Why I stay away from Miracle-Gro – and so should you

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Hello everyone! It’s been a while since my last post: the work-life-garden balance got wrecked once again, and I had to take a break from blogging…

First let me clarify something: I normally only use trademark names of products that I love and use myself, and  refrain from calling out the brands I dislike. This post, as you probably noticed, is an exception. It is not about me disliking mineral fertilizers (for which Miracle-Gro is  clearly a namesake), it is about mineral fertilizers actively damaging our environment. So here we go.

I spent this weekend with friends and family in a rental house sitting on the shore of Lake Harmony (Pennsylvania, USA). I’ve been visiting this lake for 10 years and grown to appreciate it, among other things, for its crystal clear water.

Here is a photo I took 10 years ago

And here is one from this weekend

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One might say that the green hue in the recent picture could just be an artifact, so here is a closeup.

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These little green particles in the water are algae – a group of small aquatic plants, varying in size from single cell to millimeters in diameter. Algae are not bad by nature, they are a normal component of any aquatic system. But what happened to Lake Harmony is a phenomenon known as an algae bloom. This is when the algae population gets out of control.

So a bunch of tiny water plants overpopulates a lake – what’s the harm? Among most common negative effects are :

  • sunlight is prevented from reaching other plants and creatures
  • oxygen is depleted from the water (all those tiny plants need to breathe, too)
  • sometimes algae secrete harmful compounds (for example, 2014 algae bloom in Lake Erie contaminated drinking water for people of Toledo, OH)

Ok, so hopefully I convinced you that algae blooms are bad, but what does it have to do with mineral fertilizers?

As acknowledged by the US Congressional Research Service, excessive amounts of nutrients (eutrophication), such as phosphorous and nitrogen, are among the key contributors to algae blooms. Moreover, “runoff from fertilized cropland” is mentioned in the report by name.

Mineral fertilizer is the main reason of such nutrient runoff, in contrast to calculated applications of complex organic fertilizers, such as compost and rotted manures. Furthermore, based on a report published in Science, agriculture-induced eutrophication will become even more prevalent in this century, due to changes in precipitation patterns.

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Garden friends, I need advice on disposing of Miracle Gro… a friend gave me her gardening stuff that she no longer needs. I am not using it in my garden, but I can’t dump it in the drain either, because there is too much nitrogen in the water already

Last spring I published this photo of myself on TFEG’s social media accounts with the capture below.

I still have not come up with a way to safely dispose of that jar. But what I found surprising is that a few people asked me what’s wrong with Miracle-Gro, why couldn’t I just use it?

This reminded me that many people, including organic gardeners, are not aware of the issues that mineral fertilizers bring with them. They just avoid them, because they are not organic, without understanding the reasons behind it. I did reply to the people who asked the question, and forgot about the issue. But this weekend’s experience was another reminder: people, gardeners and non-gardeners alike, need to be aware of nutrient runoff and the damage it causes.

Fertilizer industry is massive and holds a lot of power in political institutions. Changing the system won’t be easy. But people need to know that we do not need these by-products of the military industry. Industrial-scale composting, biosolids fertilizers produced from sewage, rotted manures, slow release fertilizers made from food scraps, along with no-till agriculture methods are all at our disposal.

And it all starts at the individual level, with voting with our wallets. So next time you visit a big box store or a garden center to grab a bag of potting mix or fertilizer, please pause and consider your options and then make an educated choice. I know it will be the right one.

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