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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.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

Number of Entries : 1024
  • Roz Lynn Dorf

    Paul — This is not for publication. I am so sorry we didn’t get to meet, but I am a paralegal in pre-trial mode for two trials — one on November.

    I just read your blog about Boulder. The Caliber Cote fertilizer that was used at SR5 & SR7 got me on the State Pesticide Sensitivity list because I have Grave’s Disease — autoimmune hyperthyroid disease. I tasted it for more than a week. The last spray here with RoundUp and QuinStar got me into a full-blown flare, but my thyroid is finally cooling down due to what I have done medically. Just in time for the next spray that is scheduled

    I’m glad you got to see where I live, and witness some of the personal dynamics. You met some of the neighbors and the manager Now you can understand why my pull/pool party was not appreciated by the manager and the board members who failed to attend. (P.S. A couple of them have too much time on their hands and could have attended.)

    We hear all the time that our property values are dependent on having a golf-course quality lawn with military-grade edging. One of my legal areas of expertise is in real estate and I attended real estate school. Living across from Open Space is what makes our property valuable, not the grass. And the fact that it is like living in the mountains, even though we are in Boulder. I’ve owned here since 1989, and want to stay.

    Roz

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