Saturday, 12 December 2015

Trying to avoid generating new misconceptions

It is amazing how you can generate misconceptions, especially, as in my case, when you don't fully explain what you mean. 

Manmade chemical fertilisers do not necessarily degrade soil.  However they replace essential organic matter in the form of composts and manures which are essential for maintaining soil life and structure. 
I remember seeing a farmer on the television complaining that when he tried to plough in his straw stubble rather than burn it,  it had not decomposed even after one year. 
He held some of his soil in his hand to demonstrate that the straw was still there.  From what I saw the soil was no more than dust with little organic matter and virtually no life within it.  He had been using man made chemical fertilisers for years.  No wonder the straw did not decompose.

We have been throwing away vast amounts of local organic matter - the leaves swept up in towns and cities, shredded woody material, our vegetable peelings, our garden waste- that could easily be composted and used as fertiliser.  Although we are starting to utilise this material now rather than burning or adding it to land fill sites,  an awful amount is still wasted. 
Many years ago I wrote about how nutrients from far off lands were being imported to this country in the form of food plants like citrus fruit, tea and coffee.  We ate them and then flushed them into the sea through the sewers.  If we left the nutrients in the countries that need them allowing them to produce enough food for themselves rather than export it to us then there may be a little less starvation in the world.  Also, we need to consider whether we can rejoin the natural recycling of humanure rather than just flushing it into the sea and contributing to dead zones. 

Man made fertilisers do not necessarily degrade the soil, however they are expensive, based on oil technology, use vast amounts of energy, have to be transported large distances and bypass the necessity of adding organic matter to the soil. 
Although we can grow plants by hydroponics in sterile factories, I still would rather grow and eat a moth eaten organically home grown vegetable.  Not because it tastes better or because it has more vitamins or it has more fibre or because it doesn’t need to be transported vast distances or it’s  not covered in unwanted pesticides or because it is not overfull of nitrogen produced by the Haber Bosh process but just because it is a wonderful thing to be able to do.  Fresh is best.


  1. Thank you for your recent responses to my defences of fertiliser and contrary opinion on mycorrhiza from a packet.
    You have inspired me to do a more rounded review about fertilisers in my next blog post - although as I work ahead of myself it will be next month!

  2. I will look forward to it Roger. With the experience and expertise on the web, I am sure that we can develop a consensus about many gardening "truths". I don't mind what they are. I am no evangelist but I would like them to touch the earth a little more lightly than we are doing at the moment.