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The Synthetic Path to Ruin

If you watch a lot of commercial television or listen to the radio several hours a day, you probably have your fair share of commercials that you love to hate. It seems that some stations and networks tend to run the same annoying messages a dozen or more times a day, sometimes two or three times during the same program. If you’re anything like me, you eventually just tune them out, mute the sound, or change the station.

On this count, I’m as guilty as the next guy. Some of you who drop by this space on a regular basis have seen many references to using a “well-balanced organic fertilizer.” While this remains good advice and certainly bears repeating, I’ve recently begun to wonder whether I’ve said it so often that folks aren’t hearing what I’m saying.

So, today, while I consume the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers, I thought it might be a good time to explain why I give thanks for organic fertilizers and give you a few warnings about how using artificial fertilizers can wreck your soil and ruin future crops.

While there is certainly no denying that high-nitrogen artificial fertilizers can often increase yields of certain plants, this increase is only temporary and is certainly not worth the loss of nutrients, flavor, and soil viability.

Research has shown that wheat and barley grown with synthetic fertilizers lack critical amino acids and suffer reduced quantities of others. To make matters worse, vegetables and grains exposed to artificial fertilizers contain a high level of toxic nitrates. A National Research Council study revealed that nine of the top fifteen foods that have the potential to cause cancer are produce items that contain high nitrate levels from pesticides or high-nitrogen fertilizers. With this in mind, it is almost shocking that several studies have shown that chemically fertilized food contains up to sixteen times more cancer-causing nitrates than food grown with organic fertilizers. This particularly scary when you realize that virtually all of the conventionally grown produce displayed at your local supermarket is planted in fields that are “enhanced” with high-nitrogen artificial fertilizers.

When you use one of the versions of these potent artificial fertilizers available in most garden stores, you’re not only introducing harmful nitrates to your diet, you’re also ruining the flavor of your produce. The excessive quantity of nitrogen in most synthetic fertilizers reduces carbohydrate synthesis in your veggies. This reduced synthesis gives your vegetables a lower glucose content, which gives them a duller and flatter taste.

Harvesting those healthy-looking vegetables grown with artificial fertilizers doesn’t seem like quite so much fun when you realize that they contain fewer beneficial nutrients and more harmful nitrates, now, does it?

Well, if that news isn’t enough to convince you to switch to a “well-balanced organic fertilizer” next year, how do you feel about weakening your soil and attracting more annoying garden pests? Both are guaranteed to happen if you keep applying the same old synthetic junk to your garden year after year.

The excess salts used in artificial fertilizers cause three major problems. First of all, they reduce your soil’s ability to hold moisture, and they cause the moisture that does survive to become more strongly bound to the earth. This makes it more difficult for your veggies to get the proper amount of water they need for healthy growth.

Second, constant exposure to these salts wrecks root systems. Over time, the roots become less able to absorb water even if the ground is fully saturated. If you look at the contents of a bag of commercially available artificial fertilizer, you’ll notice that it contains ammonium nitrate, potassium chloride, and several other salts. As these salts build up in your soil, you’ll need more and more water just to keep your plants from becoming dehydrated.

To top it all off, these strong chemical salts create a thatch buildup by killing the beneficial microorganisms and earthworms that eat and breakdown thatch. Thick layers of thatch create a fertile breeding ground for diseases and destructive insects. It comes as no surprise that a University of California study found that broccoli and other vegetables fertilized with organic fertilizers attracted a significant number fewer pests than those grown in artificially fertilized soil.

When many people think about organic fertilizers, the first one that comes to mind is often manure. Personally, I don’t recommend using raw manure in your survival garden. Apart from the possibility of introducing diseases, using raw manure is also less effective than other organic solutions. USDA studies have shown that raw manure loses 50 to 75 percent of its nitrogen in storage and application. A report out of Iowa State University adds that 75 percent of the phosphorus and 49 percent of the potassium is lost when manures are spread directly in your garden. If you’re bound and determined to use manure, I’d suggest adding it to your compost pile first. Researchers tell us that one pound of composted manure is worth about twenty pounds of raw manure for fertilizing power.

Of course, as many of you already know, my favorite organic fertilizer is Protogrow. Seaweed-based organic fertilizers like Protogrow generally contain a healthy quantity of trace minerals and several important factors that stimulate hardy growth in addition to primary nutrients. These positive substances usually include auxins, indoles, cytokinins, gibberellins, vital hormones, and other tasty treats that your veggies crave for proper growth. Folks who use seaweed-based fertilizers often report that their plants are more resistant to powdery mildew and black spots and generally do better in cold weather.

While it is only natural to spend a portion of your time during the dormant season thinking about what crops you’re going to grow in the spring, I hope that this piece has caused you to give a few moments thought to the type of fertilizer you’ll be using. Please, for the sake of your soil and your health, don’t swallow the outrageous promises shown on the brightly colored boxes and bottles of artificial fertilizers. Nature’s way is slower, more sure, and healthier. In the long run, a “well-balanced organic fertilizer” is one of your best tools towards creating a sustainable survival garden.

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