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Bone Meal and Fish Emulsion

Gardeners have been fussing with fertilizers since the first human stuck a seed in soil. The goal of fertilization is to create the richest soil possible, since it is in the soil where plants draw the essential nutrients that make them grow.

Organic gardeners rely on fertilizers made from plants and animal by products, avoiding the chemical fertilizers that have flooded the farming and gardening industries for the past 50 years. Synthetic fertilizers do nothing to support the microbial activity that makes soil and plants healthy. In fact, some of them will kill your soil.

These fertilizers also short change your plants by supplying them only with the major elements nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, while overlooking the other 13 nutrients plants need to survive. And, if that's not enough, it's been proven that chemical fertilizers leach into our water supply much more easily than organic fertilizers, thereby polluting it.

It's no wonder many organic gardeners reject these synthetics and rely on copy bracelets love old standbys like bone meal, blood meal and fish emulsion. But times are a changin', and even these additives, variations of which have been used for centuries, are coming under scrutiny.

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Right about now, the vegetarian gardeners in the crowd are raising their eyebrows and squirming in their seats. Even borderline carnivores might find this information a bit jarring. Couple this with the threat of mad cow disease, which can be transmitted through bone meal and blood meal, his and hers cartier bracelet copy and it's enough to get some gardeners looking for vegetarian alternatives.

I checked in with the folks at Palo Alto's Common Ground organic gardening store, where founder has produced a pamphlet, "Recommended Organic Soil Amendments," that lists readily available organic fertilizer alternatives and recommended quantities.

The store is the not for profit project of Jeavons' Ecology Action, an organization devoted to developing techniques for growing more nutritious food while simultaneously increasing the health of the soil.

According to the store's , Common Ground began emphasizing a vegetarian approach to fertilizers as a result of the threat of mad cow disease and not because of any vegetarian inklings.

Before adding anything to your soil, be it vegetarian or not, consider performing a soil test. How do you know what to add if you don't know what your soil already contains? Soil tests come in varying levels of complexity, from simple, store bought do it yourself kits that will determine your soil's pH level to lab tests that will give you a full nutrient breakdown.

The of Urban Gardeners offers an inexpensive lab test that will reveal the most intimate details regarding your soil. The results come with complete recommendations for additives, including amounts to use. (I wish I'd followed this advice when I started my garden. When I finally got around to the test, the results provided a wealth of information that would have saved me time and money.)

For more information about soil tests, see the August 23 Green Gardener column.

Whether your soil test says your garden needs potash, phosphorus or nitrogen, non animal based by products are readily available at most nurseries. The following information, unless credited otherwise, is from Jeavons' pamphlet. The amounts stated are for use on a 100 square foot garden of poor quality clay soil in the garden's first year.

Whichever of these fertilizers you choose to use, work them into the soil a good 6 to 8 inches before you plant anything. Cut quantities back appropriately if you have a smaller garden, and feel free to experiment. As Jeavons reminds readers in his pamphlet, "Soil conditions can vary from backyard to backyard."

First and foremost in Jeavons' plan is the use of compost to improve and maintain the soil's health. A rich, black soil like amendment made from rotted yard waste and kitchen scraps, compost feeds soil microbes that release nutrients. Nothing else provides the necessary carbohydrates and cellulose, as well as all 16 nutrients plants need.

In fact, if your soil is in good shape, he suggests you add a 1 inch layer of compost (8 cubic feet, or a dozen 5 gallon buckets), a quarter pound of potash and a half pound of calcium to your garden.

Supporting this advice, the July/August 2000 issue of included a special report on fertilizers, based on research performed at the , in Mt. Vernon, Maine. The research concluded that if gardeners use a combination of compost, mulch and cover crops, they need add nothing else to their soil: If your soil is healthy and alive, it will provide plants with all the nutrients they need.

On the other hand, "Golden Gate Gardening," by , recommends that you routinely add a 2 inch layer of compost with some nitrogen and phosphorus to copy love braclets your vegetable garden. There are too many variables for anyone to have the definitive answer for many questions regarding your particular garden's needs.) Nitrogen

If you want to add nitrogen to your soil, try using alfalfa meal or the alfalfa pellets sold for rabbit feed, instead of blood meal or fish emulsion. Alfalfa is a quick acting source of nitrogen, with healthy amounts of phosphorus and potash. Organic Gardening magazine called rabbit pellets "an excellent all purpose fertilizer." Jeavons recommends adding 16 pounds of alfalfa meal to your garden.

Rather than using bone meal as your source of phosphorus, try soft rock phosphate. Dig 6 pounds into your plot.

For potash, try 1 pound of kelp meal or 8 1/2 pounds of crushed granite, which Jeavons says will last for 10 years, slowly releasing potash and trace minerals.

Add 2 pounds of crushed eggshells.

Both "Golden Gate Gardening" and Organic Gardening magazine recommend using greensand, a mined mineral, as a slow release source of potassium. Peirce recommends 10 pounds.

Whether you choose to go vegetarian or not, our focus is on the soil. As Common Ground's Eva Henin said, "The emphasis is on building healthy soil that will produce nutritious, delicious food."

All these nutrients can be found at Peaceful Valley Farm Supply; Common Ground, at 2225 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94306, or call (650) 493 6072; and many other nurseries.
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