The Q&A Archives: Cow Manure vs. Petroleum-derived Fertilizers

Question: Is organic gardening, organic gardening? I would like to keep my garden as healthy as possible. But I think that when I spead cow manure, I may be doing something not too healthy. Cow poop may have BHA, BHT DHE, DHA, Antibiotics, cow growth hormone, and other weird man-made stuff. When I spread 10-10-10 from the chemical company, I am speading just 10-10-10 from some oil well. I am not afraid of bacteria from the cow, I assume that it was pasteurized. So, what's more organic, 10-10-10 or cow poop? Bill Bargagliotti Memphis, TN

Answer: This is a good question - all that is fed and injected into cattle these days has got to end up somewhere. Fortunately, we can count on the composting process to break down a lot of the "stuff" that is present in manure. A lot more research has been done with human waste than with animal waste, but proper treatment of the "product" makes them safe for use in garden situations. I'm not saying that it's perfect, since the entire globe we live on is swimming in all kinds of contaminants. I doubt anything can be counted on to be pure anymore, but we can do our best to use healthy practices and foster a cleaner environment. Support organic beef farmers! The difference between using manure vs. a petroleum-derived fertilizer is that manure builds humus and fertility and the latter is a plant food. Manure can't compete in supplying the major plant nutrients, but 10-10-10 does nothing to promote a soil environment that supports plant growth, and can often be detrimental to soil life. Have you had your soil tested to make sure your garden needs a supplemental fertilizer? If not, you can contact your extension service (901-766-2946) for soil test information. And ask them this same question - their response may be different than mine, and you'll have another point of view.

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