yard went from looking like this . . . 

and started looking like this . . . 

and this . . .

Spring, Summer and Fall . . .

Even potted trees, flowers, herbs and veggies . . .

I started with natural weed killers like white vinegar, insecticides made from dish soap mixed with garlic and tea tree oil, fertilizers made from Alaskan fish, green sand and steer manure as well as soil conditioners like peat moss and compost made from my own kitchen and yard waste.

This made my yard safe for my dogs and my bare feet!  

It allowed me to grow garden veggies in pots, and have more raspberries, pears, apples and flowers than I had ever imagined! Soon even my neighbor who was my staunchest nay-sayer had to admit I was on to something!

Paying attention to the soil makes everything more beautiful - including Mother Earth! Every pound of chemical fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide we replace with a natural option keeps these chemicals out of our water and food supplies, making the planet a safer place.

So, large or small these products can make your yard and garden the belle of the neighborhood, and here are the reasons . . .

Benefits of Organic Fertilizer & Soil Amendments

By Eric Vinje, Planet Natural

Why not just use chemicals? It's a reasonable question. After all, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium ARE chemicals, so where is the advantage in these bags of heavy, grainy stuff, that need to be measured and mixed and then dug in, when you can just pick up a small plastic bottle of the blue stuff?

There are several good reasons to use organic fertilizer, some purely altruistic, others much more self-interested. First of all, most chemical fertilizers provide only that well-known trio, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). These three, known as the macro-nutrients, are indeed required in greater quantity than any others, but they are only three of the thirteen nutrients plants need. The three chemicals that qualify as secondary nutrients, calcium, sulfur, and magnesium are generally ignored, as are the trace nutrients, boron, chlorine, manganese, iron, zinc, copper, and molybdenum. While these are needed in far smaller quantities than the macro-nutrients, they are still essential.

This might not matter if plants could just get these other nutrients from the soil, and this is indeed what usually happens. But over time, and in several ways, chemical fertilizers can interfere with plants' ability to take up nutrients.

For one thing, pure chemicals can be hard on the earthworms and micro-organisms in the soil that keep it alive and working, thus making nutrients available to plants (see Effects of Organic and Chemical Inputs on Soil Quality). Earthworms not only provide perhaps the best compost available, but they also help aerate soil when they tunnel through it. Without them, soil becomes increasingly compacted, unless deeply cultivated -- which is also bad for them and for soil structure. Without the beneficial effects of worms and micro-organisms, plants have a harder time accessing the secondary and micro-nutrients not found in most chemical fertilizers.

Chemical fertilizers can be equally hard on plants themselves, because they bypass the work a plant normally has to do to gain access to nutrients. One source compares it to being fed intravenously; over time, the digestive tract will grow weak from disuse. Pure chemicals will make soil less nutritious, and lessen the plants' ability to access nutrition. Both soil and plants therefore become increasingly dependent on the chemical fertilizers (seeDown On The Farm? Yields, Nutrients And Soil Quality).

That dependency is augmented by the quick-release action of chemicals. Since most chemical fertilizers for small gardens come in a purified, liquid form, they generally give plants a major but short-term boost, followed by a sharp drop-off in the supply of nutrients. That sudden decrease is of course hard on plants, so growers tend to relieve it by providing another dose -- and another.

Finally, chemical fertilizers are hard on the environment. Many are synthesized from oil, their production requires a significant investment of fossil fuels, and when they run off into streams or lakes, they can cause further problems. Algae blooms (the sudden growth of underwater plants) encouraged by agricultural run-off can consume oxygen needed by fish and other organisms. Fertilizer that leaches down to the water table may cause more direct threats to human health. Read more about the environmental effects of chemical fertilizershere.

Organic fertilizers, far from being purified and simplified chemicals, are complex compounds that add numerous secondary and micro-nutrients beyond the one or two for which they are best known. Organics such as manures, powdered rocks (such as lime, rock phosphate, and greensand), blood meal, bone meal, wood ash and compost all contain important micronutrients, and their texture will improve soil quality rather than degrading it.

It would be stretching things to pretend that organic fertilizers cannot damage plants or the environment. Sprinkle blood meal directly on your basil, and watch the leaves turn black next time the sun comes out. On a larger and more relevant scale, manure runoff can and does cause algae blooms and can make water unfit to drink. Production of rock fertilizers -- gypsum, greensand, lime and the rest -- involves mining and milling, which in turn require fossil fuels. However, the ecological damage done by producing organics, either at present or potentially, does not approach that done by synthetics.

Organics, then,

• contain important secondary and trace nutrients;
• improve soil texture, aeration, and drainage;
• provide slow-release nutrition;
• aid the environment in many ways and harm it in few


Here are a few products I really like - unfortunately the photos have a mind of their own!   

Dr. P

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