Just as humans serve good and nutritious foods to keep themselves healthy and strong, plants need nutritious foods as well, we call them fertilizers. As you may know, the soil contains all the nutrients the plants need, and more than that plants are autotrophs, which means they prepare their own food materials through the process called photosynthesis which is needed for their growth and development.
So, do they need extra food?
The answer is yes, they need. Let’s know why in depth.
Why it is important to fertilize the plants?
We human beings get all the nutrients we need for our healthy growth and development by consuming nutritious foods. But how do the foods that we consume get nutrients in them?
As the plants grow they consume all the available nutrients that are present in the soil according to their requirement. When those plants are harvested, they bring nutrients with them from the soil to our dining table. If we do not provide nutrients back to the soil through fertilizers, there may be a nutrient deficiency in growing plants over time. It works as a link. The nutrients present in the fertilizer feed the soil, the soil feeds the plants, plants feed the humans and animals. So, it is necessary to restore what we take out from the soil, that is why fertilizing the plants is very important.
What to feed your plants?
It is very important to figure out what kind of fertilizers can be used to feed your plants. Organic fertilizers are a great choice for plants and soil by all means as they are natural. Like chemical fertilizers, organic fertilizers do not leave the chemical compounds behind in the soil and upset the soil environment.
Before knowing how organic fertilizers can promote the healthy growth and development of plants, it is necessary to know what exactly they are and how they are different from synthetic or chemical fertilizers.
What are Organic Fertilizers?
Organic fertilizers are environmentally friendly nutrient supplements that are produced from 100% natural raw materials and contain carbon. Usually, these manures are made by decomposing biodegradable wastes such as animal waste, plant wastes, and even human waste.
Organic fertilizers not only help the healthy growth of the plants but also improve the quality and productivity of the soil by sustaining soil microorganisms. Organic matter and the nutrients present in the organic fertilizers improves the soil texture and structure. Hence these are the better and greener supplements for the soil in order to make it more ideal for plants.
The nutrients contained in the organic fertilizers are not readily available to plants, unlike synthetic fertilizers. The organic matter present in the organic fertilizer has to be broken down by the microorganisms present and the biological process to simpler nutrient molecules.
This slow process ensures timely consumption and easy absorption of the nutrients by plants.
Different Types of Organic fertilizers
Organic fertilizers are derived from the decomposition of naturally available raw materials such as animal sources, plant sources, and mineral sources. Based on their derivability from the sources, organic fertilizers are classified into different types. Below are the most common types of organic fertilizers.
Animal-Based Organic Fertilizers
1. Bone Meal
Bone meal fertilizer is made from animal bones. It is finely grounded for the application on plants. Bone meal is an excellent nutrient supplement of calcium and phosphorous. Calcium present in the bone meal helps in strengthening the cell wall of plants and promoting the healthy growth of the plants. Another key nutrient is phosphorous. Phosphorous plays an important role in plant vital functions such as root, flower, and fruit production. It also promotes flowering and leads to a higher yield of the plant.
2. Blood Meal
Blood meal fertilizer is dried animal blood that is a by-product of meatpacking plants.
It can be made of any animal's blood assassinated for its meat but is mostly made from cow blood. Here the blood is collected and dried into a powder and packed.
A blood meal is a rich nitrogen supplement that you can add to increase the nitrogen level in the soil. It is a good supplement for plants suffering from nitrogen deficiency.
Note - A blood meal is a concentrated form of nitrogen. So it is better to use according to the recommended dosage as over-application can do more harm than better.
3. Animal Manure
Animal manures are made of waste products of livestock. It can be waste products of cattle, sheep, poultry, goat, pig, and other domestic pets. (e.g. Cow manure, chicken manure, pig manure, goat and sheep manure)
All these wastes have been composted biologically by microorganisms in order to break down the complex organic matter into simpler nutrient molecules for easy absorption by plants.
Proper incorporation of the animal manures increases the soil organic matter, improves physical, chemical, and biological properties of the soil, and improves the ability of soil to hold the essential nutrients for long.
In simpler words, vermicompost is a casting of earthworms. It is the excrement of earthworms that feed on organic wastes and gives out in the digested form known as vermicompost that contains a higher amount of growth promoters, micro, and macronutrients. Incorporation of vermicompost help in restoring the soil microbial population which includes nitrogen fixers, phosphate solubilizers, etc. It also plays a major role in enhancing the structural stability of the soil, aeration, promoting the healthy growth of the plants, and quality of the yield.
5. Fish Meal
Fish meal is animal-based organic fertilizer produced from carcasses of whole fish and the dried fish leftovers after the oil and water are pressed out. It is a rich source of nitrogen, phosphorous, and other essential trace elements. Fish meal feeds the microbial biomass of the soil hence it enhances their activity and vigorous root growth and higher productivity of the plants.
6. Shellfish Fertilizer/Crustacean Meal
Shellfish fertilizers are made of crustaceans that are composed of shells such as crabs, shrimps, and even lobsters. These fertilizers are a natural source of nitrogen, calcium, and many other trace elements. Chitin present in the shells of the crustaceans encourages the growth of harmful pest nematode inhibitors. Shellfish fertilizers help in reducing pathogens and weed seeds in the soil. Thus they provide a healthy growing environment for the plants.
Plant-Based Organic Fertilizers
1. Compost Manure
Compost is an organic fertilizer that is obtained from the biological decomposition of organic wastes by microorganisms. Generally, the finished product is rich dark brown in color, crumby, and has an earthy smell. Compost is an excellent source of both macro and micronutrients. It is useful in improving the soil’s physio-chemical properties. It also helps in enhancing the soil microbial activity and promoting the better yield of the plants. Composting is the process that offers a better opportunity to the people by recycling organic wastes including food wastes and protecting the environment from harmful chemicals.
2. Liquid Seaweed Organic Fertilizer
As its name suggests seaweed fertilizers are derived from natural marine plants seaweed as a raw material. This organic fertilizer is made from a large brown algae seaweed known as kelp. Seaweed extract is an excellent biostimulant that promotes nutrient uptake from the soil, efficiency of nutrient usage, tolerance to environmental stress, and boosts antioxidant properties. It also contains macro and micronutrients, vitamins, amino acids, and growth promoters such as auxins, cytokinins, and abscisic acids. Thus seaweed is not only promoting the growth of the plants but also provides defense against harmful diseases and pests.
3. Cottonseed Meal
Cottonseed meal fertilizer is a co-product that is left over after the oil extraction from the cotton seeds. It can be a great pick for acid-loving plants as it lowers the pH of the soil and creates an acidic soil condition. Cottonseed meal is a slow-releasing nitrogen-rich fertilizer that contains Nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium in the ratio of 6:2:2. As it is a nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer, it is a better choice to speed up the healthy growth and development of the plants. Cottonseed meal is also an excellent soil amendment, that improves the texture, structure, and water retention capacity of the soil.
Mineral-Based Organic Fertilizers
Greensand is a mineral-based organic fertilizer that deposits from the bottom of the ocean. Although it is considered organic, it doesn’t contain any byproducts of living organisms like other organic fertilizers. The greensand is the best source of potassium and also contains iron, magnesium, phosphorous, calcium, and some trace elements. Like other fertilizers, greensand does not feed plants with nutrients directly but it indirectly enhances the overall growth of the plants by improving the quality of the soil.
Greensand is an excellent soil amendment. It increases the moisture and nutrient retention capacity of the soil. In clay soils, the application of greensand improves the soil structure by loosening its compactness and increasing the supply of oxygen, thus helping in the healthy root growth of the plants.
2. Rock Phosphate
Rock phosphate is a sedimentary rock and an essential source of phosphorus. It is also called rock dust as it contains rock minerals in them. Rock phosphate is the richest source of phosphorus and other essential nutrients that are needed for the maturation and overall growth of the plants. As we all know phosphorus is a very essential nutrient to encourage healthy flower and fruit production. Application of rock phosphate before the flowering season will result in healthy blooms and fruit production. Phosphorus also plays a major role in photosynthesis, energy storage, and transfer, cell enlargement, and other metabolic activities of plants.
Advantages of Organic Fertilizers over Chemical Fertilizers
- Organic fertilizers are derived from natural raw materials such as plants, animals, and minerals. They do not contain any harmful chemicals that can pollute the environment and contaminate the water and land resources. Hence they are biodegradable, sustainable, and environmentally friendly
- They are a good blend of macro and micronutrients. Like chemical/ synthetic fertilizers, organic fertilizers not only provide primary macronutrients. Along with Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium (N, P, K), they also provide a balanced amount of micronutrients as well
- Their behavior of releasing the small and balanced amounts of nutrients slowly over time in response to the plant needs allows the efficient usage of nutrients
- Organic fertilizers release the nutrients slowly to the soil by the decomposition and breaking down naturally, thus eliminating the risk of burning of the crops and also reducing the quick leaching of nutrients from the soil
- They improve the physical and physiological structure of the soil by increasing the organic matter, reducing the compaction, surface crusting, and increasing the water infiltration capacity
- Organic fertilizers do not contain any harmful chemicals and do not cause leaching. They reduce the acidity of the soil, hence they do not kill beneficial microorganisms present in the soil
- Soil microorganisms are one of the important components that result in healthy and productive soil. Organic fertilizers improve the soil tilth and aeration, this facilitates the increasing activity of the beneficial microorganisms to release nutrients to the soil
- Organic fertilizers not only serve as better fertilizers but also as better soil conditioners. They help in increasing the microbial biomass in the soil hence they improve the quality and productivity of both soil and the plants.
Impacts of chemical fertilizers used in agriculture on the environment
From the surface, it is true that chemical or inorganic fertilizers increase our agricultural production in a short period of time. But if we get down to its depths, we realize that they are having a devastating effect on our agriculture and environment. Although chemical fertilizers provide the essential nutrients for the growth and development of plants, they do cause certain adverse effects over a period of time unlike organic fertilizers do.
- Chemical fertilizers are manufactured synthetically to provide essential nutrients and to enhance the growth of plants. Prolonged use of these fertilizers causes groundwater pollution as they are highly soluble and get absorbed by the ground rapidly even before fully benefiting the plants
- Chemicals present in synthetic fertilizers affect the soil microbial population by altering the soil pH and making the soil environment acidic that is unsuitable for the microorganisms. Thus it decreases the microbial population which are beneficial to the plants and soil health
- The repeated application of chemical fertilizers causes soil compaction. A decrease in the size of the pores between the soil particles makes it difficult for root penetration into the soil. Soil compactness also causes poor drainage, poor aeration, and worsening of the soil health
- Unlike organic fertilizers, chemical fertilizers are rapid releasers of nutrients. They contain nitrogen in abundance when compared to organic fertilizers. Overapplication of these fertilizers leads to higher nitrogen levels in the soil. This attracts the pests and also increases mosaic infections
- The release of greenhouse gases from prolonged and excess use of nitrogen fertilizers can contribute to the global warming
- Prolonged use of chemical fertilizers results in loss of essential nutrients from the soil, this leads to the production of foods that are deficient in nutrients.
Importance of balanced use of Organic fertilizers
Generally, we all know that the use of chemical fertilizers leads to devastating effects on the environment. But do you know the improper use of organic fertilizers can also contribute the environmental pollution?
Yes. Fertilizers are necessary in order to provide crops with essential nutrients. But it is true that even improper usage of organic fertilizers is not safe for the plants as well as the environment. Application of nutrients to the plants above the optimum levels leads to adverse effects on plants like stunted growth, burned symptoms, and susceptibility to pests and diseases.
Usage of fertilizers more than the recommended doses leads to Eutrophication in the water bodies. Higher levels of nitrogen and phosphorus present in the soil leach away into the water bodies. This unwanted addition of nutrients promotes the growth of algae, microorganisms, and plants in the waterways. Their fast growth uses up all the oxygen present in the water bodies and this makes it difficult for the aquatic ecosystem to get oxygen. This condition leads to Eutrophication.
Improper use of Organic fertilizers causes harm more than good.
So, the balanced use of any fertilizer is very crucial in order to maintain the natural balance of our environment.
Frequently asked questions
1. What are Manures?
Manures are the organic by-products that are obtained from the biologically decomposed animal wastes, plant wastes, or human wastes by the action of microorganisms. They do not contain any harmful chemicals in them, hence they are biodegradable, sustainable, and environmentally friendly.
2. What is the difference between organic fertilizers and inorganic fertilizers?
Both inorganic and organic fertilizers do the same job. They both feed the plants by providing essential nutrients for their healthy growth and development. But they do their job in different ways and their effect is also different from each other.
Organic fertilizers are derived from naturally available raw materials such as animal wastes, plant residues, and human wastes.
Inorganic fertilizers are chemically manufactured from minerals and synthetic chemicals
Organic fertilizers are biodegradable, renewable resources, sustainable, and environmentally friendly
Inorganic fertilizers are non-biodegradable, non-renewable, and harmful to the environment
Organic fertilizers release nutrients slowly by undergoing biological decomposition and breaking down by soil microorganisms
Inorganic fertilizers are water-soluble, hence they release nutrients to the soil quickly when compared to the organic fertilizers
A higher application rate of fertilizers is necessary
Fever amounts are needed for inorganic fertilizers when compared to the organic fertilizers
Excessive application of organic fertilizers do not cause any burning symptoms on plants as it is a slow-releasing fertilizer
Heavy application of inorganic fertilizers can burn the plants and also causes toxicity in the soil
Organic fertilizers are the better soil amendments. They improve the physical. Chemical and biological conditions of the soil
The application of inorganic fertilizers has an adverse effect on the soil structure. They increase the soil compactness by reducing the pore space between soil particles
3. How do organic fertilizers improve the soil structure?
Organic fertilizers improve the soil structure by adding the organic matter content to the soil. They improve the physical quality of the soil by improving the water infiltration capacity, thus they reduce the soil compaction and surface crusting. Organic fertilizers also help in increasing the microbial biomass in the soil hence they improve the quality and productivity of both soil and the plants.
4. What time of the day is best to fertilize the plants?
It is better to fertilize the plants early in the morning or in the late evening as the plants are under the stress during the mid-day heat. At the cool hours of the day, nutrients get absorbed into the soil pretty well without evaporation.
5. Can organic fertilizers burn plants?
Yes, excessive use of organic fertilizers also can cause burning symptoms in the plants but the effect is very less when compared to the inorganic fertilizers. The slow-releasing nature of organic fertilizers minimizes the chances of causing burning. However, the balanced use of any fertilizers is better.
6. How often should potted plants be fertilized?
Fertilize your potted plants once every 2 - 3 weeks. Avoid the application of fertilizers during the winter season as most plants go dormant, they do not show any active growth. Thus they don’t need extra food at that time.
7. Why it is important to use organic fertilizers?
Organic fertilizers are biodegradable, renewable, and sustainable sources. They do not cause any harmful effects on the environment like chemical fertilizers. They are a good blend of both macro and micronutrients. They release the nutrients slowly into the soil over time in response to the plant. Organic fertilizers do not cause leaching, hence they ensure the complete absorption of nutrients by the plants.
To protect our mother nature and ourselves from the effect of harmful chemicals, it is very essential to go for the application of organic fertilizers.
8. Are homemade fertilizers good for plants?
Yes. Homemade fertilizers can serve as good organic fertilizers for your garden. You can use the available materials at your home as effective fertilizers, such as banana peels, eggshells, coffee grounds, and compost obtained from decomposed kitchen waste.
9. Can we replace urea with organic fertilizer, or in other words, cow dung?
Yes, you can replace urea with cow dung manure. The main objective of the application of urea fertilizer is to provide nitrogen. Urea is naturally available in the excretion of animals. So, shade-dried cow dung is a good and desirable replacement for urea.
10. What are organic fertilizers made of?
Organic fertilizers are made of naturally available raw materials such as animal waste, plant residues, and human waste. They are biodegradable, sustainable, renewable, and environmentally friendly in nature.
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