Homemade Bone Meal: A Partial Solution to Peak Phosphate ?  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

TreeHugger has a look at some lo-tech ways of keeping your garden well supplied with phosphorus (I'm a bit of a skeptic about the "peak phosphorus" idea though) - Homemade Bone Meal: A Partial Solution to Peak Phosphate ?.

A looming peak oil crisis isn't the only thing we have to worry about. Jeremy has already noted that the world could be facing a severe phosphorus shortage over the coming century, a shortage that would seriously curtail our ability to grow food. (Phosphorus is a vital plant nutrient used as fertilizer.) Warren has already pointed out that recycling human urine could help preserve this precious resource, a task that's easy enough for the home gardener. But what other measures can we take at home to keep the phosphrous in our gardens? It turns out that part of the answer may lay in the bones. (The other part may lie in leaving the bones well alone.)

The reason that commercial farmers use bone meal as fertilizer is that it is very high in phosphorous. So purchasing commercially produced bone meal could be argued to be a great way to keep the nutrient cycle going. However, those of us meat eaters who have a problem with factory farming may not be willing to purchase a by-product of the intensive farming industry. So can we make bone meal at home?

Like many other green-minded meat eaters, I try to make the best use of any animal products I can. So usually Sunday's roast chicken becomes Mondays leftovers. The bones from Monday's leftovers become stock for the rest of the week. But what happens to those bones once they are done making stock? Usually I've thrown them out in the trash—but while mulling on the question of phosphorous, I wondered if it's possible to make homemade bone meal.

A quick search of the internet throws up some rare but tantalizing hints that it is indeed possible. A discussion over at freedom gardens suggests burning and crushing your animal bones for fertilizer, or using a solar cooker to dry them, or even just throwing them in the compost pile and hoping for the best. A discussion over at Kitchen Garden throws up similar results for homemade bone meal. Of course, simply burying bones, animal remains or even a placenta and planting a fruit tree over them is an age-old method of recycling. But that's about all I've found, so if anyone else has any suggestions for how to safe, sterile bonemeal, I'd love to hear them.

3 comments

If you use your laundry water to water your garden, the laundry detergent has phosphorous in it, too.

It's not really an issue for non-commercial food growing, though. Not if you use compost at all.

I'd start with the questions as to what is unsafe and why sterile.

The only unsafe that I can think of is that if there was a lot of smell left it might encourage animals to dig in your garden.

Sterile doesn't compute. You ate the meat off, made soup of the "flavor" and you didn't catch anything from it did you?

I suspect the "safe and sterile" is to make bone meal an acceptable market item.

Break them up, scatter them around. Let them slowly break down and you've got a slow release phosphate source, I would think.

Haven't tried it, but might bones be more brittle if frozen? Accumulate a nice big bag in your freezer and then get out your hammer....

You need to be careful with how much and what brand of laundry detergent you use... as many high phosphate detergents can also be high sodium and/or potassium as well. These can have the effect of destroying the soil structure in high concentrations... or make your soil sodic.

The last time I bought blood and bone it had almost no smell... probably a new manufacturing process.

Resource wars over fertilizer have been fought in the past. Try "The war of the Pacific". Bolivia wasn't always a land locked nation you know...

Also, the US congress still has on its books the Guano Islands Act, which states in part "Whenever any citizen of the United States discovers a deposit of guano on any island, rock, or key, not within the lawful jurisdiction of any other Government, and not occupied by the citizens of any other Government, and takes peaceable possession thereof, and occupies the same, such island, rock, or key may, at the discretion of the President, be considered as appertaining to the United States."

All very peaceful sounding... how many Pacific Islands does the US control?

While phosphate can be mined from mineral deposits the question is how much energy is needed?

Also consider that many phosphate deposits have not insignificant concentrations of Cadmium which needs to be removed.

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