Thursday, November 02, 2006

Synthetic versus natural gardening what does it all mean

What does "Natural" mean, and what does "Synthetic" mean? And
exactly what makes synthetically produced fertilizers any worse for
your garden than naturally produced ones? This is one area in which
a lot of balony gets thrown around - and regrettably believed by
many good people.

The simplest and most natural of the commercial fertilizers may be
lime. the world has an inexhaustible supply of limestone (calcium
carbonate), and it's simply ground to powder in powerful rock
crushers, bagged, and sold to the public. We even receive much of
our magnesium from the same process, when the raw material is
dolomitic limestone.

All twelve of the other nutrients man can control are also mined
from the earth. However, we have learned over time how to remove
impurities, such as heavy metals, and increase the concentration of
the individual nutrients, by running them through a simple
concentration process. This is often a sulfuric acid bath, which
leaves us with a much higher concentration of the original nutrient,
plus sulphur, which is itself a very important nutrient.

So, we benefit by getting a much higher concentration of the
nutrient we want, plus sulphur, with no heavy metals, and it costs
MUCH less, because it weighs only a fraction of the original raw

Are those fertilizers synthetically produced? I don't think so, but
perhaps they are by some peoples' definition.

Even nitrogen is mined out of the ground! This may surprise many
people, but it actually is - in Chile, South America - where huge
mines of sodium nitrate exist. Can you imagine the cost to get it
to the USA, though? And what would we do with the sodium salts??

Thank goodness we have found a better, more efficient, and therefore
far less costly way to produce nitrogen fertilizers.

About 90 years ago two German scientists, Fritz Haber and Karl
Bosch, discovered and commercialized the processes by which nitrogen
could be separated from other elements in different compounds and
made available as fertilizer. These discoveries arguably served as
the single most important component leading to exponential global
agricultural growth, and the Haber-Bosch process is still the
process used today.

I believe we owe much of what we have today to the use of nitrogen
that's produced by the Haber-Bosch process, and whether or not it's
synthetic is, to me at least, irrelevant.

If there is a valid important argument against the synthetic
production of chemicals having to do with the garden, it should be
limited to pesticides and herbicides. And we won't go there at this

I do hope that members of the Mittleider Method Gardening Group are
able to understand and appreciate the value and importance of
mineral nutrients in helping us grow strong, healthy plants, and
that you will not worry about "natural" or "synthetic" any more.

Jim Kennard

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A pint is a pount the world around

I need some clarification on this addage. Are you saying that a pint
of sand is going to weigh the same as a pint of peat? I think my
weekly feed picked up some weight after I made it up as it has
absorbed a lot of moisture. If I put it on the scales to weigh out a
pound for weekly feed purposes is it going to affect the nutrients my
plants are getting or do I need to apply the WF based on volume and
forget about the actual weight?


I really appreciate the insightful study, which leads to such good questions from you, Dave, as well as from several others. This helps us all to learn and be better gardeners.

The statement "a pint is a pound the world around" is obviously not strictly accurate, and is quite inaccurate when applied to the comparison of dirt and sawdust, and other very dissimilar materials.

I didn't coin the phrase, and so can't know for sure the motivations behind it. However, I have noticed that all around the world tin cans are available that hold about the same amount of material. In America it's 1 pint, or 16 fluid ounces, and in other countries, where the metric system holds sway, it is a 450 gram can that is essentially the same size.

You'll be purchasing your fertilizers by weight, and if you have a scale it's certainly best to weigh each component when mixing, In fact if you were adding all of the micro's individually you would end up using much more than necessary of a couple of them if you were to use volume measurements instead of actual weight, because they are very heavy.

If all you have access to is measuring cups and pint-sized cans, and if you are combining compounds, such as the pre-mixed micro-nutrients from the Foundation, you won't be off far enough to ruin your garden.

When applying materials to your garden you can use volume measurements without worrying. And if your fertilizers ever get wet it's especially beneficial to use the volume, because of the substantial difference in weight between wet and dry fertilizers.