Do you want a side of heavy metals in your fertilizer? How about dead fish from applying too many nutrients?
We use fertilizers to grow plants at an expense to the environment. Heavy metals are in some fertilizers, and we overuse synthetic fertilizers, wasting them which leads to agriculture run-off. Organic and conventional agriculture methods cannot address these methods. New tools including a new type of fertilizer can help solve these environmental problems while increasing yields.
Heavy Metals in Organic Fertilizer
Original Periodic Table of Elements Image from wikimedia user: Dmarcus100
Rock phosphate is commonly used in gardening and organic farming, but do you know it has heavy metal? A research group (Abdel-Haleem, Sroor and team 2001) found that in rock phosphate, limestone, and sulfur there were heavy metals including Lanthanum (found in hybrid electric-gasoline cars like the Toyota Prius), Cerium (Found in TV screens and fluorescent lamps), Ytterbium (Used in super accurate Atomic Clocks), Europium, Samarium, and Hafnium (Used to absorb neutrons in nuclear reactors. When mixed with air pure pieces of Hafnium can spontaneously combust. Fun!). These chemicals were found in organic fertilizers like rock phosphate and limestone. If using these fertilizer sources then you might be adding these or other heavy metals into your soil. What if you are using conventional chemical fertilizers? Is that better?
Conventional Fertilizer Run-off
No, too much fertilizer negatively affects the environment and wastes money. When too much fertilizer is applied, it is lost from leaching going into our groundwater, or from run-off going into our rivers. When these rivers rich with fertilizer meets the ocean, it causes algae blooms which deplete the water of oxygen killing aquatic life. This wasted fertilizer could be reduced or prevented altogether by adopting different practices.
It sounds like the two options are fertilizer with heavy metals or wasting fertilizer while harming our environment. What is the solution? The solution is using only the essential nutrients that the plant needs, in a dose it needs, and in a way, the plant can easily absorb.
A New Environmentally Friendly Way
Foliar spraying of nutrients makes sure the fertilizer is not wasted and not washed into the ocean. A pure nutrient mix of fertilizer ensures that no heavy metals get into your soil. Ok, a fertilizer that is friendly for the planet, but does it increase yield?
A single spray of zinc and boron nano-fertilizer on pomegranate trees before full bloom significantly increased yield and fruit quality while keeping a similar sugar and antioxidant levels (S. Davarpanaha, A. Tehranifar, and Team. 2016). Later that team then researched application of nitrogen as a foliar spray (S. Davarpanaha, A. Tehranifar, and Team 2017). For nitrogen, they tested two types of foliar sprays: nano-fertilizer and urea against a control. For both nitrogen foliar sprays, nitrogen leaf concentration went up as did fruit sugar. In the zinc and boron experiment, the concentration of both those nutrients increased in the leaves of the tree. So, what is happening?
The plants don’t invest the nutrients in the fruit directly. They put the nutrients into the leaves. These better leaves produce more sugars than the leaves of plants that did not have fertilizer or a foliar spray. This extra sugar then goes into improving the yield and fruit. Plants continuously manage limited resources. They will trade one resource for another limited resource. In the case of phosphorus, many plants take phosphorus from old inefficient leaves to be invested in newer more efficient leaves. Using a fertilizer such as foliar sprays the plant can move from managing nutrient resources to other resources such as light and space.
How can we grow plants in an environmentally friendly way? Avoid fertilizers that have heavy metals, or that would cause metal toxicity. Don’t waste fertilizer that ends up in our water killing fish. Instead, we should use the right amount of fertilizer and give it to the plant so that it can use it. Fertilizing with foliar spray allow us to do that.
Tips for your garden:
Foliar application is needed when your plant has a nutrient deficiency, acidic soils in which pH prevents nutrient absorption, soil lacks nutrients, or if the plant’s roots are unable to absorb nutrients such as from a plant disease harming the roots or flooded soils.
Tips for Cannabis:
Metals and fertilizers are interconnected. One research team found that Cannabis sativa under very high levels of copper and/or zinc plants grew shorter and had lower biomass, however with a nitrogen fertilizer, the fertilizer was able to return the plant to a similar weight as the control with no increase in metal or nitrogen (Hadi, Ullah, and Team 2014). This might be from the plant having to expend energy to deal with extra zinc and copper. When nitrogen was added the plant was able to make more photosynthetic machinery and make use of the extra copper and zinc. Making sure you have the correct nutrient levels in the correct ratio makes for healthy plants.