Why nitrogen based fertilizers are expensive to us in more ways than one

Organic gardeners are always trying to work in harmony with nature, continually looking to conserve the nutrients in the earth and replenishing those that have been used as our plants grow.

In earlier times, all gardening and agriculture was essentially organic as there were no artificial chemical fertilizers easily or widely available.

This began to change in the mid 1800’s when nitrogen based fertilizers were first created, but because they were still far too expensive for the average farmer or gardener to use, there was no widespread usage of chemical fertilizers until the beginning of the 20th century. Now they are available at the local garden centre.

Unfortunately, studies show that despite greatly increasing food production for people in developing nations, the growing use of nitrogen as a nutrient is affecting people’s health. Does this outweigh the benefits? What are we to think?

According to scientists from a few American Universities (Rice University and the University of Colorado at Boulder were two that I saw mentioned), changes in the global nitrogen cycle, while beneficial in increasing crops, pose a growing health risk. “Roughly half of the inorganic nitrogen ever used on the planet has occurred in the past 15 years.” Amazing.

“The overuse of nitrogen fertilizers can lead to a number of problems, including air and water pollution,” the Colorado study says. There are also health concerns for those of us getting up in age, who might be more at risk for respiratory ailments and heart disease. Scarier still, there are many science boffins looking into links between overuse of nitrogen fertilisers and several cancers.

So what to do? The easiest, from my perspective, is to grow, and buy, organic. As I talk about in my book, Easy Guide to Organic Gardening, it doesn’t have to be hard. For those of you who supplement your garden with store-bought produce, the obvious recommendation is to point you toward the organic section (better still, go to famer’s markets). If you are looking to buy organic produce, you might find it does cost a little more, so start gradually. The five with which to begin are apples, peaches, strawberries, celery and spinach.

It pays to think about what it took to get your food to your plate.

Arabella May Biddle

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