I think we all can agree that the term “organic” has been one of the most misused words over the last couple decades. Organic labeling on grocery store vegetables and other products has created a considerable amount of confusion as to what the term means. Most people just assume that organic is a good thing, without truly understanding the practices that were used to grow those organic fruits or vegetables.
Organic vs. Synthetic Garden Fertilizers
From a pure chemistry perspective, “organic” refers to a molecule that contains carbon. These carbon-based molecules can be small, or they can be quite large with long chains called “hydrocarbons.” This is helpful to understand how an organic fertilizer works. Organic fertilizers are full of these carbon-based molecules that will feed your soil biology and your plants as they are broken into smaller molecules.
Plants absorb nitrogen in two primary forms -- nitrate and ammonium. Synthetic fertilizers usually have one or both in varying concentrations depending on the source. And while these nitrate and ammonium-based fertilizers can certainly give a quick “pop” to your backyard garden plants, they don’t promote long-term soil health. Overuse of these types of fertilizers can damage your soil biology over time, making plants more dependent on these fast-acting fertilizers.
As mentioned above, organic fertilizers contain large carbon-based molecules that may be derived from a variety of sources. These molecules are too large to be absorbed by plant cell walls. They must be biologically broken into smaller forms so that plants can use the nutrients therein. This explains why plants respond differently to organic versus synthetic fertilizers. Synthetic fertilizers will give plants a quick shot, but it doesn’t promote soil biology and the plants become dependent on it. Organic fertilizers will provide a slower, long-term release of available nutrients, but will also promote soil health that can maintain nutrient levels and continually feed plants.
Factors Affecting Organic Fertilizer Availability
The speed at which organic fertilizers are decomposed and made available to plants will depend on a couple factors. The more soil biology you have, the faster the breakdown will occur. Additionally, soil temperatures will play a major role here. As soils warm, enzymatic activity increases and large carbon-based molecules will break down faster. Therefore, traditional organic fertilizers tend to work faster in the spring and summer garden as opposed to the fall and winter garden.
As we’ve mentioned on previous blogs, the fall and winter months are a great time to be growing your own food in the backyard garden. There are many cold-tolerant vegetables that can be grown in most growing zones throughout the country. But with cooling temperatures and less daylight, how do we ensure that organic fertilizers will still be effective as soil temperatures cool?
The Best Organic Fertilizers for Fall & Winter
One way to combat this is to ensure that you are always promoting quality soil health throughout the warmer months. You can do this by adding organic matter via compost and/or cover crops. You can also promote healthy soil by using fertilizers like AgroThrive that have high concentrations of beneficial microbes.
Another way to ensure your plants are well-fed during the cool-season garden is to use a biologically active organic fertilizer. These “pre-digested” fertilizers contain microbes that are actively breaking down organic molecules into usable forms for your plants. This means that you don’t have to wait for the breakdown of these organic molecules in the soil. The nutrients are already available in the water-soluble AgroThrive fertilizer that can be easily applied at the plant roots.
At Lazy Dog Farm, we feed our cool-season garden plants with AgroThrive General Purpose fertilizer every 2-3 weeks throughout the fall and winter growing season. If we’re fertilizing a larger plot, we’ll typically inject the liquid fertilizer through our drip tape system that is buried beneath our plants. If we’re only fertilizing a few plants in our raised bed garden, we’ll usually mix 6-8 ounces of AgroThrive in a 5-gallon bucket and use a pitcher to pour the liquid around the base of our plants. This ensures that our plants have all the nutrients they need to produce delicious vegetables for our family and friends!