Sunday, October 25, 2009

Collodial Phosphorus, Cool or Not So Cool?

(The view looking down on one corn plant. The top six inches of roots.
Each square is one-foot square. Applies to the previous blog)

Purplish strips at the edges of corn leaves usually indicates a deficiency in phosphorus. Some organic gardeners use colloidal phosphate as the solution to this deficiency, but consider this: colloidal phosphate is often strip-mined in Florida, washed with water (and Florida has a big problem with supplies of fresh water), loaded on train cars, and shipped to places as far away as California and Washington, where it’s sacked up and shipped to your local garden-supply store.

[As a side note: Florida mines 75 percent of the phosphorous used by American farmers and about 25 percent of the entire world production. Phosphate ore must be chemically processed with sulfuric acid. When sulfuric acid reacts with the phosphate it produces a slightly radioactive byproduct known as phosphogypsum. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, there are a billion tons of phosphogypsum stacked across the state and 30 million tons are generated each year.]

And the total amount of phosphorus (P2O5) in the sack is only 16 percent of all the bagged-up bulk, of which a mere two percent is available the first gardening season since the phosphorus is locked up in a mineralized form that requires the activity of soil microbes, soil bacteria, and exudates. (Exudates come from the roots and aid in the nutrient-release process by releasing; sugars, organic acids, and other compounds to dissolve minerals into a soluble state and stimulate the soil’s microbial action.) Unnecessary water use, exploitation of limited resources and wasted energy—all wrapped in a single bag. Add to this the fact that there is a limited supply of easily mined colloidal phosphorus. It’s much like oil: will we have enough in the future? Will we be able to find enough new supplies if the current mines are exhausted? Some say the U.S. supply will be gone by 2035. The world supply make be depleted in 50-100 years.

Choosing to buy commercial colloidal phosphate really means making a very important environmental decision. This is especially clear when one compares the environmental cost of imported amendments to the energy-efficiency of “growing” phosphorus at home by planting legumes and tilling the young foliage into the soil. Thus the gardener has two choices: (1) import nutrients, organic or not, to force an intensive yield, or (2) use wider spacing when planting and/or rotate heavy-feeder crops with a season of legumes to cut down on the competition for available nutrients. Whichever you choose, don’t grow corn in the same spot every year, as it will exhaust much of the nitrogen. Instead, alternate corn crops with green manures—that also increase available phosphorus.

Let me know what you think.

Visit my web site to learn about my new book on drip irrigation and other gardening books.

NOTE: The comments section at the bottom of the post has disappeared. Click on the "___ Comments" button or the title under the "Blog Archives". Thanks, Robert


Teresa said...

I just re3ad your blog about colloidal phosphorus.Is the lack of this nutrient ,mineral that the corn do not produce as much and thethe corn is heavy and not taste.
I did not know about the purple stripes at the edges of the leaves.
Thanks for your tip I will looke for them next season.

Robert Kourik said...

I think the lack of phosphorus lowers the yields. For more information see "Hunger Signs in Crops". Robert