82 thoughts on “Why We Don’t Use Synthetic Fertilizers

  1. Excellent information and well made video thanks.
    Looking forward to your future evaluations of individual organic fertilisers.

  2. Your organic process is awe-inspiring. I am curious your thoughts about the packaged organic fertilizers vs synthetic. As the larger population are more into convenience. I would mention one local personality here in Texas "says" that plants cannot tell the difference between a synthetic and organic fertilizer. Hope this encourages more to grow organically.

  3. Thank you for that fair and unbiased evaluation. I have realised that a middle path approach and moderation is key to most things in life.

    Home gardeners growing in ground would probably be following your approach so as to preserve nature and the food web chain. Those growing in containers probably wouldn't mind using chemical fertilizers as it does simplify the growing experience( Going organic does involve some amount of work- collecting leaves, coffee grounds, composting etc which may not be every one's cup of tea).

    As a container gardener I am too passionate about composting and vermicomposting and hence don't use any chemical fertilizers in my containers. This does reduce my harvest size considerably as I don't have access to any ready to use organic fertilizers like in Usa or Europe. Sometimes I am tempted to use the chemicals as foliar spray for a quick fix, which will spare my red worms in the containers.

    Hydroponics growers would need to use chemicals too as someone has commented, better than buying store bought.

    If everyone does their small bit to preserve nature in which ever way possible(separating dry and wet wastes here in India, using water judiciously etc), I guess it is possible to change the world, one yard at a time!!!:):):)


  4. I love the comparative style of assigning grades. As you know I'm a firm believer in simple organic gardening however I think it's all too easy in our culture to be drawn to the quick fix or "miracle" product.

    Patients and understanding the tools we have available I think will yield crazy results like your 15 foot tall squash plants and your 20 foot tall Jerusalem artichokes !

    Well done my friend !

  5. 2cents.
    First, I garden the same way as you.  I did purchase and use an Organic Fertilizer for the first time last year (it was clearance priced and I couldn't resist).  I did have my best season ever but we also had great weather and I feel like my several years of "growing my soil" also paid off.

    I do think your comparison should also deal with labor cost.   Your time is worth something and you should probably factor that into your cost evaluation.  All the management of the soil takes many hours of your labor whereas synthetics do not.  So synthetics do have a benefit in this area.  Some people (especially older gardeners) simply do not have the elbow grease available to them to invest so much labor.

    In the end, for me, the damage to the environment caused by the production of synthetics would not be worth it even if there were no other detrimental factors.  But add in the damage that over fertilizing can cause to the soil and wildlife habitat–and it's a no-brainer.

    Finally, regarding your cost of cover crop seed…  I always let one bed of my crimson clover go to seed and harvest it.  This has been enough to reseed the next season.

  6. Let me get this straight. I can make FREE, natural, and ECO friendly plant food or i can pay for unnatural, polluting, synthetic…stuff. No thank you. Compost and Worm casting are the clear winner here : )

  7. thank you for sharing the knowledge!
    I started getting ground coffee at near coffee shop and building raised bed made out of reclaimed pallets. I still yet have to find free wood chip near my area.

  8. Very informative, thank you for sharing it with us.
    But has anyone else thought HO MY GOD WHAT IS THAT MAN WEARING,
    IS THAT A BRA!!! 

  9. Patrick,
    Good video!  I think according to my lazy approach for using minimal time, cost, and effort to this date the synthetic gardening wins.  That said my garden is totally natural no sprays, pesticides, or herbicides.  The hidden factor is; my garden is all wood chips decomposing, in the third growing season, and will only get better.  Last time I checked I had a phenomenal amount of worms.  This approach takes some faith, patience, and humility.  In the end I expect a long lasting fruitful garden abounding with organic life.
    PS I did some checking on the local water supply and they use chloramine for water purification instead of chlorine.  This means the purification ingredient does not dissipate from the water.  So I will be anxious to see you and Stephen team up on what all of it means for the gardener.  Once again Gooood job.

  10. Great vid !
    Some things might be taken into consideration IMO.
    The things that are leaving your property are your own (fertile) waste products, so what most of us do, is eat & drink from the garden (if we are lucky enough to have one), and flush these nutrients down the toilet ( and bring in coffee grounds, leaves (which should rot under the tree that lost them) and chips (ditto) and stuff AND/OR fertilizers to replenish the soil). What we eat, leaves our body as well, in a slightly different form, but all the minerals are still there. Even so, after we die, we feed the soil of the cemetery instead of the soil that fed us for all these years, or we burn all these nutrients, while we could feed other organisms with it and make it part of the food-web. Ofcourse there will be people who'll say that with all the drugs and illnesses  that is the safest way to deal with our waste-products, so it's easiest to destroy these products (and for some the least controversial as many people are grossed out by death and everything that leaves our bodies), still it's very wasteful. Plant a tree on the contents of a compost toilet or a dead body, and let that become part of the food-web. Let gramps feed a tree that feeds his offspring :o)
    If we'd return our waste and bodies to the soil that fed us, we'd only be needing some solar energy to feed ourselves, and only temporary take some minerals.
    I'm aware that this is prolly not realistic in modern society as most of us are conditioned to believe we need plants to process our bodies & wastes, but sustainability should be that you don't use anything from outside your food-patch (as that will diminish the fertility of the other place), and still build up soil so you can walk away, return after years and the garden is still thriving, growing, with greater soil and fertility the older it gets ?
    Cheers ! 

  11. Wonderful video Patrick, thank you so much. I love these in depth looks into these matters. I`m afraid that I don`t have the patience to analyse things in such depth so I am indebted to people such as yourself to help expand my knowledge. Thank you.

  12. Interesting and I do agree.
    But do realize there are two preservations running here, in that study.
    The company making synthetics is attempting some dual action process for large farming projects.
    Fertilizer/Pest Control…or other systems to develop and even scavenging for side products.
    They also must be a very large endeavor–to even make money.
    The organic and worm casting project is a small endeavor.
    If a large corporation attempted that, the smell would be atrocious.
    …also there would be a lot lost due to un-manageability.
    Your tomato's are the loveliest, I have ever seen.
    I can't say I could ever be a backyard gardener because I'm an apt. dweller.
    My mom was an Italian-American.
    Her veg. garden provided some meals.
    Her father's garden was very large, the whole backyard, in the middle of a city.
    Plus making wine.
    Thinking this and understanding my own ways of living.
    The supermarket does provide a good diet–as long as you use fresh clean drinking water.
    The best food in the world will not work–if your drinking bad water.
    Or, what else is being used as a beverage.
    Nice work there, have a great day.

  13. Nice video but from my side you forgot two aspects time and efort
    But I am willing to put the time and efor in for the results that I get and they keep geting better

  14. Great info, Patrick!  It's great to hear from your research that sustainable gardening can be so inexpensive!

  15. Nice! I have always disliked the word ORGANIC (it's overly broad useage. You alluded to the fact that some products aren't great. I dislike the fact that products call themselves organic when they're actually horrible products. You, Patrick are the perfect person I think to research/present examples of what organic REALLY means and how some use the word too liberally.

  16. Thank you Patrick AGAIN for helping, guiding and inspiring all gardeners young, old, experienced & want-to- be's.  Organic gardening does not have to be expensive and is VERY beneficial to our health & well being. What type of cherry tomato was pictured in this video?

  17. I'll add another reason to use organic,

    It goes to how scientists can identify whether nitrogen, etc. showing up in groundwater run-off is synthetic or not.  Different isotopes of the elements predominate in the two.  Whjile that difference gets brushed off, generally speaking, two different isotopes of any element are just that, different, and have slightly different properties of.  The most obvious example and somewhat extreme example would be the difference between Unranium 238 and 235, the latter being the fissile form of uranium.  Could it be that plants adapted to natural sources of nutrition over the millennia may be healthier if fed natural nutrients and , hence, better food for us when all is said and done if fed fertilizer with the ratio of isotopes they were cultivated with while being domesticated and later bred to produce the varieties we have over the millenia.?

    It's just a thought.

  18. Well thought out. I would have given a couple of more "B"'s to organic But, the results would have been just as clear. ORGANIC, while not absolutely perfect, definitely the way to go. Grow a great garden , while minimizing my impact on nature is my goal. Happy worms and bugs, is good, too. Every one / everything wins. Please create a " Mulching the Garden, Organically" video. I would like to conserve more water in my raised bed gardens. Thanks for your detailed work. 

  19. To be less biased you should account for the extra time it takes to implement organic practices. Such as the time spent building compost piles. I enjoy doing these things so it's not a chore to me but it should be accounted for. Great video still.

  20. you are giving your channel's namesake great credit! cover crops seal the deal! effective use of the soil amendments insure microbiological activity that sustains the plants, cover crops feed the worms and fix nitrogen naturally and compost with worm castings complete the matrix! I have seen the acoustic finger-picking music intro and exit video, when will the electric in the corner be demonstrated? I have noticed its placement in these recent instructional videos… thanks for the lesson.

  21. Good video. But still I have that "but"- not all compost has the same impact on the environment. It has to be clarified to people who want to grow organic crops that the only sustainable compost in existance is the one produced on site. Even certificated "organic" compost was grown outside and the nutrient in it were extracted from an other site, and that leads to soil depletion. So the compost should be created from the waste produced in our own gardens and from local waste material that would otherwise end up in the landfill. Also from what I heard worm castings can leach nutrients to the groundwater more easily than compost so they should also be used moderately.

  22. Thanks for the info Patrick. It is sad to lopk at soil that has been farmed using standard commercial practices . It looks so dead.

  23. Thanks Patrick for that very informative video. It's good to know that it possible to sustain my garden without spending too much. I do occasionaly have to use a little Synthetic NPK. Thanks for sharing

  24. What cover crop seeds do you use to enhance the soil? Does it come as a mix? How much do you spend and where do you purchase them from?

  25. I like the thought of feeding the soil to feed your plants, it just makes sense to me.  That is my main attraction to organic gardening.  For me, personally, any environmental benefit outside my yard is just bonus.  I have 2-3 compost piles per year, but, I need about 8x that for my space.  I don't mind supplementing with synthetic fertilizers every now and then, but usually only 1 maybe 2 times a year.  In pots, synthetic all the way. 

    As to your assessment, I would agree that with your methods, your assessment is good.  But, many people spend big $$ on organic fertilizers, organic mediums, etc.. I would expect that assessment to be somewhere between your methods and straight up synthetic.  In other words, all organic methods are not equal.

  26. Interesting comparison, Patrick.
    I stopped buying synthetic fertilizers years ago and haven't looked back. My own compost and my worm farm castings have served me well with minimal effort and after the initial set up, zero cost. 

  27. i think that's pretty spot on patrick! even  thought i don't just rely on organic matter like compost and buy composted chicken pellet fertilizer and that's a cost as well just like man made fertilizers. However chicken pellets feed the soil and contributed to the soil food web, and i get great results from it.

  28. Thanks Patrick, another great video showing how local resources are best and you don't need to spend money on synthetic fertilizers. Thank you very much 🙂

  29. Do you grow summer cover crops at the same time in a bed alongside food crops, or do you rotate food crop and cover crop? I'm wondering if I could just plant a nitrogen-fixing cover crop right under my veggies.

  30. My personal calculations on the cost of external resources have a somewhat different approach, mainly because I have a higher demand and go off the beaten path a bit to obtain the resources. 

    To illustrate, If I need 23 lbs of N for a project, my first option is to drive 20 miles round trip at just about 100% fuel efficiency to the co-op and buy a 50lb bag of Urea for $25.   My cost is $25 dollars, 45 minutes of time, and 20 miles at 100% fuel efficiency which would be $2.20 or so in gas.

    If I go to the stable, instead, I would need ~3000 lbs of manure/bedding, depending on a  whole host of factors.  That would be 3 loads in my little truck.  The stable 10 miles/20 minutes away and I load it by pitchfork.  My cost would be $0, but it would be 3 hours of time and 60 miles at 75% efficiency or $8.80 or so in gas.

    At this point, I have only gotten the material home.  My garden is actually 40 miles from home, which makes multiple trips of manure even less economical.

    I'm hesitant to seriously consider time having any real value because any time I spend is purely out of fun.  But, I do have only a certain amount of time to spend on my projects, and I'd rather spend it actually completing projects than hauling materials around. 

    So, for my particular situation, the economic (and most likely environmental) impact of hauling transporting 23 lbs of N by way of urea is less than of hauling horse manure.

    I emphasized external resources because one of my projects this year is to produce more cover crops/green manures so I don't have to do all this driving and hauling next year.

  31. Well done Patrick! Funny how chemically fertilized gardening is called ''conventional'' isn't it? And that same chemical era has been called ''the green revolution''!!!

  32. One case for synthetic fertilizers, as a small crutch, is for container gardening such as potatoes and tomatoes.  That said, I’m currently growing potatoes in containers.  I used a fertilizer for some containers and other containers I simply used soil and compost from my backyard.  We’ll see how they do.  Thanks for the great video.

  33. Organic hands down. However, I am not currently housing worms, so I'm afraid I am having to purchase castings and most of my compost and amendments. I'd like to be doing just what you are doing. Thanks for the research!

  34. I must say that after following a lot of online resources, I have been a loyal follower of yours due to your approach and reasoning. I have only been gardening for 10 years but have moved completely to organic practices and your posts help me tremendously (much more than others).  I am even living in Zone 5 so I can mirror your methods closely.  Keep up the great work and hello from Kelowna,British Columbia

  35. I finally got time to sit down and watch this video. Great balanced view on the subject. whoever discounts the quick effects synthetics have is overlooking the yields of modern agribusiness, and they are self-evident (even if at a cost). Conversely, not talking about the environmental impact and long-term impact of its sustained use isn't being honest and wise

  36. I'm in Jacksonville Fl. and have a worm farm and a composter but what is a cover crop ? I would love to completely get away from synthetic fertilizers.   Thanks, Mike

  37. Patrick, I know your focus here is on gardening, but I'm really interested in hearing your thoughts about how this topic relates to lawn care?  Do you have any grass in your front lawn?  If so, how to you keep the soil healthy under your grass?  I use entirely organic practices in the garden with mulch and compost, but find it impractical extending the same or similar practices to our big yard (a bit under an acre).

  38. I tried synthetic fertilizers years ago and found out that was way too easy to over apply it, nowdays we don't use any chemicals and the more compost we have in the garden the better our vegtables do. Still learning every year how to grow things better.

  39. Probably the most thorough explanation for the case against synthetics that I have ever heard. Nice job.

  40. I am in the Chicagoland area as well, and was wondering if you knew of any places where I could pick up free compost? I would make my own but am not allowed to in the community I live in.

  41. What a breath of fresh air. A very balanced argument especially about a home garden. I may have scored the synthetic a bit higher (giving the user the benefit of doubt about judicial usage etc) as misapplication can be achieved with either nutrient source. Also I was relieved that you pointed out that the nutrients once absorbed were no different. Many otherwise well meaning messengers get this crucial point of fact wrong losing most all credibility with me.  I enjoy your channel and thank you for contributing your time and knowledge to benefit others. Have a great day!

  42. Helpful and important to distinguish, as you did near the end, between organics as you practise it, and 'organic products' which may or may not be terribly helpful. I think very well-meaning people can be duped by a buzzword like 'organic'. 

    I am still new to your channel and working through the vids; do you look at using manures? I live semi rurally, so animal poos are a useful local resource, sometimes free!

  43. Hey Patrick – I'm with you except slightly for the cost – in the organic column, you didn't really put a value on your time. Yes, sourcing many local resources is free, but there is some cost in time and energy in obtaining and processing these. Admittedly, I have no idea what the value would be, just suggest there should be some vs. the flat cost of buying the chemical 'stuff'.

  44. I like your all-inclusive grading system. The last 10-10-10 synthetic fertilizer I bought was also 10% chlorine. That's why it was the last.

  45. All good stuff- I also am a worm farmer and have switched over the last few years from using synthetics to mostly organic but sometimes I find an occasional use of synthetics helps. One thing about worm castings that you didnt mention is that castings are a water holding material and its best not to use more than 20%. of the total mix. I have run my own personal tests that prove this fact. On my own inside cuttings I have been experimenting with seabird guano and seen great results but have seen certain types of cuttings have negative results from this use. I also fully believe in the use of liquid seaweed as a drench on occasion during the winter and my cuttings stay green. Another observation of using worm castings on these cuttings I find I never have plant droop syndrome that I always got previous to that. Like most people I originally started with about 1500-2000 worms and from this expanding herd I have started multiple new bins and without the beginning hassle you sometimes run into. I will add that my bins are inside as I want to keep my wormies working 24/7 even during winter so I can acquire as much castings as possible seasonal gardens.

  46. Great Info, Glad to see people in support of fixing our environment, what better way than educating about these things?

  47. I have a bag of synthetic fertilizer (10-10-10) and don't want to use it on any plants. Should I toss it in my compost pile or in my trash can?

  48. There may be a subtle isotopic difference between syn/natural nutes but they have the same chemistry as far as plants can tell. It comes down to building soil vs treating the soil as a soil-less medium, and whether you care ideologically about 'synthetic' products. I use each where it makes sense for me, generally build soil outside and use synthetic inside or on containers that need a lot of care/water anyway.

  49. Miracle Grow nutes are $5 at most places. It last forever. The soil can be had for cheap during summer sales. Easy peasy, clean and non smelly.

  50. Ok let me ask, if you have the following organic ingredients(which are readily available to me 🙂 ) in what proportion would you add to the soil?
    goat and cow manure
    neem cakes

  51. While we are all on the latest fad of organic everything it would be helpful to be more precise with our language. Compost does have nutrients but it is primarily a soil builder, adding organic matter and microbial life to the soil. I have found that the nutrient quality is very hit or miss depending on the ingredients in your pile. A better comparison is whether organic fertilizers like fish emulsion or seed meals are better than synthetics. 
    Organics are much slower acting and are pretty much useless if you notice that plants are showing signs of nitrogen deficiency. They are also ineffective when growing plants in pots. Intensive cropping usually results in lack of nitrogen in second or third rotations even when your soil is sufficient in nitrogen in the beginning. Therefore regular applications are required throughout the growing season for maximum crop yields  Since Synthetics are much cheaper and easier to acquire and are more immediately available to the plants I vote for synthetic. A nitrogen atom is a nitrogen atom in any universe.

  52. I think that you were a little too kind to synthetics. One of the most overlooked problems with them is that they salt the soil, and over time they burn plants and make it harder for the soil to hold water, as well as also running off into bodies of water causing huge toxic algae blooms.

  53. I would def not give organic a A in impact on soil and Impact on Plants and results in the garden because you have on one hand the problem of the slow releasing nutrients in the organic ones that can lead to problems because dosing is hard so it can get quickly a problem to have a way to high content of for example Potassium always depending on the crop and state that it growes in althrough you dont see it as much on the plant the soil becomes worse and worse if continue to grow because if you apply more organic nutrients that are a mix of different nutrients for example it releases mainly Potassium and nitrogen but the plant uses more nitrogen than phosphor you need to aply more organic nutrients that lead to having even more Potassiumr in the ground this would not happen of cause by using the right amount of "chemical" nutrience (in soil optimally combined with organic nutrience)
    and also its much harder to get the perfect ratio for the plants so if the person who uses it have enough knowledge he would get better yields by using synthetic Fertilizers and also you would get nearly to non problems with over fert the soil (but it brings other problems not having beneficial fungi …)
    but its good that this vid dont doom completely synthetic Ferts because they are 100% the same chemically than organic wile taking them up.
    the Future will anyways be some kind of hydroculture because it has the biggest advantages in the commercial area and even for private gardeners it's good (not for all crops).

  54. Do you know what the actual numbers are for similarly sized pieces of land being fertilized organically vs non organically? Are organics commercially viable, are they exactly the same as non organics, or are they not commercially viable?

  55. I'm curious what you think of Jobes organic fertilizer. I have been using it because I figured it was good since it had chicken poop bone meal and other stuff. Whats your take? is it good or is it lacking some where and if so, what should i add or change

  56. You made some very good points in your video. However there maybe some things you over looked. The application of multiple layers of compost can also have a negative effect.It is a common misunderstanding that you cannot add too much compost to your soils. However, excessive composting can create many problems. The problems are above optimum nutrient levels, high soluble salts, excessive organic matter fungus , and pH levels that are either too high or too low. Not to mention in your video your pulling up to a pile of compost or mulch station on the roadside. State transportation departments routinely spray vegetation along road side and tree services offer it for free to anyone.Do those chemicals sprayed magically disappear? No the unknowing gardener just fills their soil up with chemicals. I believe organic and non organic gardeners can co- exist in the gardening community, if they could see the benefits of both styles. I use a manure compost and spot fertilize with Synthetic products by spot I mean I add it to the planting area only. I usually plant around 10000 square feet on a yearly basis and use about 30 pounds of synthetic product. I come from a farming family and I have seen many organic farms use things that I consider not to be organic. But that is casting stones at others and I am not here to do that. I am here to say no one ever looks at the negatives of organic gardening and I believe that over time these will surface and a lot of people will be shocked..
    Great video I really enjoy catching some of your topics on your channel.

  57. I use both types of fertilizer. I started with bad soil, so I want to improve it quickly. The organic fertilizer is mostly leaves (from next door). I will look into getting manure. Organic fertilizer problems: 1) not macronutrient dense, 2) smothers, 3) labor, 4) can roll down hill into street Conditions when I synthetic fertilize: 1) strong catch crops (mostly rye), 2) rain season, 3) careful timing, 4) hopefully not too much

  58. Hi, Pat, Great video.
    I have had bad luck with chemical fertilizers even when I follow the directions they seem to burn my plants every time and I'm getting desperate.
    The first thing I did was start a worm compost but I don't think I'm producing as much as I need to fill my beds or add to some areas that have been neglected for a long time.
    Do you use manure or know of a local place to get it?

  59. Thanks for Infos
    How can I use wormcastings and compost for potted plants to totally substitute synthetic fertilizer ? how much ?? And how often ???

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