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Newbie question re: chemical fertilizer  RSS feed

 
                                
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I bought a huge bag of Osmocote in a gardening binge a year or so ago.  I'm now wondering if this really isn't an organic fertilizer at all, but just a slow-release chemical fertilizer.  Should I not spread this on my lawn as part of the fall fertilizing requirement?  At this point, I need to just get rid of the stuff.  I intend to transition full organic as soon as possible. 

By the way, I did read your "cheap and lazy" article.  It's amazing the number of extension groups that still advertise the chemical route for managing lawns.  It all seems like so much brainwashing!
 
paul wheaton
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Yup, that's a chemical fertilizer.

I would not put it on my lawn. 

You could use it for houseplants - but I wouldn't even want to do that. 

Take a look at this thread to figure out how to get rid of that stuff.
 
                            
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Raising plants on synthetic fertilizers is like raising a child on candy and crack cocaine.  They may do OK for awhile, but they'll never be truly healthy and will be always be more susceptable to disease.  Synthetic fertilizers also kill soil micro-organisms, which is what your plants really want and need.  "Feed the soil, not the plants."

It's best not to even get on the chemical treadmill.  Still got your receipt?
 
paul wheaton
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kahunadm wrote:
Raising plants on synthetic fertilizers is like raising a child on candy and crack cocaine. 


That is awesome!  I wish I had said that!


 
Joel Hollingsworth
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A thread elsewhere talked about "beer and skittles," and someone mentioned that lumps of candy are good pre-measured sugar sources to give a measured amount of carbonation to home-bottled beer.

By analogy to that sort of thing, a child raised on kombucha might do better than one raised on sweet tea:

You might try composting that chemical fertilizer, depending on what is in it.  Compost microbes raised on candy, after all, are expendible.
 
                            
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As a home brewer, I can appreciate your beer analogy.  On the other hand, Synthetic fertilizers are nothing like sugar (despite MY analogy), and the microbes in a compost pile most certainly won't like the stuff.  That still leaves the question...what does one do with unwanted synthetic fertilizer?  I can't think of a good answer if it can't be returned to the store.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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I totally agree that it should be returned to the store if at all possible.

kahunadm wrote: the microbes in a compost pile most certainly won't like the stuff.


The microbes that do best on my current mix of compostables probably wouldn't, but I bet some of the microbes in or near the pile would.  Or if not, a few dozen generations would teach them how.

According to the Household Products Database, Osmocote is:

Ammonium nitrate, Dicalcium phosphate,  Calcium bis(dihydrogen phosphate), tribasic Calcium phosphate, Potassium sulfate, dibasic Ammonium phosphate, Calcium fluoride, Soybean oil, Linseed oil

Mixed with browns in an appropriate ratio, any of these chemicals would compost just fine, or (like CaF) remain largely inert.  The only thing would be to err on the side of too little Osmocote and too much water at first, just because dry flammables + nitrates + heat can occasionally cause trouble.

If it's 13-13-13, then shooting for a C:N ratio above 30:1, guessing that about 45% of biomass is either C or N, and assuming negligible C in Osmocote, I figure at least fourteen pounds dry straw for every pound of fertilizer, or at least nine and a half pounds of dry wood chips.  Plus, as I mentioned above, lots of water.

Edit:  Corrected a math error.  Anyone who does this should probably check my math. 
 
                            
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Yeah, I suppose in small amounts it could work.  Unfortunately the bag was described as "huge."
 
jeremiah bailey
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The idea, I thought was to get rid of it so it was no longer in the local loop. If you're suggesting that compost is the answer, why not just spread it on the lawn as directed on the bag? I suppose that is where the compost would eventually end up anyways. If the chemicals are as inert or decomposable as suggested, then there should be no problem, right?
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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jeremiah bailey wrote:If the chemicals are as inert or decomposable as suggested, then there should be no problem, right?


I would guess spreading it thin and rarely would be OK.  The master gardeners around seem to say that a huge rush of liquid nutrition harms the soil ecosystem, removes much of the incentive for deep rooting, and perhaps even monkeys with osmosis enough to kill things.  All of which makes sense.

None of which would be of much concern in a compost pile. 

Also, things decompose much, much faster in the compost pile, and are much less likely to get on people's skin, be eaten by pets, etc. in the meantime.
 
                            
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polyparadigm wrote:

None of which would be of much concern in a compost pile. 



But a compost pile has it's own "soil ecosystem."  It's the same soil microbes and earthworms that break down the material in the pile.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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kahunadm wrote:
But a compost pile has it's own "soil ecosystem."


As I understand it, the harm to the ecosystem mostly has to do with a local oversupply that might cause a temporary dieback and/or runaway growth leading to a population crash.

I'm just fine with my compost ecosystem overshooting its food supply: in fact, to some extent, that's the whole idea.  If I had the option, I would do more composting in the soil where things could stay more balanced, but as I've mentioned elsewhere, my place is overly-paved.

As to a die-back from initial over-supply, that may delay finishing of compost, but there aren't productive species that depend on continuous support from the compost ecosystem: all's well that ends well.  In a garden or lawn though, a dead soil ecosystem that comes back to life may find that everything aboveground has been harmed in the meantime.

kahunadm wrote:It's the same soil microbes and earthworms that break down the material in the pile.


Not as much as I used to think.

For example, red wigglers don't burrow: they're a separate species from any soil-dwelling worm, about as different as jackals are from moles.

Similarly, the anaerobic bacteria in soil tend to have an iron-centric metabolism, unlike the methane-centered metabolism of anaerobic compost bacteria.  Entirely different.

In general, the compost ecosystem is much more calorie-dense, mineral-poor, fast-paced, and aerated than the soil ecosystem, and species that can survive in either niche don't need any nurturing from me.  I don't expect the more sensitive species in compost to survive application, any more than I expect all compost organisms to survive me turning the pile.
 
                            
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Well, I'm done with any more speculation on life forms and composts piles (at least for now).  Until I see a soil bio-assay on the before and after status of compost piles treated with various quantities of Osmocote (which I doubt we'll ever see), I'll just concentrate on what finishes my compost in the way that works best for me.
Plus, I think we're starting to digress a bit from the original post.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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I totally agree!  Sorry to get off track like that.
 
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