Today we will discuss a fundamental question in gardening. Previously I was posed this question: “I hear that chemicals are poisoning our waterways, and that organic growing is much healthier than using chemicals. What’s the truth, and how do I grow a healthy, productive, and sustainable garden without hurting the environment?”
This important question deserves an accurate answer. Therefore let’s learn about plant nutrition. First, plants receive nutrition only as water-soluble mineral compounds through their roots. When we put plants, compost or manure into the soil, the organic material must first decompose, and the nutrient compounds must revert to water-soluble minerals before the next generation of plants can use them. This takes time, and sometimes as much as half of the nutrients are lost in the decomposition process. Nitrogen is particularly susceptible to loss because it is volatile and returns to the air very easily.
Second, there is no real difference between organic, and mineral or chemical nutrients. Everything in this world is chemical! To the chemist the elements in the soil are called chemicals, to a geologist they are called minerals, and to an organic enthusiast they are called organics, but they are the same substances. To quote J. I. Rodale, the publisher of Organic Gardening magazine, “we organic gardeners have let our enthusiasm run away with us. We have said that the nitrogen which is in organic matter is different (and thus somehow better) from nitrogen in a commercial fertilizer. But this is not so.” And “actually there is no difference between the nitrogen in a chemical fertilizer and the nitrogen in a leaf.”
Third, there is no difference between soil and rocks except for the size of the particles, and 12 of the 13 mineral nutrients plants require are essentially ground-up rocks! They are natural, and there’s really nothing “synthetic” about them.
So you see, there is no difference between “organic nitrogen” and mineral or chemical nitrogen, except two primary things. 1) the nitrogen that is part of an organic substance must decompose and revert to the water-soluble mineral state before being available to plants, and 2) mineral-source nitrogen is much higher in nutritional content, so much less is required to feed your plants.
As further evidence that mineral nutrients are not bad per se, I’ve researched which fertilizers meet the requirements for qualification as a Certified Organic garden, and 12 of the 13 nutrients we use in a Mittleider garden are approved. And the 13th – nitrogen – is the one that’s most often used by organic gardeners, both in the garden and to aid in composting! Go figure.
This being the case, what should you do to assure you have the best garden and the healthiest plants possible? Give your plants accurate dosages of the best combination of nutrition you possibly can. The Mittleider natural mineral nutrient formulas are available in The Mittleider Gardening Course book at www.growfood.com/shop. You can mix your own “from scratch”, or get the micro-nutrients from the Foundation website, also in the Shop section. And never over-use any kind of fertilizer. Both manure and mineral compounds will harm our water supply if allowed to leach into the water table.
Meanwhile, remember that 99% of us depend on 1% to feed us, and commercial growers feed their crops! They use formulas like ours and call them “The preferred horticultural mix.” Just check out Scott’s Peter’s Professional Pete Lite as an example.
This is not to say that organic materials don’t have a place in the garden. You can improve soil texture and tilth by adding materials that have desirable characteristics, and even add some nutrient value. However, improving the soil in that way is not necessary to having a good garden, and people often introduce weeds, rodents, bugs, and diseases into their gardens, or provide a haven for them with their organic mulching practices. It is for this reason that we do not emphasize or encourage composting and manure.
Mittleider gardens qualify as “organic” because we don’t use pesticides or herbicides. However, I suggest they are even better than organic, because the plants receive just what they need, they grow fast, and we rarely have debilitating insect or disease problems because there are no weeds to provide a home, and the plants aren’t in the ground long enough for the pests to get established.
Dr. Jacob Mittleider’s gardening books, CDs, and Software, as well as natural mineral nutrients, are available at the Foundation website -www.growfood.com/shop