Using Blood Meal To Improve Your Garden Soil

Using Blood Meal To Improve Your Garden Soil

By: Heather Rhoades

If you are looking to incorporate more organic gardening methods into your garden, you may have come across a fertilizer called blood meal. You may be wondering, “What is blood meal,?” “What is blood meal used for,?” or “Is blood meal a good fertilizer?” These are all good questions. Read on to learn more about blood meal as an organic fertilizer.

What is Blood Meal?

Blood meal is pretty much as the name says. It is dried animal blood, typically cow blood, but it can also be the blood of any animal that goes through meat packing plants. The blood is collected after the animals are killed and then dried to make a powder.

What is Blood Meal Used For?

Blood meal is a nitrogen amendment that you can add to your garden. Adding blood meal to garden soil will help raise the level of nitrogen and will help plants to grow more lush and green.

The nitrogen in blood meal can also help raise the acid level of your soil, which is beneficial to some kinds of plants that prefer soils with low pH (acidic soil).

Be careful to closely follow the instructions on how to apply the blood meal that you have purchased, as it is a very concentrated form of nitrogen. Too much nitrogen in the soil can, at best, keep the plants from flowering or fruiting, and at worst, burn the plants and possibly kill them.

Blood meal is also used as a deterrent for some animals, such as moles, squirrels and deer. It is thought the smell of blood meal is not appealing to these animals.

Is Blood Meal a Good Fertilizer?

Many organic gardeners like to use blood meal as a fertilizer. Blood meal can quickly add nitrogen to the soil, which can be a plus for soil that has been drained of nitrogen through repeated plantings. An example of this is vegetable beds.

There are some things you should be aware of when using blood meal. As mentioned, it can burn your plants if not used properly. Blood meal may also attract unwanted visitors, such as dogs, raccoons, possums and other meat eating or omnivorous animals.

If you cannot find blood meal or you do not want to use blood meal in your organic garden, you can instead use feather meal or the vegetarian alternative, alfalfa meal.

Where Can You Buy Blood Meal?

Blood meal is very common these days and a significant number of big box stores will carry blood meal fertilizer produced by name brands you know. However, you will most likely get a better price on blood meal from smaller, local nurseries and feed stores.

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Is Your Garden Vegetarian? / Alternatives to Blood Meal, Bone Meal and Fish Emulsion

Gardeners have been fussing with fertilizers since the first human stuck a seed in soil. The goal of fertilization is to create the richest soil possible, since it is in the soil where plants draw the essential nutrients that make them grow.

Organic gardeners rely on fertilizers made from plants and animal by-products, avoiding the chemical fertilizers that have flooded the farming and gardening industries for the past 50 years. Synthetic fertilizers do nothing to support the microbial activity that makes soil and plants healthy. In fact, some of them will kill your soil.

These fertilizers also short-change your plants by supplying them only with the major elements nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, while overlooking the other 13 nutrients plants need to survive. And, if that's not enough, it's been proven that chemical fertilizers leach into our water supply much more easily than organic fertilizers, thereby polluting it.

It's no wonder many organic gardeners reject these synthetics and rely on old standbys like bone meal, blood meal and fish emulsion. But times are a-changin', and even these additives, variations of which have been used for centuries, are coming under scrutiny.

We Calls 'Em Like We Sees 'Em

Blood meal, bone meal and fish emulsion are just what they say they are: the remains of blood, bones and fish. The first two products come from cattle slaughterhouses, where bones and blood are dried, crushed and packaged for gardeners. Fish emulsion and other fish-based products are made from carcasses left over at fish-processing plants, though sometimes fish are caught specifically to be used as fertilizer.

Right about now, the vegetarian gardeners in the crowd are raising their eyebrows and squirming in their seats. Even borderline carnivores might find this information a bit jarring. Couple this with the threat of mad cow disease, which can be transmitted through bone meal and blood meal, and it's enough to get some gardeners looking for vegetarian alternatives.

I checked in with the folks at Palo Alto's Common Ground organic-gardening store, where founder John Jeavons has produced a pamphlet, "Recommended Organic Soil Amendments," that lists readily available organic-fertilizer alternatives and recommended quantities.

The store is the not-for-profit project of Jeavons' Ecology Action, an organization devoted to developing techniques for growing more nutritious food while simultaneously increasing the health of the soil.

According to the store's Eva Henin, Common Ground began emphasizing a vegetarian approach to fertilizers as a result of the threat of mad cow disease and not because of any vegetarian inklings. Henin quotes John Robbins, author of " The Food Revolution," who says the US meat industry talks about mad cow disease in terms of "when," not "if," the disease will hit our shores, and though the US Department of Agriculture placed import restrictions on European bone meal and blood meal in December 2000, Jeavons decided to head off any possible complications by encouraging the use of non-animal-based fertilizers.

Begin at the Beginning

Before adding anything to your soil, be it vegetarian or not, consider performing a soil test. How do you know what to add if you don't know what your soil already contains? Soil tests come in varying levels of complexity, from simple, store-bought do-it-yourself kits that will determine your soil's pH level to lab tests that will give you a full nutrient breakdown.

The San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners offers an inexpensive lab test that will reveal the most intimate details regarding your soil. The results come with complete recommendations for additives, including amounts to use. (I wish I'd followed this advice when I started my garden. When I finally got around to the test, the results provided a wealth of information that would have saved me time and money.)

For more information about soil tests, see the August 23 Green Gardener column.

Whether your soil test says your garden needs potash, phosphorus or nitrogen, non-animal-based by-products are readily available at most nurseries. The following information, unless credited otherwise, is from Jeavons' pamphlet. The amounts stated are for use on a 100-square-foot garden of poor-quality clay soil in the garden's first year.

Whichever of these fertilizers you choose to use, work them into the soil a good 6 to 8 inches before you plant anything. Cut quantities back appropriately if you have a smaller garden, and feel free to experiment. As Jeavons reminds readers in his pamphlet, "Soil conditions can vary from backyard to backyard."

First and foremost in Jeavons' plan is the use of compost to improve and maintain the soil's health. A rich, black soil-like amendment made from rotted yard waste and kitchen scraps, compost feeds soil microbes that release nutrients. Nothing else provides the necessary carbohydrates and cellulose, as well as all 16 nutrients plants need.

In fact, if your soil is in good shape, he suggests you add a 1-inch layer of compost (8 cubic feet, or a dozen 5-gallon buckets), a quarter-pound of potash and a half-pound of calcium to your garden.

Supporting this advice, the July/August 2000 issue of Organic Gardening magazine included a special report on fertilizers, based on research performed at the Woods End Research Laboratory, in Mt. Vernon, Maine. The research concluded that if gardeners use a combination of compost, mulch and cover crops, they need add nothing else to their soil: If your soil is healthy and alive, it will provide plants with all the nutrients they need.

On the other hand, "Golden Gate Gardening," by Pam Peirce, recommends that you routinely add a 2-inch layer of compost with some nitrogen and phosphorus to your vegetable garden. (Ask three gardeners the same question, and I guarantee you'll get three different answers, which is why in the world of gardening, we all need to become our own authority. There are too many variables for anyone to have the definitive answer for many questions regarding your particular garden's needs.) Nitrogen

If you want to add nitrogen to your soil, try using alfalfa meal or the alfalfa pellets sold for rabbit feed, instead of blood meal or fish emulsion. Alfalfa is a quick-acting source of nitrogen, with healthy amounts of phosphorus and potash. Organic Gardening magazine called rabbit pellets "an excellent all-purpose fertilizer." Jeavons recommends adding 16 pounds of alfalfa meal to your garden.

Rather than using bone meal as your source of phosphorus, try soft-rock phosphate. Dig 6 pounds into your plot.


Edible Gardening 101: Vegan Fertilizers

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Many of the most popular organic fertilizers and soil amendments contain animal ingredients such as bone meal, blood meal, and chicken feather meal, fish-based fertilizers, and manures. But never fear, there are plenty of vegan alternatives that will keep your garden growing healthy and strong.

Compost. Compost is the best material to add to your soil—it contributes nutrients and organic matter, provides habitat for beneficial microorganisms, and helps improve the soil’s texture. It is pretty much impossible to know what is in commercial compost, especially since more and more municipalities now compost food waste that includes meat and dairy products. Making your own compost ensures that you know exactly what it contains.

Alfalfa Meal. This plant-derived fertilizer is made from alfalfa—a leguminous plant full of nitrogen—and it works well as a substitute for blood meal. The nitrogen in alfalfa meal is quickly released when incorporated into the soil and is often recommended as a rose fertilizer, though I always mix it into the soil before I plant Brassicas (i.e. members of the cabbage family, including broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts).

Kelp Extract. Kelp is an amazing plant-based fertilizer because it contains tons of micronutrients and natural growth hormones. I consider it the secret ingredient to my successful garden. I spray my plants with liquid kelp once a month, and whenever a plant looks a bit piqued. It is amazing how quickly they perk up when dosed with a bit of kelp extract. Kelp extract is sold in both liquid and dry forms (which must be mixed with water). Many kelp fertilizers are also combined with fish products, so read the label carefully before you buy.

Down to Earth Vegan Mix 3-2-2. This great, all purpose granulated fertilizer is completely plant-and-mineral based and contains a good ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Thoroughly mix it into your soil prior to planting.

Willi Galloway is the author of Grow Cook Eat: A Food Lover’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening, and she writes about organic vegetable gardening and seasonal cooking on her blog, DigginFood.


Risks

Although bone meal is an organic fertilizer, using it is not risk-free. Phosphorus can accumulate in your soil with successive or large applications of bone meal. High levels can skew the balance of beneficial soil microbes, potentially harming tomatoes more than helping them. Additionally, excess phosphorus can leach into water tables and sensitive stream and river ecosystems, presenting significant health risks to aquatic life. Use bone meal with caution and only when you're sure the soil needs it.

Lynn Cochran is a professional writer and contributing author to the educational website, Gardening Carolina. He also volunteers as a North Carolina Master Gardener. He is educated in environmental science, botany, health care and English literature. He is currently pursuing an accelerated master's degree in applied geography at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.


What Is The Purpose Of Using Bone Meal For Plants?

Bone meal supplies phosphorus and a few other elements, but conventional and organic gardeners mainly use it for the phosphorus because it is supposedly important for root development, which is partially true.

The other thing is, how do you know you need phosphorus? Maybe your soil has enough or too much already, and adding more might just throw the nutrient balance in the soil more out of whack.

Adding concentrated minerals just for “good measure” doesn’t generally make sense, as it can set off a string of unintended reactions in the soil.

Good organic gardening practice is to add specific minerals only when you know you need them, generally based on an organic soil test, and using bone meal for plants is no different.


Conclusion

Using blood meal, bone meal, or the other alternatives is a healthy way of adding nutrients to your garden naturally without relying on man-made chemicals.

Not only do they allow you to keep your garden organic and chemical-free, it means you don’t need to worry about any chemicals harming your flowers or the vegetables you eat.

Blood meal and bone meal are both safe for use around your garden as long as you follow each manufacturer’s recommendations.

Before long, you will have colorful flowers or healthy vegetables, waiting to be harvested all around your garden.

Not only this, if you use these for lawn care, you will be spending plenty of weekends cutting lush green grass.


Watch the video: Benefits of BLOOD MEAL fertilizer How and Why use it in Organic Gardening. OrganicHawaii