Fertilizer and fertilizing.......a little history


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Commercial fertilizer is advertized as a must have for your plants. It is all over TV and gardening talk shows on radio. It is NOT a must have........unless of course you are a chemical gardener. A chemical gardener? What is that, someone who grows chemicals? Not quite, but close. A chemical gardener is someone who uses chemicals to feed their plants. Long before Monsanto became a bad dream agriculture was moving along quite well without its help but then a couple of things happened. Nitrates were invented during the later 1800's, the internal combustion engine was perfected and World War 1 came along. As a by product of nitrate's ability to explode and blow up things it was found to be a miraculous growth enhancer of plants. With the now availability of farm tractors and more importantly combines it allowed vast areas of so far just grassland to be cultivated. And with the world being at war there became a drastic need for food grains, both for humans and animals. Thus, more and more virgin farm land was deep plowed and planted with all sorts of grains, wheat, corn, sorghum etc. Prices for these products sky rocketed allowing for more tractors and combines. Pretty soon just about every thing west of the Mississippi, half of Texas and north to Canada and east of the Rockies was under cultivation. After the end of WW1 vast stores of Nitrates were laying around in huge stockpiles. What else to do with all of this stuff except make fertilizer? So Monsanto and other chemical companies all got together and started making inexpensive oil derived nitrate fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, using these stockplies to start with and it hasn't stopped since except for the 1930's when the unintended consequences caught up with them. It was called THE DUST BOWL.
 
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Thanks again for another informative article, many people do not what the effects are with the chemicals/fertilizers that they use on their gardens or yard.
 
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I knew chemical fertilizer wasn't good for the garden, I didn't know what kind of effect just creating it had on the environment. Composting your own natural fertilizer is such a better option. Community compost sounds like a great idea; how did they come up with it in your area?
 
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Commercial fertilizer is advertized as a must have for your plants. It is all over TV and gardening talk shows on radio. It is NOT a must have........unless of course you are a chemical gardener. A chemical gardener? What is that, someone who grows chemicals? Not quite, but close. A chemical gardener is someone who uses chemicals to feed their plants. Long before Monsanto became a bad dream agriculture was moving along quite well without its help but then a couple of things happened. Nitrates were invented during the later 1800's, the internal combustion engine was perfected and World War 1 came along. As a by product of nitrate's ability to explode and blow up things it was found to be a miraculous growth enhancer of plants. With the now availability of farm tractors and more importantly combines it allowed vast areas of so far just grassland to be cultivated. And with the world being at war there became a drastic need for food grains, both for humans and animals. Thus, more and more virgin farm land was deep plowed and planted with all sorts of grains, wheat, corn, sorghum etc. Prices for these products sky rocketed allowing for more tractors and combines. Pretty soon just about every thing west of the Mississippi, half of Texas and north to Canada and east of the Rockies was under cultivation. After the end of WW1 vast stores of Nitrates were laying around in huge stockpiles. What else to do with all of this stuff except make fertilizer? So Monsanto and other chemical companies all got together and started making inexpensive oil derived nitrate fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, using these stockplies to start with and it hasn't stopped since except for the 1930's when the unintended consequences caught up with them. It was called THE DUST BOWL.

I don't agree with the last part. The dust bowl was caused by draught.

According to http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/depression/dustbowl.htm "Poor agricultural practices and years of sustained drought caused the Dust Bowl. Plains grasslands had been deeply plowed and planted to wheat. During the years when there was adequate rainfall, the land produced bountiful crops. But as the droughts of the early 1930s deepened, the farmers kept plowing and planting and nothing would grow. The ground cover that held the soil in place was gone. The Plains winds whipped across the fields raising billowing clouds of dust to the skys. The skys could darken for days, and even the most well sealed homes could have a thick layer of dust on furniture. In some places the dust would drift like snow, covering farmsteads."

"The Dust Bowl was the name given to the Great Plains region devastated by drought in 1930s depression-ridden America. The 150,000-square-mile area, encompassing the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles and neighboring sections of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico, has little rainfall, light soil, and high winds, a potentially destructive combination. When drought struck from 1934 to 1937, the soil lacked the stronger root system of grass as an anchor, so the winds easily picked up the loose topsoil and swirled it into dense dust clouds, called “black blizzards.” Recurrent dust storms wreaked havoc, choking cattle and pasture lands and driving 60 percent of the population from the region. Most of these “exodusters” went to agricultural areas first and then to cities, especially in the Far West."

from: http://www.history.com/topics/dust-bowl
 
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I don't agree with the last part. The dust bowl was caused by draught.

According to http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/depression/dustbowl.htm "Poor agricultural practices and years of sustained drought caused the Dust Bowl. Plains grasslands had been deeply plowed and planted to wheat. During the years when there was adequate rainfall, the land produced bountiful crops. But as the droughts of the early 1930s deepened, the farmers kept plowing and planting and nothing would grow. The ground cover that held the soil in place was gone. The Plains winds whipped across the fields raising billowing clouds of dust to the skys. The skys could darken for days, and even the most well sealed homes could have a thick layer of dust on furniture. In some places the dust would drift like snow, covering farmsteads."

"The Dust Bowl was the name given to the Great Plains region devastated by drought in 1930s depression-ridden America. The 150,000-square-mile area, encompassing the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles and neighboring sections of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico, has little rainfall, light soil, and high winds, a potentially destructive combination. When drought struck from 1934 to 1937, the soil lacked the stronger root system of grass as an anchor, so the winds easily picked up the loose topsoil and swirled it into dense dust clouds, called “black blizzards.” Recurrent dust storms wreaked havoc, choking cattle and pasture lands and driving 60 percent of the population from the region. Most of these “exodusters” went to agricultural areas first and then to cities, especially in the Far West."

from: http://www.history.com/topics/dust-bowl
The drought during the Dust Bowl was the trigger not the cause. There has been droughts in that area off and on since the beginning of time and was nothing as compared to the destruction of the subsoil that chemical fertilizers caused. This huge area actually manifested its own climate, kind of like a firestorm does or a green area in a city. When the drought hit, this area had been under chemicals for almost 20 years and there was nothing left for the dry soil to cling to. So the cause of the Dust Bowl wasn't a drought, the cause was the farming practices of the time, mainly chemical nitrate fertilizers.
 
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Oh I see, but was the formulation of their fertilizers too much on the soil? I read that a very high concentration of nitrates will burn up organic material in the soil. I thought you were supposed to dilute it with water.
 
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Oh I see, but was the formulation of their fertilizers too much on the soil? I read that a very high concentration of nitrates will burn up organic material in the soil. I thought you were supposed to dilute it with water.
Chemical nitrates of any concentration will over time burn out all of the organic mater in the soil. They did not use liquid fertilizer. It was all granular. For instance today a low concentrate of nitrogen is 12. The regular around here that chemical growers use is 19. Look at the bags of chemical fertilizers where you live. They will be marked 12/24/12 or 19/5/9 or 13/7/12 or some series of numbers which shows the percentage of nitrogen/phosphorus/potash
 
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That is weird. In our place, we put those granules into water and sprinkle it to the plants.
I don't think we are talking about the same thing. Commercial growers fertilize thousands of acres and use tons of fertilizer at a time. What you are referring to is soluable fertilizers. Farmers use fertilizers that are more like pellets or granules. They load it in fertilizer spreaders that can be 30' wide and it actually incorporates or buries the fertilizer. Then right behind the spreader comes the planter loaded with tons of seed and the planter can plant 20-30 rows at a time, and all of this at the speed of walking. If you put this fertilizer in water it would just turn to mush and plug up the machinery.
'I sometimes use a liquid fertilizer but I find it is more expensive than a 40lb bag of granular and I can't remember the last time I used a soluable organic fertilizer. I am not even sure if there is such a thing
 
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The real trouble with petro-chemical fertilisers is that they are a substitute for sustainable practice.
The soil which became dust would not have become so depleted under organic practices in the first place.
 
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The real trouble with petro-chemical fertilisers is that they are a substitute for sustainable practice.
The soil which became dust would not have become so depleted under organic practices in the first place.
Back a few years ago when oil prices hit the roof chemical fertilizers became a little too expensive for the mega-farms and some of them switched to organics and found that organics were a viable alternative and sustainable. Unfortunately the government is helping maintain the chemical practices and subsidies are not readily available to organic growers. There is somewhere between 30 and 50 million acres under an organic program today. And more and more golf courses are going strictly organic so things are getting a little better I guess.
 
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In reply to JGPangi's question about the community compost. Not sure who gets credit for the idea. However, the city had a piece of tax forfeit property on the edge of town. The city had spring and fall leaf pickup days for years. Then one year it was decided, that instead of halling all of those leaves to landfill, lets compost them. This has been going on for about 15 years now and it is a wonderful and free resource.
 
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Wow, this is a really interesting and informative thread, I'm happy I found it. I feed my miniature roses a store-bought fertilizer, but I can't imagine using it on vegetables in my garden, I would be scared of eating them. I always have compost ready to be used:)
 
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The only thing I use a commercial or store bought fertilizer on is my corn. One application sure seams to make a difference. Everything else does just fine with the "community" compost.
 
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The only thing I use a commercial or store bought fertilizer on is my corn. One application sure seams to make a difference. Everything else does just fine with the "community" compost.
Something I have never been able to explain is that there are excellent COMMERCIAL ORGANIC FERTILIZERS out there that are balanced in their nutrients and minerals. Compost is great but just compost alone does not provide everything necessary for great production. It seems like everyone thinks that commercially made fertilizer is only made with chemicals and that is just not true. This mindset is infuriating.
 
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