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Question about diluting chemical fertilizers  RSS feed

 
Geoff Colpitts
Posts: 5
Location: Vancouver
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My landlord gave me two bags of chemical fertilizers - one was tree fertilizer (the labels are gone though, it's just a bag now) and the other 6-8-6 general purpose fertilizer (both are solid forms). (I got a sweet pair of hedge trimmer and two axes out of the deal, so I took the fertilizers without comment!)

I can do my own research, but I'm hoping someone has come across an idea of how much one would need to dilute the stuff to make it relatively harmless. Failing that, direction to a good source of information on the subject would be great. Is it better to put very small amounts in the compost than to dilute it in water?
 
Saybian Morgan
gardener
Posts: 582
Location: Lower Mainland British Columbia Canada Zone 8a/ Manchester Jamaica
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Honestly if i find myself in an ethics pinch between sorting out how to ingest something I reject rather that give away something I don't want proliferating. The coppice firewood timber trees are able through bio remediation to uptake those negative salts and heavy metals that are going to destructive distillation. The same can be done with septic effluent and allot of mulch, mind you not legal in most parts. The problem with trying to use them as a compost activator nitrogen wise is the water soluble salts when it comes to bacteria and fungal life. It's not something I want to cut in with my other permaculture ventures, but I wont say it's not biologically possible to achieve results. My recommendation is coppice firewood, mix it like a compost in the mulch and let time and water hold it in layers to get your coppice tree's established. But you have to follow it up with compost and other additive measure to inoculate the proceeding generations of leaf fall and mulch.
 
Paul Cereghino
gardener
Posts: 856
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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I can't speak to impurities, but I'd be tempted to mix it with a moist high carbon bulk material like wood shavings or sawdust... the carbon eating bacteria will grab the nitrogen and temporarily sequester it in their bodies. The Phosphoric acid will also tend to immobilize. This then could be used as mulch in woody plantings. The nitrogen to carbon ratio where you don't loose N to leaching or ammonia is around 1:30 nitrogen to carbon, so you want 30 pounds dry carbon for every one pound dry nitrogen. plant tissue is around 45% carbon... so around 90lbs dry weight plant material for every pound of nitrogen, or four times that in wet weight. I'd error on overwhelming your bag of nitrogen salts with plenty of carbon.
 
Bob Dobbs
Posts: 145
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Tell me precisely brand the fertilizers are, I should be able to discern the nutrition sources, I have plenty of experience with the chemistry of chemical fertilizers and I know which ones are the worst and which ones are better as far as killing soil biota goes. Generally I avoid anything that has chloride in it, like muriate of potash, and I dislike ammonium sulfate as well because of its harshness. Is it a soluble fertilizer or is it one of those "10-10-10" type fertilizers with no micronutrients? I would try to use them up myself depending, but it would be in near-homeopathic amounts in a compost pile, or to burn up a large amount of "browns" like waste straw or anything with tons of weed seeds in it. Use the burning strength of chemical fertilizers to kill the weed seeds, and make compost from a waste product that would be otherwise unusable!
 
Ken Peavey
steward
Posts: 2524
Location: FL
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I got into a heavy discussion with an executive at the nearby phosphate mine. His argument was that the the phosphate fertilizer was in fact natural because it came out of the ground. My claim was that the process which concentrates it creates an unnatural product, and it is that concentration which is detrimental to the microbes. Perhaps we are both right.

The solution to pollution is dilution.

Your bag of fertilizer can do some good, giving your plants the nutrients they need to flourish. However, they can also do some bad, killing off the microbes which, left to their own devices, would otherwise benefit your soil and plants. There is a way to use nature to process the stuff, but I have no empirical data to support this idea. Add the fertilizer in small amounts to a compost heap. Dissolving it in liquid first would help to spread it out and lower the concentration. I'd also consider adding more material to that heap to keep it going longer than you would otherwise. Diluting it will help to prevent widescale destruction of the microbes. After the heap has run its course, spread it over a wide area of land rather than all in one spot.

When I bought this place the previous owner left a bag of lime and a bag of 10-10-10 in the garage. I've considered using it as described above, but it remains untouched after 2+ years. It takes a lot of work to get the soil into good shape. Years ago I bought a 50 pound bag of storebought chemical fertilizer. I spread it around a quarter acre lot when I lived in town. I never saw an earthworm after that. The risk is yours. What do you expect to gain from the effort?

 
Geoff Colpitts
Posts: 5
Location: Vancouver
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Bob Dobbs wrote:Tell me precisely brand the fertilizers are, I should be able to discern the nutrition sources, I have plenty of experience with the chemistry of chemical fertilizers and I know which ones are the worst and which ones are better as far as killing soil biota goes. Generally I avoid anything that has chloride in it, like muriate of potash, and I dislike ammonium sulfate as well because of its harshness. Is it a soluble fertilizer or is it one of those "10-10-10" type fertilizers with no micronutrients? I would try to use them up myself depending, but it would be in near-homeopathic amounts in a compost pile, or to burn up a large amount of "browns" like waste straw or anything with tons of weed seeds in it. Use the burning strength of chemical fertilizers to kill the weed seeds, and make compost from a waste product that would be otherwise unusable!


Thanks for your help everyone.

Bob: One of the bags is totally unlabelled now, so I can only tell you about the general/lawn bag. It's Canada Way, 6-8-6. Otherwise the packaging only says that it's from Nu Gro IP Inc in Brantford. .5KG per 1.5m of tree height. There's no listing of micronutrients, just minimum percentages. The instructions say to water it in if applying to grass, but don't even mention water for vegetables or trees - just to mix it into the topsoil.

Ken: I don't really expect anything except to rid the world of something not terribly useful and fairly toxic before someone throws it into the landfill. Also I figured some future good might come out of having this conversation on the forum. It's not the easiest thing to find info on online.
 
Jordan Lowery
pollinator
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
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I wouldnt use it. Or even give it to someone else. Why did he give it to you in the first place, does he have too much or did he not like the stuff. Sorry to be negative but that stuffs toxic.
 
Judith Browning
Posts: 5722
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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bike chicken fungi trees urban woodworking
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Our community has a periodic farm chemical drop off day for those who have leftover toxins. Maybe you could find something like that in your area. I know that won't prevent it's use elsewhere though.
We had something slightly similar happen when a neighbor moved and thought they were really helping us out by giving us the contents of their cupboards...all packaged foods full of additives and white flours etc. We thanked them and carefully separated the boxs for our recycling center and the plastic liners and buried the "food" on a corner of our land...didn't want to eat it and didn't even want it in our compost.
 
Geoff Colpitts
Posts: 5
Location: Vancouver
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Jordan Lowery wrote:I wouldnt use it. Or even give it to someone else. Why did he give it to you in the first place, does he have too much or did he not like the stuff. Sorry to be negative but that stuffs toxic.


Keep it for the next generation is also an option yes. Perhaps there will come a time when they bury it back in the bottom of a borehole or throw it into the sun. There should be a "passing the buck" stockpile in every city I think. Where else to put millions of Nalgene bottles? This stuff is not so much toxic but overly potent, which could possibly be dealt with organically. Mushrooms are my bet, but I'm a musician, not so much a mycologist.
 
Bob Dobbs
Posts: 145
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I can tell you how one could use the stuff without impacting earthworms (very hard with granular), in my experience earthworms are completely fine with a MEASURED dose of between 75-150 ppm of N dilution in water. This would mimic, if mixed with pure organic matter (that is the difference, in my nursery plants grow in about 90% organic matter) a rich soil plants would like to grow in. That being said, if you have muriate of potash or ammonium sulfate, you will kill the guys unless you are already treating dead soil. A way to use it up responsibly if it contains such would be to grow green manure crops on sterilized hardpan type soil and chop&drop the stuff.

I think one of the big reasons chem fertilizer gets such a worm-killing rap is because the cheap crap that can't make explosives is what most people can get, and indeed does kill the soil (just like if you put out table salt) whereas the better stuff is restricted because one could make a bomb quite easily from the stuff. And IMHO superphosphate is fine, which is rare but made of phosphate rock plus phosphoric acid, triple super phosphate is bad and made from phosphate plus sulfuric acid.


Perhaps you could dilute it heavily in water and water with that in homeopathic-type dilution? I mean the dose and the lack of micros is the problem as opposed to it being ammonium or phosphate, one can easily kill crops/worms with too much hot manure for the same reasons the ferts would, i.e they contain the same chemicals in the same forms when you get down to it, the manure just containing more of the actual goodies the plants need. I'll do a bit of brand research for you when my little homonculus goes to sleep.
 
Mateo Chester
Posts: 148
Location: Zone 4b
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I think the reasons not to use these materials are clear. The question comes down to whether it is more "beneficial" to simply throw them away, or use them. In my mind, with these paths being so drastically polar opposite, I would heed the warnings of concern. Using this material would inevitably cycle synthetic chemicals throughout your systems, slashing soil microbiology in it's wake, and ultimately giving you far more heart-ache than needed. Throwing it away would add some nasty stuff to a landfill or to the atmosphere via combustion. I'd say IF you were going to use them, use them STRICTLY on potted ornamentals and in no way apply them to existing outdoor environments, EVER. Once the plants die, I'd just compost them, unless there was some problem with composting plants grown using synthetic fertilizers? Allowing these synthetic fertilizers to be cycled through ornamental plants THEN discarded might alleviate the need for these materials to sit in a landfill (in their whole,granular,synthetic forms) for extended periods of time, and would not harm your soil, the planet (so much) and in turn, your health.

You could also kindly return them to your landlord..
 
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