Plant feed and fertilizers play a huge part in the garden, and as a company we only use natural and organic alternatives. Natural plant feed is a no-brainer in the vegetable garden as we tend to eat the end result. Towards the end of the year I add manure or compost and seaweed to my garden to feed the soil and protect it over the Winter. Over the years I have built up a very fertile soil in this way and rarely, if ever, add any extra feed. I don't use any chemical fertilizers because I don't need to but also because they are damaging to the good soil I have built up and are a short term solution to my garden's nutrient needs.
Organic Vs Non Organic Fertilizer
Building a very fertile soil can take years so concentrated feeds will be required in the interim but there are now a broad range of organic natural plant feeds available which will be more beneficial to your garden than artificial alternatives. We are often asked why we don't stock chemical plant feed or fertilizers even though they appear to work well so I thought it might be worth going into some of the reasons below:
They are soluble and fast acting
In general artificial fertilizers are water soluble and fast acting. Soluble nutrients wash quickly through soil which means any nutrients not used by the plants end up in the water table. Excess fertilizer run off pollutes water courses and can cause fish kills as a knock on effect of feeding algae in the water.
The fact that these soluble nutrients are fast acting also means they have an immediate effect on plants and result in fast growth. This may seem like a good thing but fast, sappy growth results in weaker plant tissue that is more susceptible to attack from pests or diseases or from bouts of bad weather.
They only supply major nutrients
Artificial fertilizers generally only supply the major nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (this is the N.P.K you see on fertilizer packs, the percentage of each are the numbers on the bag). They do not supply the broad range of minor nutrients, trace elements or other growth promoting substances found in a healthy organic soil. An organic soil is unlikely to be deficient in the important minor nutrients while this is far more likely with a chemical regime. As we know the soil effects the characteristics of the crop (wine buffs out there will know it as terroir) because the minerals in the soil find their way into the fruit or vegetables. Crops grown in soil with a broad range of nutrients are generally accepted to be healthier and more flavoursome.
The application rate needs to be carefully measured
The application rate of artificial fertilizers is critical as over application can easily damage the plant roots or cause the leaf burn pictured. Over zealous application of artificial fertilizers can also lead to chemical reactions which cause deficiencies in other nutrients. These problems are very unlikely using slow release organic fertilizers and soil feeds.
They have a short term effect
The soluble nutrients are available immediately to plants but have a short term effect. Organic fertilizers are slow release because they need to be broken down by bacteria in the soil. The slow release of nutrients results in a healthier more sturdy plant rather than one grown in quick bursts.
Organic growing is actually much easier for home gardener than non organic as it's pretty much foolproof. In general a well fed soil will be able to support healthy growth without requiring more inputs throughout the season. Artificial fertilizer growing can create problems which need to be solved by more inputs whether adding extra nutrients or dealing with increased pest and disease problems.