Urea Doesn’t Cut It for Organic Lawn Care
I was once again reminded yesterday how difficult it is in this day and age to be sure you’re doing the right thing with regard to organic lawn care and gardening — even when you’re trying hard.
During my trip to Boulder, Colorado, I met people who truly believed they were involved with organic lawn care. They were aerating and avoiding pesticides, focusing on proper mowing and watering. Curious, I asked what they were doing for fertilization.
They proudly handed me a bottle with the word “organic” front and center. Right away, I knew they were being duped. It was almost sad to burst their bubble.
With a fertilizer analysis of 14-2-2, the product could not possibly meet the true definition of organic as defined by the National Organic Program, the Organic Materials Review Institute, the Northeast Organic Farmers Association or any other credible certification body. With truly organic fertilizers the highest possible nitrogen percentage is 13, achievable with straight feathermeal or blood meal. Sure enough, urea was among the ingredients in this particular bottle.
Urea is a naturally occurring compound that humans and other animals excrete every time we go to the bathroom. It’s high in nitrogen, which accounts for the burning that occurs when female dogs relieve themselves on lawns — especially lawns that have already been fertilized heavily with high-nitrogen fertilizers.
In virtually all fertilizers sold in today’s marketplace, however, urea has been synthesized in a laboratory. The Bosch-Meiser urea process, in use since 1922, fuses synthetic ammonia and carbon dioxide. The ammonia comes from the burning of coal or natural gas and other petroleum-derived materials.
As the cheapest form of nitrogen available to manufacturers, synthetic urea is found in countless fertilizer products. Bags of straight urea, containing up to 46 percent nitrogen, can be found at landscape supply stores. And for a quick green-up of a lawn, it works.
Because it’s so water soluble, however, urea is ridiculously prone to leaching and volatization. It’s so volatile, in fact, that it’s often used as an explosive.
The bottom line is that urea doesn’t cut it in organics. For a list of substances allowed and prohibited for organic crop production visit the USDA National Organic Program website: http://www.ams.usda.gov/NOP/indexNet.htm.