What is organic fertilizer? According to Wikipedia, an organic fertilizer is “derived from animal matter, human excreta, or vegetable matter, (e.g. compost, manure).”
Organic fertilizers need to come from natural sources that supply plants with the macronutrients Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous P), and Potassium (K).
Consider: Animal matter/waste can come from manure, chicken/turkey litter and fish by-products. It can also be from animal carcasses, bones, hooves and horns (essentially all waste and by-products from the poultry and meat industry slaughter houses).
Were these animals raised organically and without pesticides, hormones, or growth regulators, etc.? Are they free from animal maladies such as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (aka Mad Cow Disease)?
Vegetable matter is plant waste from agriculture, textile, food manufacturing and food waste sources. Are these products grown, harvested, stored and created without pesticides?
Human excreta are sourced from urban sewage systems and turned into fertilizer as a “bio-solid*” through heat treatment. This is the most common type of fertilizer used by lawn care companies that claim to use “organic and organic based” fertilizers.
Are these products free from hormones and pharmaceuticals (birth control, chemotherapy, etc…)? Are they free from heavy metals and other pollutants? *Bio-solids cannot be considered as organic fertilizer per USDA, OMRI and other organic certification agencies.
All of the types of raw organic materials require energy to manufacture, harvest, store and deliver. These sources can be used to create “organic” fertilizer that contains varying amounts of N, P and K as well as beneficial microbes, humates and other elements that can nourish the soil where we grow our lawns and gardens.
Are organic fertilizers cheaper, better or safer than synthetically derived fertilizers?
As with most things in life, the answer is “it depends.” It depends upon the source, the manufacturing technique, how far the product has to travel, ease of use, potential contaminants, plant needs, and other considerations.
Note: The Maryland Department of Agriculture Nutrient Management Law forbids the application to a lawn of more than .25lbs per 1,000sq.ft. of organic Phosphorus per application or more than .5lbs per 1,000sq.ft. per year.
Question: Can you legally apply organic fertilizers in Maryland? Answer: It depends; go to http://mda.maryland.gov/Pages/fertilizer.aspx to find out more!