Essential Micronutrients

From Chapter 15 of "Healthy Garden Healthy You" by Milo Shammas

Do not chase after easy, miracle results. The oversimplification in the marketing of fertilizers promotes applying only nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. This one-dimensional approach produces short-term benefits and saves money but has long-term negative effects on the soil and overall plant health. The likely result of chemical N-P-K treatment is yield loss and poor nutrition from an imbalanced approach to meeting plants' nutrients needs. Look hard at your plants' need for micronutrients. They are the catalyst that makes other nutrients available.

Study Your Soil
This is the time to study your soil, test it, track what you apply and consider buying a nutrient test kit along with a pH meter. Using tests to measure the nutrients in your soil is always a good idea, but not always necessary if you are feeding with a complete fertilizer. Know your soil's pH, since the pH determines the availability of many nutrients. To get the best yields and optimum plant health, keep soil fertility in balance and not cut back on nutrients. Even commercial growers on a strict budget know they need micronutrients as well as N, P and K; years ago they would have just cut out the micronutrients.

Proven Results
Research and development (R&D) play an important role in understanding the importance of micronutrients, especially sulfur, which was once a common soil ingredient from atmospheric sulfur deposited by rainfall. As we have reduced sulfur pollution, or "acid rain," indirect and direct yield response to applied sulfur has increased, especially over the past several years.

Without sulfur in the soil, nitrogen losses can be as great as 30 percent when compared to an N-P-K-only fertilizer. Sulfur also plays a critical role in forming amino acids and proteins and in producing chlorophyll. We have also seen dramatic increases in overall plant health. I have done field tests using simple N-P-K fertilizers against organic, micronutrient-rich blended fertilizers. The results were dramatic and clear. The organic fertilizer meets the micronutrient needs of plants better than the N-P-K-only treatment.

The Natural Cycle
The base ingredient of many organic fertilizers is usually one of the following: chicken manure or dried poultry waste, blood meal, bone meal, feather meal, alfalfa meal, or kelp and fish bone meal. The last two are my favorites and produce healthy plants every time. They are full of both primary nutrients and micronutrients.

The ocean is the lowest part of the earth, where all nutrients eventually deposit. Micronutrients cycle back and are absorbed by simple plankton and higher aquatic plants absorb. Fish consume the aquatic plants, and the larger fish eat smaller fish, transferring the eroded micronutrients from microscopic elements to the large fish we harvest from our oceans. This is why I recommend using fish bone meal as your base ingredient. Fish bone meal is also used in pet foods and in commercial fisheries to help maintain needed nutrients. Eating a diet high in wild caught fish is healthy for us. By contrast, animals raised unsustainably in feedlots, fed a "scientific diet," injected with hormones and antibiotics and restricted in their movements to fatten them produce less nutritious food. While you may not consider these practices inhumane to animals, the negative impact on humans is clear.

Many organic fertilizers use chicken manure as a base ingredient. While this is fine, it is inferior, because it decomposes too quickly and mimics chemical fertilizers in its soluble nutrient availability. Chicken manure is also very salty, which can upset the soil pH.

Other organic fertilizers also use blood meal, bone meal or meat and bone meal as the base ingredient. I believe these ingredients are inferior and do not trust them. Many experts report they have the potential to carry "mad cow disease." Many of these commodity meal ingredients are full of hormones and antibiotics introduced to feed lot animals in genetically modified grains. Be wise about your choices and ask questions of makers of chicken, blood and bone meal.

Ocean Rich Nutrients
I prefer nutrients from the ocean. I like fishmeal, kelp meal and seaweed extract. Fish is full of protein that breaks down and becomes a slow-release source of nitrogen. I also prefer cold-processed kelp meal and the very rich seaweed extract, which contains more than 70 trace minerals along with important growth hormones that strengthen plant cell structure. Kelp and seaweed contain amino acids, enzymes and carbohydrates, both simple and complex. They also enhance seed germination and increase the uptake of nutrients. Sea plants are full of micronutrients and potassium, an essential element for overall plant health and stress relief.

Research and Balance
When I am not writing books or gardening, I research different micronutrient blends and crop mixes. I strive to formulate blends that contain a naturally high percentage of micronutrients such as sulfur and zinc. Small amounts of zinc are critically important to plant health. Getting the right specific balance of a wide range of micronutrients is the key to developing any organic fertilizers and amendments.

Micronutrients are important in many different situations. Soil can be depleted from over gardening or farming. Micronutrient replenishment with organic fertilizers increases crop production, quality of produce and yields healthier fruits and vegetables. The process supports the viability of beneficial soil microbes and mycorrhizae, growing the healthy bacteria for human and animal health. Micronutrient-rich fertilizers can help you save money, reduce fertilizer costs, save on energy use and decrease your carbon footprint. Applying more does not always give more benefit. Getting the balance right is the key to success (just as taking one multi-vitamin is good for you while taking the whole bottle can have adverse effects). Get the balance right!

Milo Lou Shammas
Founder and Formulator

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