“Chemical” Fertilizer or “Organic” – Which is “Bad”?

Recently two questions were posed to me by a Mittleider Method gardener who came from a background of using only manure and compost. This person asked:
1. What is the difference between the Mittleider fertilizers and “organic fertilizer”? And why do some “organic-only” users say ours are bad?
2. Do you not recommend building our own compost piles?

Following is my response: The fertilizers we use and recommend are natural mineral nutrients – ground-up rocks, some of which have gone through a simple cleaning and concentration process to assure we get exactly what we bargained for, which is “the most for our money”.

On this website, and in the Mittleider gardening books, CDs and videos we give the formulas in exact detail, so that everyone can purchase wherever they want and mix their own. We are NOT trying to “sell something” with an exclusive, secret fertilizer mix.

Furthermore, every one of the fertilizers used in mixing Mittleider Magic Weekly Feed and Pre-Plant mixes have been approved by the USDA for use in an organic gardening operation. Therefore, we believe that a Mittleider garden DOES qualify as an organic garden.

However, some folks have gone so far with the “organic fertilizer” thing that they won’t use anything but manures, compost, egg shells, blood & bone meal, etc. They believe that anything other than those constitutes a “chemical” and is somehow harmful.

The truth is that – as Organic Gardening Magazine’s J. I. Rodale said – “We’ve gone too far. . . a plant can’t tell the difference between nitrogen from a leaf and that from a fertilizer bag.”

Furthermore, everything in this world is a chemical. All the elements in manure, compost, blood & bone meal, and all the others are chemicals.

So how did we get into this mess?

Years ago people began hearing that things like DDT were dangerous to fish, birds, animals, etc. (which undoubtedly had some truth) and the movement to ban those substances gained momentum until many useful chemicals were totally banned worldwide.

And the final result is that each year millions of African children die of malaria when they could be saved simply by using DDT to eradicate the mosquitoes.

We humans often allow the pendulum to swing too far, and I believe it has swung too far in the organic gardening movement, when people refuse to use ground-up rocks that contain exactly what their plants need to thrive, and instead limit themselves to the use of materials the exclusive use of which kept 20-25% of
our ancestors on the farm in order to feed the rest of us (today I believe it’s less than 1%).

I’ve also seen the substantial pictorial evidence Dr. Mittleider accumulated worldwide of the problems unsterilized manure and compost cause in gardens, with crop-destroying diseases, bugs, and weed seeds.

In addition, we are now having major re-calls of vegetables grown with manure because of contamination with salmonella, e-coli (and maybe other harmful bacteria) that are sickening thousands.

So, if organic materials are CLEAN I say it’s okay to till them into the garden. But how many of us KNOW our compost and manure ARE clean?

Unless they’ve been composted aerobically at sustained (as in 3 weeks!) temperatures over 140 degrees Fahrenheit, whatever was in them – and whatever else may invite itself into the pile in the composting process – will end up alive and well in your garden.

So, to answer the second question, If you will compost your materials at a constant temperature of 140+ for at least 3 weeks – the way the “Zoo-Doo Man” did (see Zoo-Doo Man article that follows) – you can probably use them in the garden without worry of introducing the aforementioned problems into your garden.

But that still doesn’t answer the question about WHAT GOOD your compost is doing!

Does ANYONE know which nutrients, or how much of each, is contained in the compost or manure they are putting on their gardens? I believe there’s not one in 100 organic gardeners who submit their compost or manure to an accurate soil test before applying it to their garden. And so they are all guessing as to what nutrition they’re giving their plants.

In order to try and make sure they have enough nutrition, and to avoid the trouble of multiple applications, manure and compost gardeners apply the amount they hope will feed the whole crop ALL AT ONCE at the beginning.

This creates three problems:
1) Germinating seeds and small seedlings are often burned and killed by too much salinity;
2) excess fertilizer salts are sometimes leached into the ground water;
3) the nutrition from the manure gives out after a few weeks, and the crop stops producing just when it should be at its strongest.

I believe the points I’ve covered above explain to some degree why the Mittleider Method is referred to by many of its adherents as “the best of organic”.

You will understand why even more fully when you grow and/or SEE the results obtained in a good Mittleider garden.

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