Simply put, fertilizer is plant food.
And to really understand what is fertilizer, what's in it and how it works, let's compare it to people food.
What food do people need? You know the three main food groups, right?
Protein, carbohydrates, and fat or oils...
Plants also have three main "food groups", or rather "macro nutrients", the three elements that make up the bulk of a fertilizer: NPK.
You may have seen those letters on fertilizer bags. They stand for nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (kalium in other languages, hence the chemical symbol K).
Plants need a lot of that stuff. NPK needs to be available to the plant in the right ratio, just like we need a good balance of carbohydrates, protein and fats. (We're not looking at the latest fad diet, we are talking about a balanced diet here, ok?)
Now, many people grow plants in the belief that all they need to give them is water and fertilizer. Water and NPK, at a correct ratio.
That would be the same as bringing up your kids on instant meals or meal replacement shakes that contain nothing but powdered protein, carbohydrates and fat, in the correct ratio.
Do you think your kids will grow strong and healthy, with a good immune system, if you feed them just that? Neither do I.
People also need minerals and vitamins. And so do plants. They need "trace elements" like Copper and Iron and Zinc and many more, and other substances, in small amounts. Just like our minerals and vitamins.
You can buy bags or bottles of fertilizers that have "added trace elements".
So now you are feeding your kids protein shakes and vitamin tablets. Hm. The ideal diet? Not really...
Ok, what else have we got?
There are natural, organic fertilizers that aren't made by mixing chemicals together. Organic fertilizers are made by mixing natural ingredients, ingredients that are naturally high in N or P or K or all of them, and that also contain trace elements.
Chicken poo or blood and bone meal or fish extract and things like that. They contain the NPK in varying ratios, and some trace elements, and maybe other gobbledigook like growth factors, auxins, macromolecules, enzymes...
A bit like mixing herbal supplements and vegetable extracts and the like with your meal replacement diet. Certainly better than just NPK.
However, it's still easily possible to get the balance wrong, especially if you don't know what exactly is in that bag and what exactly your plants need.
Maybe it's theoretically possible to grow reasonably healthy kids on a diet like that, if you do add enough different herb, fruit and vegetable extracts, in a high quality form where most of the goodness in them is actually preserved. And if you really understand what you are doing there, what EXACTLY the kids need!
But it is getting a bit difficult now, isn't it? Tricky and expensive...
Many people think they have to learn all that to fertilize plants correctly.
But why not bring up your kids on a wholesome diet with plenty of organic fruit and vegetables instead? Makes more sense, doesn't it? And I bet the kids will be happier and healthier for it.
Plants are happier and healthier on a wholesome, natural diet, too. And they can't get that from a fertilizer bag. Period.
They get it from a living, healthy soil, soil with lots of organic matter, teeming with worms and beneficial microorganisms.
People who eat a balanced, wholesome, organic diet with plenty of fresh food and vegetables are healthy. They don't need extra protein shakes and no vitamin pills or supplements and they rarely need to see a doctor.
Plants grown in rich, balanced, healthy and living soils are just the same. No need to buy bags of expensive fertilizers all the time, no need to spray this and that to battle pests and diseases.
Plants have immune systems, too. Really. They are good at fighting those diseases and pests themselves, provided the plants are strong and healthy.
In a naturally grown permaculture garden nature takes care of all the plant nutrition issues for you! But you have to give nature a chance to do that.
In future articles I will show you how to do that.
Few of us are lucky enough to start out with that perfect soil. In fact, many of us start with something dreadful. I sure did.
And while we improve it, while our plants struggle to grow in what we have, they sure can do with a bit of help from us: some instant meals, a few vitamin tablets, a quality supplement here and there...
The right plant fertilizers at the right time can be very useful, just like a medicine or tonic.
We'll look at how you make those fertilizers or where you can get them, in future articles.
And of course we will look at how you can improve your soil. We will look at that a lot!
Never, ever forget: your soil is the key to everything and your most valuable resource.
Allow nature to look after your soil and your soil will look after your plants. It really is that simple!