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Garbage in, Garden Out, The Recycling Gardener, The Metaphysics of Gardening

Updated on January 15, 2015

Mike went fishing

Mike via Telephone: Hey I went fishing and all we caught were mackerel. You told me to drop them off, so here they come. But what are you going to do with mackerel?

RN: Hey, it’s nearly Thanksgiving! Are you coming over for dinner?

Mike: Can’t make it this year, going north to my mom’s. What about the fish?

RN: Well, remember the first Thanksgiving sinner after Plymouth Rock and that the Algonquin Indians that helped these people survive by showing then that planting a fish with the corn helped it to grow? Corn is a heavy feeder and requires lots of nutrient, especially nitrogen, and the fish provides this.

Put this to use in the garden and your plants will remember you with large smiles when you come out in the morning. OK, perhaps they are metaphysical smiles, or maybe flowers, or fruit, or better growth, but healthier plants if not happy.

Any time you catch a fish that you would normally toss back, if you have time, bring it to me instead. Hey, didn’t you tell me yesterday that you just bought fish fertilizer for your fruit trees?

Mike: Yeah, but that is a liquid, these fish are not.

RN: Right, but I am not planning to spray them on the foliage either. But fish fertilizer is just super steamed fish remains from canneries emulsified into water. Mackerel are an excellent source of fertilizer, I am just putting them into the ground to get the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, along with lots of potassium and calcium and lots of trace minerals.

For the last hundred years three primary salts have isolated and synthesized form things other than organic materials. You see about 150 years ago we decided that we knew everything and that simple analysis would unlock the secrets of life and all we would need to do is provide those ingredients.

This is a form of a philosophy called reductionism that simply did not work. Reductionism tried to reduce the understanding of everything to basic understanding and “nothing but” that. Some people use a tongue in cheek phrase called “nothing buttery” to describe it. It doesn’t work very well in any system of thought except basic mechanics.

We could analyze complex natural processes to some degree but until 1909 we could not even synthesize ammonia (used for lots of chemical processes, but most importantly to make fertilizer). The earliest attempting to synthesize fertilizers didn’t work very well at all even though they started often with bone meal, and organic compound. It was not until 1927 that we developed a process to make what we now call a NPK fertilizer, or mineral fertilizer, that is, ones with predictable nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that actually worked well and were inexpensive.

Very soon these three “primary nutrients” were found to need three other nutrient, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur and manures were added back to the soils again to provide these. After this we discovered there are far greater mineral requirements, trace minerals, found in the manure not found in the NPK fertilizers. Are these useful? Yes, but they do have their limits.

Think of the simplistic view of life in Mary Shelly’s book The Modern Prometheus, later called Frankenstein’s Monster. Science had analyzed the human body, took it apart and structure/function physiology told us if the structure is there, it ought to function, we had discovered the body worked, in part by electric signals, and viola, synthesized this idea into ideas such as The Modern Prometheus, Frankenstein’s monster.

Now in defense of Mary Shelly, I really don’t know that she believed this could be done or not, but it was the prevailing and overly simplified “scientific” view of life a century ago without realizing the unbelievable detailed working of even the simplest cells that we understand today nor the fact that life itself is not simply electric impulses running through organic tissue. If it were just that then when you die they would take you to the electrician to find the fault and repair it.

Hmm, well, they may have missed something, you think?

So, thinking on those lines of oversimplified reductionism we can see that nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) are not the only things plants need to grow, and this is why fish emulsions gets better results than chemically synthesized fertilizers.

This is also one reason why the mackerel I buried in the yard two weeks ago will be better fertilizer that fish emulsion. Of course, another is the amount I buried in any given location, much more than a spray of fish emulsion. But alright, let’s reduce it in volume, why does the whole fish work better than emulsion?

Don’t misunderstand, the garden can use these synthesized fertilizers. They work. They work partly because plants need a lot of them and they are actually used up in the plant, partly because bacterial and chemical reactions take place in water and soil that make them more useful to the plant. Nitrogen is eventually returned to a gas form and lost directly to the atmosphere, and potassium and phosphorus are taken up into the plant materials and uses throughout the plant.

Sorry for the digression, back to fish emulsion.

First you need to thinks about what fish emulsion is. The two main sources are the fish oil business, where fish are caught, cooked, ground and reheated and squeezed to extract the oils, the remaining solids are sold as emulsion. The second way we get it is from the remaining fish parts after the fish has been used for food. Again, this has been cooked and much of the proteins and oils removed with the fish fillet or, especially with sardines and some anchovies where the skin is also used.

Phosphoric acid is added to lower the pH and stop the enzymes from decaying the fish. This is a good thing and good for your fertilizer also, so, not to worry about that additive especially if you want blooms or, division and multiplication of the plant.

In both cases of creating this fine plant food we call fish emulsion, nutrients have been removed, but it remains one of the best fertilizers you can buy, but the whole mackerel remains a better source of fertilizer because it has all of its components and they are not cooked, they break down slowly and there is more of them, that is, the mass is greater. For that matter, cleaning the fish and using the waste is an excellent source also.

Sorry, that’s a bit much, but you asked a professor. . .

Mike: So, you do want the fish or not?

RN: Sure, thanks.

(Sidebar) Well, he brought over a number of mackerel which I planted under roses using a very narrow shovel and garden spade. The plants responded accordingly. The wife loves it.

Well, yes, even our pets were recycled

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Hey, they don't live forever, "BunBun" now resides under a shady garden to replace some of the damage she did digging...And digging...But our pets ate really well while they were with us (so did our kids). BunBun loved to dig in my garden. Me? Not so much.Small pets received small graves, in the gardenThis little guy only bid my oldest boy. We never figured out why...Recycle everything. First the pet waste, and then wasted food, and bedding, and, well, then...
Hey, they don't live forever, "BunBun" now resides under a shady garden to replace some of the damage she did digging...
Hey, they don't live forever, "BunBun" now resides under a shady garden to replace some of the damage she did digging...
And digging...But our pets ate really well while they were with us (so did our kids). BunBun loved to dig in my garden. Me? Not so much.
And digging...But our pets ate really well while they were with us (so did our kids). BunBun loved to dig in my garden. Me? Not so much.
Small pets received small graves, in the garden
Small pets received small graves, in the garden
This little guy only bid my oldest boy. We never figured out why...
This little guy only bid my oldest boy. We never figured out why...
Recycle everything. First the pet waste, and then wasted food, and bedding, and, well, then...
Recycle everything. First the pet waste, and then wasted food, and bedding, and, well, then...

Just a Thought on Integrated Thinking

One of the purposes of this is to help you integrate your thinking about how you live and how to keep your garden healthy while keeping organic materials out of the landfill or sewage system.

To do this, to accomplish that purpose I will try to help you to gain a more unified view of biology, that is, how everything works together and how organisms contain enormously complex molecules and nutrients that your garden can use, and it can use all of them it can get.

Perhaps this is more of a world view, a metaphysical view, looking at the world as a balanced, self stabilizing system that recycles everything continually as opposed to the oversimplified view of the natural sciences theory from one hundred years ago.

Maybe we should call this “The metaphysics of gardening.” Or, perhaps “How Kierkegaard and Descartes ruined my garden.” How about, “Who had the better garden Plato or Aristotle?” Actually, I think Aristotle would, but I digress again.

The good news is that you don't need to know all or even some of those complex nutrients just understand that they are there, and that there is some organism in the soils that can use them to make your garden better. Here is where a simply idea can ring true and you can have great results simply by following the general ideas without any of those intricate details.

The primary nutrient you want to keep in the garden, and this is because it is rare in the air, is carbon! The more carbon, the faster everything grows!

Great results, less work

Click thumbnail to view full-size

How about you? Do you recycle into the soil?

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