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Fertilizer – Organic or Not?

The battle is on for tomato fertilizers – organic or non-organic?  In this post we’ll talk about the pros and cons of each so you can make the best decision for your own tomato plants.

First – Know Your Fertilizer Numbers

I have an article about fertilizer – what is N-P-K and what do the numbers mean?  You need to have an understanding of what N-P-K is, as well as what the numbers (like 5-8-3) mean.  Go ahead and read the article — I’ll wait.  😉

Now that you have a basic understanding, let’s talk organic versus non-organic.  Each of them has their places, and you will have to decide what’s best for your own situation.

Organic Tomato Fertilizer

Question for you – can you define what organic fertilizer is?  Most people put it in the category of “it’s not chemical”, which is mostly true.  However some of what we think of as non-organic is naturally occurring and not man-made.  Does that mean it’s organic…or not?  It comes down to splitting hairs at some point.  For the purpose of this article, let’s call organic as being derived from living things, without added chemicals.

Some examples of organic fertilizer for tomatoes are:

  • Fish emulsion
  • Bone meal
  • Blood meal
  • Kelp

There are also all kinds of fertilizer mixes that incorporate these ingredients and more, like alfalfa.  So let’s talk about the pros of organic fertilizers.

Organic Pros and Cons

What are some of the pros for using organic fertilizers?

  • The biggest reason for organic fertilizers is that ultimately they help to make the soil better in the long term.
  • They tend to be far less concentrated than non-organic fertilizers, so there is less of an issue involving runoff.  And the lower concentration means it’s a lot harder to give the plants an overdose.
  • There’s something to be said about not putting extra chemicals into the environment (not to mention our food and our bodies), and it’s also a big plus for growing organic.
  • As the soil and growing environment become better (which is longer term), you will need to use fertilizer less often.

And now to the cons for organic fertilizers.

  • They are more expensive in the short term.  Yes, they do help condition the soil, but that takes more than a season or two — the worse your soil is, the longer it will take.
  • Because they are lower concentrations, you need to either use more fertilizer, or fertilize more often .
  • Unless you use a ready-made mix, you will have to buy multiple ingredients in order to get a good N-P-K balance and mix it yourself.  If you don’t have a lot of space to store all the ingredients, that may be difficult.

Next up — non-organic fertilizers.

Non-Organic Pros and Cons

Many people think that non-organic is all con and no pro, which is not really the case.  Some of the pros to non-organic are:

  • Most are higher in concentration, and therefore come in smaller packages.  You dilute the fertilizer with the appropriate amount of water.
  • Being in smaller packages, you won’t likely have a storage issue.
  • In the short run, the non-organic fertilizers are less expensive.
  • You can find “booster” fertilizer for whatever stage your plants are in; extra nitrogen for foliage growth, extra phosphorus for blossoms, etc.

And as to the cons for non-organic fertilizer.

  • Unless you’re careful, you can “overdose” your plants by giving them too much fertilizer.  Always read the directions on how much to use!
  • Along those same lines, if you fertilize too heavily you can cause runoff issues.  It’s not so much of an issue with one or two plants, but even one or two can cause a runoff issue for a small pond.
  • There’s something to be said for not putting extra chemicals into the environment, our food and our bodies.

Can You Use Both Kinds of Fertilizer?

Unless you are certified organic or market your seeds/food as organic, it’s certainly possible to mix both organic and non-organic fertilizers for your tomato plants.

Honestly, that is what I usually do.  I grow mostly organically, with the occasional “booster” as needed for my growing conditions and plants.  However, I usually dilute my non-organic fertilizer to no more than half-strength

Now that you have some things to think about for pros and cons of each, you will need to decide what is best for you and your plants.  Happy growing!