Do the plants in your garden seem to have stunted growth? Have you noticed purple discolorations around the edges of their leaves? Maybe you haven't seen any problems yet, but you'd like to get the fullest blooms and yields your garden has seen to date. If any of these sound familiar, bone meal could be the perfect remedy for your garden troubles. Rich in minerals and a long-lasting source of nutrition, this natural fertilizer offers a lot of benefits — if you know how to use it.
As the name implies, bone meal consists of finely ground animal bones, typically from cattle. Since bone is especially rich in phosphorus, it makes sense that this fertilizer is a prime choice for improving this element's concentration in your soil. Many bone meal fertilizers have an NPK (Nitrogen:Phosphorous:Potassium) ratio of 3-15-0 up to 2-22-0, making it the perfect remedy for a phosphorus deficiency. What can you expect from your garden once you've improved its phosphorus intake? Enhanced root growth, larger seeds, and fuller flowers are just a few of the benefits.
You'd probably expect this from a fertilizer made from bones, but bone meal is sure to provide your garden with the calcium levels it needs to thrive. Plants lacking in calcium often display withered, misshapen root tips and leaf sprouts, as calcium is the nutrient responsible for strengthening new plant tissue. While adding eggshells to your compost is the most common way to get your garden the calcium it needs, bone meal has enough in it to be a great calcium supplement.
The process of making bone meal is important in helping plants gain access to the nutrients it contains. First, the animal bones are steamed to open their pores. This makes the nutrients especially easy for plants to consume. They are then ground into a fine powder, and in some cases, other nutrients (like nitrogen) are added. The result is a fertilizer with a very high surface area and nutrients that plants can easily absorb.
As the part of an animal that's responsible for its structure and rigidity, it should come as no surprise that bones take a while to break down. Because of that, plants can feed off of the nutrients bone meal provides for a long time, and a single application is often enough to last a full growing season.
If you're looking to go organic with your garden, bone meal is a great asset. Many organic gardeners use compost or manure to fertilize their gardens, and while these provide plenty of nitrogen, they often add very little phosphorus. Bone meal balances out your soil composition to give it the nutrients compost lacks.
Phosphorus is a potent element and has the potential to damage plants if you apply too much. Excess can yellow the leaves of some plants and interfere with nutrient absorption. A little bit can go a long way when it comes to this phosphorus-heavy fertilizer; aim for an average of 10 pounds of bone meal for every 100 square feet of garden.
As useful a fertilizer as bone meal is, its primary benefit is nullified if the soil's pH level is too high. Researchers from Colorado State University have observed that applying phosphorus to soil with a pH above 7.0 is ineffective, so be sure to lower your soil's pH (perhaps by adding peat moss) before adding bone meal.
Dogs especially can be tempted by the animal scent of bone meal, and it can damage their digestive system if they consume too much. Nevertheless, it would take a great deal of bone meal to harm your pet, and evenly distributing it throughout the soil should minimize any scent and keep your pets safe.
Those who prefer natural fertilizers will find making their own bone meal an easy and enjoyable process. Simply store up your choice of bones, pressure cook them until they're soft, blend them in a food processor into tiny bits, and lay them out on a rack to dehydrate. You'll know they're ready for the soil if they leave behind a white dust.
Since bone meal is mostly made from cattle bones, fear of contracting Mad Cow Disease has made some people reluctant to use it. However, the rigorous testing performed on each cow before its bones are used in the production of bone meal eliminates the possibility that any cow with this disease would ever be used, so this myth shouldn't keep you from reaping the benefits of a natural fertilizer.