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What are the negative effects of chemical fertilizers?

 
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I am familiar with how industrial farming strips carbon from soil and depletes soil biology and all that, but am unsure about the affects of the simple application of something like potassium or ammonium nitrates.
If a garden were to be otherwise organic with the carbon being returned to the soil through composting, mulching, worms, and whatnot, what would mixing in salt peter do to soil health?
Second part of the question is what about composting soil that has been industrially farmed?  I have always added about 10% by volume soil to the compost pile to "clean" it (my soil sucks) and have since learned quite a bit about the benefits and necessity of doing so (there was a recent post in the composting section that had a very good explanation of it).  I currently pick up coffee grounds from a local coffee place and use shredded paper and whatever else I can acquire for carbon, and after this winter's success at hot composting in freezing weather I am considering moving up to humanure and a higher volume of composting.  There is a Mexican restaurant across the street from where I pick up the coffee that has ok'd picking up their vegetable matter and their is a local tree place that will let anyone take the wood chips (they usually dump them on the cattle yards- a few years back one of the piles composted bad and started a fire that killed a bunch of goats so they get rid of it as soon as they can).  There are alsp frequent posts of craigslist for free fill dirt, and I would want some dirt for throwing in the pile.  
So the question is would soil that has used chemical fertilizers have an adverse affect on the biological process or the soil down the line? Would the composting process remediate the problems?
I ask the same about herbicides.  I am slightly familiar with how things like glyphosate "break down" and bond with minerals in the soil, would hot composting break any of that down?
 
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Composting does break down and improve a lot of things, but aminopyralid class of herbicides is a new problem that composting can not fix. This class of herbicides does not break down in composting or digestion. It kills all the plants that are not in the grass family, so it is used on hayfields and cereal  grains. It passes right through and remains in the manure of cows or horses etc that are fed that hay. Then you apply the lovely composted manure or a hay mulch, and ll your plants die except the grass family ones.

As far as I know the other things you mention eventually do get broken down and turned into good compost, but make sure if you are receiving any hay, straw, or animal manure, that it was not sprayed. Farmers may think that, like glyphosate etc, their herbicides break down in composting or manure, so they may take your question lightly and lie, like "Oh, the hay we buy for our cows is just plain old hay, no herbicides" even if they don't actually know.
 
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To fully understand the negative effects of commercial fertilizers you need a context to put these amendments in so you can grasp the whole effect/ affect.
Cancers feed on simple sugars, if you have cancer and you are going through chemotherapy, the fastest way to negate the treatments is to drink soda pop, eat candy bars and dine on fast foods.
The effect of doing these things is that the cancer cells are being given all their favorite foods and they grow extremely rapidly, this affect is that the chemo drugs are fighting a loosing battle since the cancer cells are reproducing faster than the poisons can kill them resulting in your CAE counts going up instead of down.

Farmers plow their soil, exposing the all important microorganisms to UV light (A,B and C) the UV light kills the organisms and the farm soil becomes dirt. Since there is no microbiome in the soil the farmer adds fertilizers to provide the nutrients that would have been produced by the microbiome.
The plants are getting the bare necessities for life because that is all fertilizers can provide, they can't provide the enzymatic actions, the plant exudate signals go un-used and sit in the soil, this attracts the pathogenic organisms and the plants get sick.
The farmer sees he has sick plants and so he applies more fertilizer, adds insecticide and herbicide to get rid of the primary colonizing plants that come because there is no microbiome but plenty of "sugar like substances" this allows these "bad" organisms to thrive and multiply like a wild fire in a strong wind.
The farmer is shocked but adds more of the fertilizer, insecticide and herbicide, now his soil is completely dead and poisoned enough to prevent any recovery of microorganisms, if they were applied they would die from all the poisons now in the soil.
The farmer continues this suicide by ignorance until his fields will not even produce "weeds" then he goes bankrupt and the farm is taken by his creditors and sold to someone else that comes in and tries to farm it with the same methods.
(fertilizers generally are used in dirt and without bacteria to process these compounds, they tend to form chemical bonds with other minerals and become locked up, unusable by the plants since there aren't any bacteria to break down the new chemical bonds to release the actual nutrients)

If the land is lucky, it is acquired by someone who understands the processes of remediation and is willing to take the years to bring the dirt back to soil. This person will bring in organic matter in the form of clean, tested composts or they will create the compost needed and apply it to the dirt.
They will do a single pass tillage to work this first application of compost into the soil and then they will seed with cover crops immediately, they will create some compost teas and spray these over the fields while the cover crops are growing and they will then crimp down the cover crop and seed a money crop through the new mulch layer they just created. Once the money crop is harvested they will again plant cover crops, spray with compost teas and when the cover crop is done they will again crimp it down and plant their next money crop. In just two or three years they will have reestablished the microbiome well enough that all the chemical fertilizers, that were previously applied and locked up by other minerals reacting with the "nutrients", will begin to be unlocked by the bacteria, moved along the fungal highway and delivered to the plant roots. The fungi will also be working at breaking down the poisons left by the previous farmer(s) and the soil life will spring into massive reproduction thus adding to the population of microbes that was started by the compost teas being sprayed. In less than five years the dirt fields have become soil fields again and they will be able to produce good quality crops that have full nutrient values with out the need of any outside additions other than compost and rotting mulch brought by the crimping of the cover crops and the stalks from the harvested crop plants.

Redhawk
 
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I have a similar question - I just bought a new property and want to increase soil fertility the Permie way - I am committed to no-till, no insecticide or herbicide, and using hugels, compost, and mulch to get my desired soil effects - it will be fun and amazing!

However...it will take awhile to get the hugels and compost working and ready for planting/use. In the meantime, the prior owner left me one small box of MiracleGro (15-30-15) - would such a small and short application be detrimental to my soil life if I used this on my plants for the first six months until my permaculture resources are ready?  Will synthetic fertilizers alone do too much damage, even if not engaged in the other downward spiral, negative feedback loop techniques so prevalent in modern Ag?

I just can't seem to wrap my head around wasting this free resource unless it will be totally disastrous. (I will be properly disposing of the herbicide and insecticide that was left, however.)
 
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I often wonder, is it better to properly dispose of icky stuff or is it better to sell it to someone and use the money to advance your permaculture dreams?  This pondering is based on the assumption that they'd just go buy the same icky stuff at store if they didn't buy it from you.  Thus more icky stuff is produced for them to buy instead of using the stuff you want to get rid of.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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I have used the same product Dustin.

I mix miracle gro at triple the dilution rate on the box that insures that I am not over feeding my microbiome and that means the components of the fertilizer won't likely bind up through unwanted chemical bonding.

any synthetic fertilizer can shut down your microbiome, bacteria don't get any calls from the plant's exudates if the plant doesn't feel the need for those nutrients, fertilizer is like giving a plant a 2 liter coke.

(even some "cides" can have their place, but you have to use them in a way that doesn't effect any plant but the one you are attacking (paint brush applied to single leaves).
 
Dustin Rhodes
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That's a good point about selling, Mike - every dollar helps.  

I'll just have to make sure it sells to someone I don't know, as it would undercut me trying to pass our permaculture concepts and methods on to them.


Dr. Redhawk - 3x the dilution rate, I can do that - I have some rain barrels to dump in a week or two for irrigation, and will just mix prior to using them - thanks!
 
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Dustin Rhodes wrote:
However...it will take awhile to get the hugels and compost working and ready for planting/use. In the meantime, the prior owner left me one small box of MiracleGro (15-30-15) - would such a small and short application be detrimental to my soil life if I used this on my plants for the first six months until my permaculture resources are ready?  Will synthetic fertilizers alone do too much damage, even if not engaged in the other downward spiral, negative feedback loop techniques so prevalent in modern Ag?



IMO this is probably a good thing to do. I have not been able to find any evidence that careful use of synthetic fertilizer causes any problems. That said I don't have a good enough microscope to check, but I cannot think of a mechanism how a pellet of fertilizer is going to wipe out the soil life that it does not even contact.

By careful use I'm talking about something like applying a small amount to a small percentage of the soil. I'm thinking I should do some actual experiments with this idea, as I think it would probably be beneficial if done correctly. Has anyone tried this sort of thing? I'm planning on testing it when I get a suitable microscope.
 
Nathan Holn
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Dustin,
Finding an unused box of MiracleGro in the shed a few years ago when I bought the place is what got my mind running on this.  I had already decided I was gonna go full organic and permculture tf out of the place into an oasis immediately but life isn't as easy and it should be, and I don't like wasting things either.  I am not going to be organic certifying anytime soon or ever, so I decided to use some Miraclegro dilluted in water and use it on one half of a bed and urine on the other and found no significant differences.  So as far as using chemical fertilizers over organic ones I found no difference between one that could be bought or one that I make several times a day of course there is no reason to go with chemical, so in a sense its a sort of safe disposal rather than "should I." So back to the original question of can it do any harm, which Redhawk addressed pretty good.
As a sort of hypothetical, if someone I know says the farm they work at is switching crops and they use a different fertilizer and have a few hundred pounds of potassium nitrate and offer it for free, what do I do?
 
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I think Redhawk gave top notch answers. Chemical fertilizers do not have much place in a permaculture setting. In permeculture value is given the varied uses or long term benefits of an application, not immediate results. It is more about resilience than efficiency. Chems are for 100% efficiency (if you define efficiency as return of invested money- only money). Also it can be answer to 2% of issues of the problems we are facing (alfalfa can solve say 10-15%), and chems have many alternatives. Enough with purple.
Lets assume you want to build a compost pile. You will use leaves, grass clippings, manure, coffee grounds and such, right? Maybe something unusual, like a ton of chicken legs. You will need to check the internet but still you can calculate green/brown ratio and get it cooking. What if you use something processed, such as dog food? It has ash, corn and a lot of preservative stuff, but mainly meat and bone and thing like that. We don't know the NPK values of dog/cat food dog food as fertilizer but you can still predict the outcome. If you use dog food as fertilizer, you will have bigger tomatoes. Okay, that is also fine. Lets assume you will use something way more processed, such as Pringles, candies, coke(maybe?) and such. Do we have a use for coke in a permaculture setting? Can we use it instead of molasses or fertilizer? It gets complicated and thus harder to predict (for chems things like inert materials, compounds for slow release etc). You can draw a similar picture with chemical fertilizers. Similar questions are asked before: one of them is Upcycle: chemical fertilizer I haven't uploaded my findings yet. I used chems on dirt, works wonderful. Frankly I would not be able to harvest even tomato leaves without it. I used it on living soil, it made a difference in the first year, as if I turned on the turbo mode. But I know it is going to kill the soil. Over 10 year of heavy use of chems and -cides is what turned my land into a hard rock clay. For another try, I added it to my compost piles while building it, not much difference at all. It heated up and cooled down as usual. It didn't make a significant increase of harvests either. This year I added chems to compost pile in its final turn, not while building it. That pile is acting weird. It is heating up, cooling down, heating up again,  cooling down to 20C. Then, all of a sudden, heating up 35C. I don't know what the hell is going on in there. The twin compost pile (with no chems) heated up to 30C's after its final turn and cooled down to 14C. Same materials, same environment, same watering but acting very different. This weirdness did not showed up if it was added initially.
So back to your question Nathan, unless you don't have alternatives, do not use it. If you are going to use it, use it in a diluted way as Dr Redhawk said. Try to use simple chem products. I thought slow release chems might be less harmful to soil, but my compost pile is acting suggestively different. It is hard to build healthy soil. If you start with dirt, nothing to kill, you are free. I do not recommend to risk of killing your soil though.
 
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Good soil has lots of soil carbon in the form of humus.  Adding additional nitrogen to the soil helps soil microbes break down the soil carbon and send it off into the air leading to destruction of fertility.  Kind of the opposite of what we want to do.  It's trading the long term goal for short term gains.  If you still want to use it then dilute it like Bryant suggests and use it sparingly to avoid spiking the soil.  I completely avoid it and just use no till and lay down organic matter blended with biochar.  After a few years you never look back.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071029172809.htm
 
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Rebecca Norman wrote:Composting does break down and improve a lot of things, but aminopyralid class of herbicides is a new problem that composting can not fix. This class of herbicides does not break down in composting or digestion. It kills all the plants that are not in the grass family, so it is used on hayfields and cereal  grains. It passes right through and remains in the manure of cows or horses etc that are fed that hay. Then you apply the lovely composted manure or a hay mulch, and ll your plants die except the grass family ones.

As far as I know the other things you mention eventually do get broken down and turned into good compost, but make sure if you are receiving any hay, straw, or animal manure, that it was not sprayed. Farmers may think that, like glyphosate etc, their herbicides break down in composting or manure, so they may take your question lightly and lie, like "Oh, the hay we buy for our cows is just plain old hay, no herbicides" even if they don't actually know.



So, what does break down those aminopyralid herbicides?  And how commonplace are they?  Is it more of a regional thing (e.g. mostly in the Great Plains and Mid-West) or is pretty much a nationwide issue?
 
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Aminopyralid  is a selective herbicide used for control of broadleaf weeds, especially thistles and clovers.
It is in the picolinic acid family of herbicides, which also includes clopyralid, picloram, triclopyr, and several less common herbicides.
Aminopyralid is of concern to vegetable growers, as it can enter the food chain via manure, which contains long-lasting residues of the herbicide.
It affects potatoes, tomatoes, and beans, causing deformed plants, and poor or non-existent yields.
Problems with manure contaminated with aminopyralid residue surfaced in the UK in June and July 2008, and, at the end of July 2008, Dow AgroSciences implemented an immediate suspension of UK sales and use of herbicides containing aminopyralid.
Approval of aminopyralid was subsequently reinstated in the UK on October 6, 2009, as reported by the UK regulatory authority, the Advisory Committee on Pesticides.
The re-introduction was approved "with new recommendations and a stringent stewardship programme devised to prevent inadvertent movement of manure from farms".

This is what the USDA and FDA reported about the degredation rate.

[Under aerobic conditions, degradation of aminopyralid in five different soils resulted in the production of CO2 and non-extractable residues. Half-lives ranged from 31.5 to 533.2 days in 5 soils. For risk assessment purposes, EPA used a half-life of 103.5 days.
Aminopyralid photolyzed moderately slowly on a soil surface. The half-life was 72 days and CO2, non-extractable residues and small amounts of acidic volatiles were the degradates.



Today we know that the best way to break this compound down is through bacterial and fungal remediation over a minimum  6 month time period. This means that if we can compost these materials over a long period, in the presence of several fungal species mycelium along with
bacterial actions, then we can be reasonably sure that we have remediated the material into inert segments. (fancy way of saying that we can be pretty sure the compost would be safe to use)
 
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:Aminopyralid  is a selective herbicide used for control of broadleaf weeds, especially thistles and clovers.
It is in the picolinic acid family of herbicides, which also includes clopyralid, picloram, triclopyr, and several less common herbicides.
Aminopyralid is of concern to vegetable growers, as it can enter the food chain via manure, which contains long-lasting residues of the herbicide.
It affects potatoes, tomatoes, and beans, causing deformed plants, and poor or non-existent yields.
Problems with manure contaminated with aminopyralid residue surfaced in the UK in June and July 2008, and, at the end of July 2008, Dow AgroSciences implemented an immediate suspension of UK sales and use of herbicides containing aminopyralid.
Approval of aminopyralid was subsequently reinstated in the UK on October 6, 2009, as reported by the UK regulatory authority, the Advisory Committee on Pesticides.
The re-introduction was approved "with new recommendations and a stringent stewardship programme devised to prevent inadvertent movement of manure from farms".

This is what the USDA and FDA reported about the degredation rate.

[Under aerobic conditions, degradation of aminopyralid in five different soils resulted in the production of CO2 and non-extractable residues. Half-lives ranged from 31.5 to 533.2 days in 5 soils. For risk assessment purposes, EPA used a half-life of 103.5 days.
Aminopyralid photolyzed moderately slowly on a soil surface. The half-life was 72 days and CO2, non-extractable residues and small amounts of acidic volatiles were the degradates.



Today we know that the best way to break this compound down is through bacterial and fungal remediation over a minimum  6 month time period. This means that if we can compost these materials over a long period, in the presence of several fungal species mycelium along with
bacterial actions, then we can be reasonably sure that we have remediated the material into inert segments. (fancy way of saying that we can be pretty sure the compost would be safe to use)




I have seen this last for YEARS.     Soil PH is a major factor in the break down.


http://northword.ca/words/environment/mean-manure-killer-compost-grazon-after-effects-in-the-bulkley-valley

I like this site  that tells ways to test for it.



 
Bryant RedHawk
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Nathan Holn wrote:Dustin,
As a sort of hypothetical, if someone I know says the farm they work at is switching crops and they use a different fertilizer and have a few hundred pounds of potassium nitrate and offer it for free, what do I do?



I'd use it as a sprinkle addition (if it is a solid) to compost heaps as they are being built.
If you can dissolve it at 1 table spoon per 5 liters you could use it as a spray but I would only use it just before winter shut down and I would only lightly spray the soil. (like a misting rain will wet the top 0.05 mm of soil)
If you are growing a grassy area for slowing water runoff down or as a play space, a light spraying of the above dilution can be used right before a rain event no more than once a month.

Those are the only ways I use KNO3 in garden spaces.

Redhawk

(if you do make such an addition, don't forget to also provide some organic zinc, silica and calcium at the same time)
 
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