Was This Grown With Chemicals or Compost?

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Every plant that ever existed grew because of chemicals, and this is the only way plants are able to grow.  Since the great explosion of the Universe (Big-Bang), physics gave rise to chemistry, chemistry gave rise to biology, and biology gave rise to an ape-like creature who figured out how to create technology.  

If a chicken is under a fruit tree and poops, does chicken poop go into the roots of the tree to feed it?  Not exactly. What happens is the chicken manure gets consumed and broken down by bacteria, turning its urea into ammonium.  Nitrosomonas bacteria eat the ammonium (NH3+) and spit out nitrite (NO2-), while Nitrobacter bacteria eats the nitrite and spits out nitrate (NO3-).  This is called mineralization, carried out by chemoautotrophs (bacteria that eat chemicals). Nitrate is an inorganic mineral, chemical, or ion, which can then be pushed by water into the root of a plant.  Plants can only accept inorganic chemicals into their roots. While manure can do an excellent job at fertilizing plants and other microorganisms, it requires a certain period of time for its minerals to become released and then taken up by the plant.  With synthetic or mineral-based fertilizer, the minerals are already in the form that plants need, so there is no waiting period. A nitrate that breaks down from animal waste is the same nitrate that is man-made. Humans create nitrogen synthetically by taking it from earth’s atmosphere (78% nitrogen).  By subjecting air to tremendous heat and pressure, nitrogen gas can be condensed as a liquid. During this combustion, nitrogen binds to oxygen to form the nitrate ion (NO3-).

Whether nitrogen is released through manure or is man-made, they are both the same thing, and plants use them the same way. I think that chemicals used for plant growth (minerals) should not be feared, but instead should be thought of as incredibly useful building blocks of life that must be used wisely.  That being said, I don’t think we should shy away from composting manure and other organic wastes to unlock minerals that way, too. In order to grow plants for today, one can responsibly use synthetic fertilizer. To grow plants for tomorrow, make compost!


Alice Lin