It’s tempting, waiting anxiously for the miracle that is new life emerging from barren ground, just to reach for a miracle in a bottle. If my soil is too depleted to nourish new seeds, even with the bit of compost and worm castings I tilled in before planting, maybe I should purchase a supplement to help them along.
Chemical fertilizers (also called inorganic, synthetic, artificial, or manufactured) have been refined to extract nutrients and bind them in specific ratios with other chemical fillers. These products may be made from petroleum products, rocks, or even organic sources. Some of the chemicals may be naturally occurring, but the difference is that the nutrients in chemical fertilizers are refined to their pure state and stripped of substances that control their availability and breakdown, which rarely occurs in nature.
Advantages of Chemical Fertilizer:
- Since nutrients are available to the plants immediately, improvement occurs in days.
- They are highly analyzed to produce the exact ratio of nutrients desired.
- Standardized labeling makes ratios and chemical sources easy to understand.
- They’re inexpensive.
Disadvantages of Chemical Fertilizer:
- Chemical fertilizers are primarily made from nonrenewable sources, including fossil fuels.
- They grow plants but do nothing to sustain the soil. The fillers do not promote life or soil health, and even packages labeled “complete” do not include the decaying matter necessary to improve soil structure. In fact, chemical fertilizers don’t replace many trace elements that are gradually depleted by repeated crop plantings, resulting in long-term damage to the soil.
- Because the nutrients are readily available, there is a danger of over fertilization. This not only can kill plants but upset the entire ecosystem.
- Chemical fertilizers tend to leach, or filter away from the plants, requiring additional applications.
- Repeated applications may result in a toxic buildup of chemicals such as arsenic, cadmium, and uranium in the soil. These toxic chemicals can eventually make their way into your fruits and vegetables.
- Long-term use of chemical fertilizer can change the soil pH, upset beneficial microbial ecosystems, increase pests, and even contribute to the release of greenhouse gases.