Updated: Jul 26
Call out to all plant enthusiasts and tree huggers that the choice of fertilizer can significantly impact the ecosystem and our future generations. This is an astonishing fact that requires the awareness of everybody. Of course, we all know that using fertilizers to support plant growth and development is a common practice. But it is good to know the specifications of different types of fertilizers because each of them has different functions and also different side effects. Through this article, we will thoroughly dissect information related to fertilizers.
Fertilizer is organic and non-organic material added to planting media such as soil to meet nutrient needs. In general, plants need a total of 16 nutrients for growth. Four elements are taken from water (H2O) and air (Oxygen, Carbon and Hydrogen). Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sulfur, Calcium and Magnesium are macronutrients that plants need in large quantities. Meanwhile, zinc, iron, molybdenum, manganese and chlorine are included in micro-nutrients which are no less critical for plants. The impact caused by nutrient deficiency can be in the form of Chlorosis (general yellowing of plant tissue), Spots, Necrosis (death of plant tissue; tissue brown and die) and Stunting (decreased growth). Therefore, plant enthusiasts tend to use fertilizer as additional material to supply nutrients for plants. Here are some visual symptoms shown from plants that have a nutrient deficiency:
DIFFERENT TYPES OF FERTILIZER, THEIR PROS AND CONS
To prevent this for their beloved plants, plant enthusiasts usually use fertilizer as the primary solution. Based on the material used, fertilizers are divided into chemical fertilizers and organic fertilizers. As the name implies, organic fertilizer is made from organic materials that are usually obtained from organic waste such as dead plants/animals and organic waste from domestic or industrial activities. The most common types of organic fertilizers include:
Manure (from animal excreta, e.g., cow dung, goat droppings),
Compost (decomposed organic matters, e.g., vegetable, plant waste, animal excreta)
Vermicompost (using the worm to compost and degradation organic materials).
The advantages of organic fertilizers are their ability to improve soil structure by restoring chemical and biological soil properties. Organic fertilizers also encourage the increase in the life of organisms in the soil, help improve soil fertility and control pests and diseases. However, manufacturing organic fertilizer requires a long process because it uses the 'decay' method. On the other hand, organic fertilizers cannot be used in small quantities because the nutrient content in this fertilizer is not so much. Maybe for farming activities in the household, the use of organic fertilizers is not a big obstacle. Still, organic fertilizers seem less efficient for farmers who grow crops in large quantities. Farmers must find suppliers of organic fertilizers in large quantities to match the demand for the needed fertilizers. This makes researchers begin to develop synthetic fertilizers with non-organic materials that are more practical.
Research conducted on 29 popular brands of chemical fertilizers showed the discovery of toxic chemicals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, barium, chromium, nickel, beryllium, and cadmium that potentially pollute the groundwater. This happens because all the elements in chemical fertilizers are not fully absorbed into the plants. Gradually, these harmful substances will dissolve in water reserves in the soil. This event is one of the triggers for the discovery of various hazardous substances in groundwater, such as cadmium, lead, heavy metals, pesticides, and other hydrocarbon pollutant compounds. In addition, the initial ingredients in chemical fertilizers, such as nitrogen and phosphorous in this case, contribute to water pollution with the Eutrophication process, which is an excessive abundance of elements in the aquatic ecosystem. Pollution occurs due to the contamination of organic or inorganic substances in the water.
WATER POLLUTION THROUGH THE EUTROPHICATION PROCESS
Eutrophication can occur naturally through the accumulation, flow, and addition of nutrients to water bodies that cause contamination of springs such as lakes, rivers, and water reserves in the soil. The polluted quality of spring water will affect the lives of various organisms that overshadow the ecosystem. However, this natural process can only occur for thousands of years; meanwhile, human activities, in this case, are the main trigger for eutrophication, one of which is the use of chemical fertilizers. The main content found in chemical fertilizers is nitrogen, with a relatively large percentage.
Under ideal conditions, plants only absorb 50% of the nitrogen content in chemical fertilizers, 2-20% evaporates, 15-25% reacts with organic compounds in the soil, and the remaining 2-10% interferes with the quality of groundwater which is a water reserve to support human needs. The recommended limit for nitrate in groundwater is 11.3 mg/L. Meanwhile, in European countries, nitrate concentration in groundwater reaches 23 mg/L and 45 mg/L in the USA. Besides nitrate contamination in groundwater, exposure to nitrogen evaporation can cause permanent eye damage even by brief exposure. Therefore, it is now the right time to take wise steps in choosing a fertilizer for your plants. Chemical fertilizers are designed to increase efficiency for humans, but if we are not careful, they can negatively impact future generations in the short and long term.
COMPOSTING AT HOME
In small quantities, such as farming activities at home, using organic fertilizers is a sustainable solution that can provide mutual benefits. It can be done through Food Waste Composting, which is a process of decomposition of organic material produced by household waste into humus-rich soil, better known as compost fertilizer. You can treat your kitchen waste in an eco-friendly way while also having a long-term impact on plants and the environment. The Environment Protection Agency of the United States strongly encourages people to start composting at home to reduce chemical contamination in the soil and protect groundwater quality.
Composting at home is also relatively easy and practical. You can start doing outdoor composting with a larger production capacity if you have a large yard. However, for those who live in an apartment, you can also make your DIY compost using a particular bin at the gardening supply store to accommodate your organic waste, which can then be used as fertilizer for your beloved plants. So let's together change the stereotype that organic fertilizer is a time-consuming and inefficient solution. Instead, organic fertilizer is a solution to meet the nutritional needs of plants that are sustainable and safe for the environment.