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There is no such thing as fertilizer. There are soil amendments that provide nutrients for plants, and soil amendments that improve the ecology, the texture, the water-holding ability, the nutrient-holding ability, the root-contact ability, the chemical properties of the soil in re to how well plants can absorb nutrients from it, etcetara, of the soil.

It is just like feeding people. You don't only consider nutrients, but you consider things like fiber, chlorophyll in your food, how much sand is in your food, what kind of growth medium your partially digested food will be providing for micro-organims, etcetera. Just imagine you've turned your guts inside out, pulled them out your mouth or your anus or both, and dipped them in your food. That's what plant roots are doing in soil.
 

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That said...


Do you want to be organic, mushroom? If you are OK with anorganic fertilizers, I find stock and cheap MiracleGro works very good. It's supposed to be quite pure and it has not only the "big three" nutrients (N-P-K), but also many micronutrients.

Also, the same company, Scott's, has a slow releasing fertilizer in pellets, called "Osmocote". These you can use if you don't want to apply fertilizer that often. I've never tried it, though. I like to "hand fertilize" whenever I get the feeling the plants are hungry.

If you don't overdo it, your soil will do fine.

If you go the organic way, then, besides the usual "building blocks" (manure, bone, blood, compost), there are also organic MiracleGro style fertilizers. You apply them in the same manner, and don't have to worry about "building a balanced nutrient mix". However these are quite expensive and not vegan (the reasons why I don't use them and stick with "chemicals").

Also, a soil test can be a good thing, if you intend to build up your soil. The testing company will not only tell you what is and is not in your soil, but also give suggestions for what to add. Some companies even give "organic" instructions, if you indicate that you're an organic gardener.

I've never done that though, because I've never owned a garden that I knew I will cultivate for years and so never wanted to build a rich soil. So far, I've always gone the quick fix MiracleGro way.

 

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Quote:
Originally posted by soilman

Just imagine you've turned your guts inside out, pulled them out your mouth or your anus or both, and dipped them in your food.
I just know that some vivid nightmares are going to result from this (and my heiny actually puckered while reading it....scary)
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Soilman?

Oatmeal, thank you for all of the information...

I would like to have an organic garden, but I don't want to use anything that isn't vegan. I really don't know anything about this gardening business...
 

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Mushroom: Why do you say your dirt needs help? Does it cake up, is it sandy, do things just not grow in it, etc.?

I have a section of the property that I cannot, no matter what I try, get anything to grow. After a few years - I just stopped trying. I think someone cursed that little section.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
My husband has tried to grow veggies for 3 years, without much luck...but he was trying to keep it organic (for me, basically.)

Now, I am beginning to think organic is not so great. What exactly does "organic" mean?
 

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Is industrially produced plant food vegan?

Answered here. http://www.materials.addr.com/nitrogen.shtml

Miracle Grow is not much better than the cheapest NPK. It is not worth the extra money. It may have a few micronutrients in addition to the NPK, but micronutrient requirements differ from region to region and even spot to spot. Miracle Grow usually doesn't meet micronutreint requirements very well. Compost may. Especially tree leaf compost. Why? Because tree's have much deeper roots than garden produce, and reach down where minerals still exist. That's how it works in nature too. Blanket of leaves on forest floor decays and provides minerals for herbacious annuals.

Depending upon where your garden is, you may need to supply your soil with boron. Not usually nec to grow decent vegetables, but it will help to make your root vegetables maximum size, and have max productivity. If you live in an area near where borax is mined -- your soil already has plenty of boron. If you live in the east coast of the US, you soil will have some, but it will become depleted after awhile. You can still have good productivity without adding it, but for root vegetables, adding it will boost productivity.

Where do you get boron? You go to the supermarket and buy the smallest box of borax you can find. This will be enough for several acres. For 100 square feet, you will be measuring it in fractions of a tablespoon. Put too much in one area, and you'll kill things instead of feed them -- that is how micronutrients are. Like vitamins and minerals for humans, more doesn't always mean better; it may mean worse.

I mix my weighed tiny amount of borax (the cheapest postal or kitchen scale is quite good enough) with lime or granulated NPK or whatever, thoroughly, then sprinkle it evenly on the soil. The work it in and dampen it before it blows away.
 

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NO matter what "system" you use, mushroom, you ought to have plenty of organic matter in the soil, much for the the same reason we need plenty of fiber in our diet, and you also should measure pH, and levels of N, P, and K. You can have cooperative extension measure micronutrients. The more organic matter in your soil (coop ext will measure that too -- it can very from less than one percent to about 7 percent or so) the less nitrogen you have to add to you soil, even if the measured levels of "available" nitrogen are low. That's because cooperative extension won't be able to measure the nitrogen in the organic matter, just the nitrogen that has been made available as a result of it decayng. Teensy particles of organic matter become a source of "slow-release" nitrogen, as they decays. It won't be measurable until the decay happens. That's why a lower N level is sufficient, if the organic matter level is higher. But you still should add some available N to give your plants a fast start. It depends on the plants tho. Some neither require, nor benefit from a fast start. Others do.
 

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I thought MiracleGro was cheap.... Garden shops here are full of it and I can get a largish bag for like $10. But I see the point you make, soilman.

Mushroom.... organic agriculture is better for the soil and the environment, and certainly is better for you because of no pesticides on the produce. But it's certainly no cure-all for our agricultural problems. The main reason it is "better" than idustrial agri, is because the latter is *really* bad. The practices of indust. agri. tend to degrade and deplete the soil.

Note that I say "agriculture" and not general gardening. Just because industrial agri treats the soil irresponsibly, it does not follow that anorganic fertilizers are the work of the devil. Soilman, for instance seems to be someone who uses anorganic fertilizers, yet he is very much concerned about his soil's health. This is exactly my way of thinking about it, and I think I would do similar things to my soil.

In the home garden situation, I think organic can be a bit of a hassle. I see no real reason (other than educational maybe) to do a lot of work just to keep a few square feet of land "organic". If you keep your garden pesticide free, and use a bit of fertilizer here or there, you'll have some beautiful and healthy veggies.

My $0.02

On the practical side, mushroom: what's the structure of your soil? Clay or sand? Adding compost to the soil is always a good thing to improve texture and provide nutrients. Just buy some bags, cover the ground with about 2" of compost, and mix it in with the upper 6 inches of the soil.

But again, if you've been having constant failures for years, you might want to do a soil test to see what's missing in therel. It should not be that difficult to fix.

Post some pics of your garden, if it's hard to describe!
 

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Let's see, I get a 50 pound bag of generic 5-10-5 for what is it, $5.00 ? $4.00 ? That has 2.5 pounds of usable nitrogen in it. Plus 2.5 pounds of available potassium and 5 pounds of available phosphorous.

What are the N, P, and K levels of Regular General-Purpose Miracle Grow; 15-30-15? If so, a 15-pound box would have 2.25 pounds of usable nitrogen, 2.5 pounds of available potassium, and it would have about 4.5 pounds of available phosphorous. Slightly less than 50-pound bag of generic 5-10-5. So what does a 15-pound box of all-purpose MG cost? I think it is something like $30 isn't it? About 6 times as much as the generic stuff.
 

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I price all-purpose miracle grown in my local market. It was $10 for 5 pounds. It is NPK 15-30-15. So it has .75 lbs of usable nitrogen. So that N is $13.33 per pound.

Generic 5-10-5 supplies nitrogen at about $1.60 per pound.

If you get generic 10-10-10 your cost for N is even less per pound.

If you get a 20 pound bag of 5-10-5 you'll pay about $3.00 for it, you'll get a pound of N (slightly more than in the 5 pound box of Miracle Grow) and pay about $3 per pound of N. Still way less than the cost of N if you buy it in Miracle grow.

My local soil has an excess or iron in it. Yet locally sold Miracle Grow has iron in the formula. Thanks but no thanks. My local soil tends to be low in boron. Miracle grow has a tiny amount of boron in it, probably not enough to be useful when growing root crops. A cheap way to get boron is to buy laundry borax. It is about 1 dollar per pound. I'd venture to say that at 1 dollar per pound, the amount of boron in Miracle Grow costs you less than a penny if you buy it in the form of laundry borax. Plus you can use laundry borax for your welding flux and for your wash.
 

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Kudos for all that information, soilman, I think I'm enlightened. I didn't realize generic fertilizer is that cheap.

I never used much fertilizer myself (tiny garden patch or a few containers only), so to me the difference was still negligible (I mean it doesn't make a lot of difference if I pay $3 or $0.50 for all the fertilizer I'm using in one season, if I get a "good" mix in one package).

But I definitely am interested in all things soil and fertilizer for big gardens and farms, and enjoy reading your posts. So if you have any more input, and time+inclination, please don't hesitate to share with us!


FYI, the local O.S.H. here has 10 lbs. MiracleGro (15-30-15) for $13.99.
 

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Miracle-Grow has the advantage of being rapidly and completly soluble in water. That means you can spray a solution of it on leaves, and it will be absorbed thru the leaves. There doesn't seem to be much advantage to that over old-fashioned root-feeding. You will see some increased plant growth maybe a day sooner, if you feed both the soil-embedded roots, and give it some food thru the leaves too. I don't think it's worth the extra money.

And yes, this means you have to apply smaller amounts, and apply them more often, otherwize you will be either just wasting MG, or actually killing plants with it if you give them way too much.

My soil is low in boron, but if you live in 20-mule-team borax country (somewhere in the western US) you will already have too much boron in your soil, and will not want the boron that is in Miracle Grow.
 

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Even with a 2000 square foot garden, a 40 or 50 pound bag of 10-10-10 would last me 2 or 3 years. This is partly because some nitrogen is supplied by my compost, and also because I buy urea (45-0-0), sodium nitrate (16-0-0), super triple phosphate (0-44-0), and potassium (I forgot the chemical name, 0-0-60) separately. Certain plants like a different balance, other than 1-1-1.

Miracle Grow has some nitrate mixed in; it is not all ammonical nitrogen, as generic plant food may be. It also contains some urea nitrogen. The nitrate N gives some plants a faster start; it doesn't make any difference for others. However some plants, such as lettuce, benefit from an even larger percentage of nitrate than is in MG. That is why I prefer to buy plain sodium nitrate. I can adjust the balance between nitrate, and ammoniacal nitrgoen, according to what plant I am feeding, and according to what point in its life cycle the plant is in. I sometimes supply my lettuce plants with sodium nitrate and nothing else.

My corn get 10-18-10 preplant, but gets about 10-5-10 a month later. When the ears are developing, they get extra potassium -- in fact i give them 0-0-60 at that time. Not a lot. But I want to make sure they get enough potassium during that point in development. Potassium helps produce an abundance of well-developed seeds. Once they are past a certain point in development giving them more nitrogen is pointless; giving them too much N before the plants pollinate may even retard the pollination and flowering stage, keeping the plants in a vegetative stage for a longer time. This is in contrast to what happens when you overfeed humans, who develop sexually earlier if they are overfed.

Sodium nitrate is about $5 for 5 pounds, and is 16-0-0. This means its N is about 6.25 per pound, and you don't get any P or K with that N. Making sodium nitrate starting to look about as expensive as Miracle Grow. MG's nitrogen is only about 15 percent nitrate nitrogen, I think. In other words, it is 15% N, and 15% of that N is nitrate N. The remaining 85% is ammonical N and urea N. So its nitrate content is not the main explanation for MG's high price.
 
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