It’s a fine spring day. Time to do chores, like removing the leaves from the shade beds, feeding the roses and daylilies, and putting shredded leaves on the garden to break down.
I’ve finally pruned nearly all of the roses and inoculated some with diatomaceous earth to try to stop cane borers. I wrote about growing roses chemically free on the Lowe’s Grow Along blog this week.
I’m trying a new rose food this year on a few; it’s Mills Magic Rose Mix, which the company sent me. I like that right on front of the package they have the ingredients in fairly large letters: “alfalfa meal, fish meal, steamed bone meal, cottonseed meal, blood meal, activated sludge, and an organic compost activator.” Its NPK analysis is 6-5-1, so it has a balance of nitrogen (to get those leaves growing) along with phosphorous (for bloom production) with a small amount of potassium (drought protection). I like that none of the numbers are super high like those in some chemical fertilizer formulations. As rose food, it should work great, and the rosarian who developed it has had great success with his roses.
What I like best is that it is composed of natural ingredients, but is it considered organic? Not exactly. According to The Free Online Dictionary, organic is:
“Of, marked by, or involving the use of fertilizers or pesticides that are strictly of animal or vegetable origin; or, raised or conducted without the use of drugs, hormones, or synthetic chemicals [like] organic chicken; organic cattle farming.”
Mills Rose Magic mix does contain activated sewage sludge; i.e., human poop. Milorganite is another product which has activated sludge as a component. I use it on my daylilies about every other year. Some studies show there could be some chemical residue in human waste even when it is broken down by sewer plants. Why? There are so many reasons. Partly because humans eat food which contains chemicals. We drive cars, operate factories and burn fossil fuels with heavy metals and chemical residue which we absorb through our skin, hair, nails, etc. We all have chemical and heavy metal residue in our bodies, something which my great grandparents did not. As shown in my collection of antiquated gardening books, widespread chemical use began in the 1950s, and that is believed to be when we started retaining so much residue. I found this cool timeline of agriculture history showing the increase in chemical usage.
Now, what does that mean to you? I wouldn’t use either Mills’ Rose Magic or Milorganite on vegetables, but both state not to right on the package. Just so you know, this is the USDA’s definition for organic food production:
“Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.” Consumer Brochure, USDA National Organic Program, http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/Consumers/brochure.html“
I don’t eat my roses or use them to make rose sugar. Here they are strictly ornamental. I don’t spray them with any pesticides or herbicides. I like that Mills Rose Magic is all natural, and if you’re interested in using it, the company’s website has a history of its development. I also think human sludge should be recycled somehow. Would I buy this fertilizer? Probably not, because it wouldn’t be cost effective for me with so many roses. Although I appreciate their sending it to me to try, I’ll just stick to my regular organic regimen. However, for the average gardener or rose enthusiast, I think it would be a good, all around fertilizer. Because it is made with natural products that slowly break down and add biomass to the soil, I believe it is better for the soil than chemical fertilizers. That is just my opinion. There are many on both sides of the organic issue who would disagree with me.
I’m testing it on roses in beds far away from my vegetables. Normally, I use alfalfa pellets on my roses in the spring, and that’s it. We’ll see how the rose mix compares with straight alfalfa. Note: the bag says to feed the roses three times a season with this mix, which is also the recommendation for alfalfa. However, as you know, I am a one-time feeder in the spring. I then spray an organic fish emulsion and kelp foliar fertilizer later in the season when everything is looking peaked. I still get results like these. If you do decide to use either this fertilizer or straight alfalfa, be sure to work it into the soil some, or, in our climate, it will develop mold which is a whole other problem.
One more thing, I was at TLC Nursery yesterday, and they had some of my favorites roses like: ‘Cl. Old Blush’, ‘Clotilde Soupert’, ‘Carefree Beauty’, ‘The Fairy’, ‘Cl. Pinkie’, ‘Belinda’s Dream’, etc. These were all from Chamblee’s Rose Nursery. So if you don’t want to have smaller plants of these cultivars shipped to you, you can pay a bit more and get bigger ones from TLC. Although they’ve carried a lot of antique roses in the past (along with way too many Hybrid Teas), this is the first year I’ve seen so many with the Earthkind® designation. These are roses you don’t need to coddle so much or spray.
Sounds like a deal to me. Better get out there fast though. About a thousand of my gardening friends were there with me yesterday, and that was a Friday. Spring has sprung.
Dee, Like Carol, I only have 5 roses, so this might be a good solution for me. I love reading your care tips because I want to take more care of my roses this year (#2 for 3 of them, including Carefree Beauty, and year 1 for 1, the eldest is in a pot.) My concern is that this product will smell yucky and thus entice my nastiness-seeking scent hound to dig it all up…But I suppose that will be the case with any fertilizer (sigh). Thanks for the great info.
.-= Diana´s last blog ..Too many veggies to eat? Share the love. =-.
Carol, May Dreams Gardens
Very interesting and informative, Dee. I’ve always shied away from Milorganite, but I know it is sold around here. I may try some where I know I will not be growing vegetables. And as you know, I have very few roses, so the Mills Magic Rose Mix might be just the thing for them.
.-= Carol, May Dreams Gardens´s last blog ..Violets =-.
Lisa at Greenbow
I am not entirely organic but I don’t use much chemical much to the chagrin of my neighbors. Ha.. Oh well. I am not a lawn person. Your garden is beginning to look spiffy with the roses leafing out. Spring has certainly sprung.
mss @ Zanthan Gardens
I’ll be interested in hearing the results of your tests. I use a local (to Austin) sewer sludge product called “Dillo Dirt” on my ornamentals (not any food crops). I think it’s an important kind of recycling but I wish I knew more about the heavy metals it contains and whether they are building up in my soil or my plants.
I topdress my roses with Starbuck’s coffee grounds or Dillo Dirt mixed with my own sifted compost. I haven’t noticed much difference no matter what I feed them. The amount of water seems to be the most important factor here. This year roses all over Austin are going wild. I can’t remember such a beautiful spring. We’ve had almost six months of rain after two years of the severest drought. What I’ve learned is that all my plants like about two to three times the water they normally get.
.-= mss @ Zanthan Gardens´s last blog ..Texas Dandelion =-.