If you don't grow it, you have to mine it

I wanted to make a post about one of my favorite notes from a professor in college that he kept on his office door.

That leads to some obvious but potentially uncomfortable truths about the world of growing your own food. Mining and resource extraction, more generally, is a reality of the impact of our choices in fruit or vegetable growing. It is absolutely possible to grow without any of the following, but to do so for most is a significant challenge without access to significant amounts of land or other resources that may not be available to the average forum member.

-Natural gas extraction gives us nitrogen fertilizer and likely the plastic many pots are created from

-Mining gives us Green Sand, perlite, vermiculite, diatomaceous earth, peat moss, lime, boron, Epsom salts, sulphur, gypsum, and likely most other fertilizers not extracted from fossil fuels

A special note on peat - my coworkers visited two facilities as part of a conference tour last month so I naturally had many questions. Neither appeared to be using very sustainable methods. I can elaborate if anyone is interested, I know @BlueBerry had a thread specifically on this topic.

Sure, you CAN garden and grow without the above, but it’s a lot easier to use modern conveniences.


I look at it this way–> Ideally, it’s better if a person can be healthy without taking any modern medicine or supplements. But if you have a condition that requires medicine or supplements, then you will be much healthier by taking them. No big deal. Gardening is the same way.


It frustrates me to no end when I see mounds of yard “waste” picked up by the city to be hauled to landfills because it is mixed with other garbage. Not only are we wasting precious mulch, but we’re also creating more landfills. And what about all kitchen scraps that end up in garbage. Another wasted resource


Yeah, a community compost program seems like a really good idea. It would have to be organized and planned well, but it could probably be run mostly by volunteers.

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Last year my triglycerides were through the roof and my insulin was in pre-diabetic range. For those conditions my doctor wanted to put me on statins with an eye on cholesterol medication. I cheated and drop weight instead, got out of pre diabetic range and halved my triglycerides.

Considering what statins and cholesterol medication does to you (blindness, loss of limbs, shortened lifespan) medication is the convenient but not the healthiest of alternatives. Same thing with gardening vs. buying cheap food at the super market, extremely convenient but not healthy for the system at large.


It sure is. We average 20 Million Metric tons of fertilizer per year in the US. I had to look it up…but its 44092452437 pounds.

Multiply that by a half a century or so…

I wonder if easier comes at a cost?

Phosphate Ore is also mined and made into… Roundup. Which is another great modern convenience.

I could go on…but its a dark story… no love to be got from the truth.

Easier if we just call them fertilizers and sprays… its more convenient for sure.

Or push your local government to do so. For years San Diego has been picking up green garden waste and composting it, which is then free to residents. I wouldn’t use this on any edibles to to herbicides and pesticides that might not get broken down in the industrial composting process, but it should be fine for ornamental use.

The State of California has mandated that all cities now collect food and garden waste for composting. I’m expecting San Diego to start collecting food waste in our green bins this summer.


I don’t know about that. Every year I get a few truck loads of horse manure, I just make a big pile and forget about it until the next year. Well not quite completely, I dump most of the home made urea in it, bacterial action completely eliminates any smell. I dilute the rest 5:1 for garden use, my concern is actually over fertilizing. I also get truck loads of green mulch from the nearby tree service people, they have a big pile for free. Because I do a layer of manure followed by 5 inches of mulch around each tree by the next spring the mulch has decomposted quite a bit, adding all sorts of minerals to the soil.

I’m hopping to find time this year to build my charcoal/biochar kiln, that should take my soil amendment to the next level.


Don, you have indirectly concurred with my caveat,

Not everyone has access to a big old pile of poop or a big pile of lawn clippings. Plus you need space for composting those big piles and a lot of people here don’t have room. I’m working with 1/8th acre so I have to be extremely stingy with my space constraints. The driveway is becoming a “second garden”. I barely have room for a small kitchen scrap composter. I DO have access to horse manure from my boss’s father in law. It’s great, but it sucks all of the nitrogen out of the garden. My coworker tested his after using it and got non detect readings for nitrogen.


Sri Lanka banned fertilizer, pesticides, fungicides, among others, and went 100% organic. They went from being a country that had a net surplus of food to export to relying on charity and imports to keep the people fed. The whole farming sector imploded and people are hungry. Now they are out of food and the government collapsed.

Dirty farming, dirty pesticides, dirty feed lots…the horrors of the modern farm world keep the lights on.


That’s where the homemade urea comes into play… I did the math a while ago, a 5:1 dilution has eight times the nitrogen than a mix of MiracleGro. If you are not careful you can end up with the opposite problem.

Everybody should look around. Anywhere there is a horse, there are upwards of fifty pounds a day of horse manure, and they are usually stabled by the dozen. Most stables are desperate to get rid of the stuff. Same thing with green wood chips, they are free for the taking everywhere.

I am blessed with space now but even when I wasn’t I was still getting my modest pile of horse manure for my garden. Green mulch just goes straight where is needed as needed so it doesn’t take space.


Can you explain that?

I think cultures have added manure to their crops for centuries to add Nitrogen… never heard of it sucking it all out?

Is your ‘manure’ sawdust and straw from the stables? If so thats not manure?

You said it was great… so im curious.

They go through about 3,000 square bales of hay yearly from what I understand. Much of that turns into poop, some turns into bedding for the stables. All of this gets swept out and put in a giant pile each year which is turned regularly with a tractor. At the end of the year he has a trucking company come in with triaxles and loads the majority to be used for soil mixes I think. He keeps enough for folks like me who use it in their gardens etc.

I assume that the lack of nitrogen is from the bacteria and microorganisms using it to break down the organic materials in the compost, but I am not completely sure. All I know is that the last 2 years I’ve had marginal output from our garden and this year after more compost from kitchen scraps and a sprinkling of MINED organic fertilizer, everything is going gangbusters and I’m probably going to have way more butternut squash than I know what to do with. I’ll post a picture of the stuff I picked up this year.


From what you explained… sounds like more carbon than manure. Which makes sense on the low N.

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For years I only used cow manure in my garden. My husband mixed them in with my soil and my garden was so productive. I could grow almost anything in the Bay Area.
Now I use mostly my own compost because it’s cheap, some steer manure, chicken manure for the roses. No peat moss in my garden. But I do buy small quantity of perlite for the peonies and bone meal and blood meal for the vegetables, and Jojobe sticks for the fruit trees. I try to stay away from buying more stuff, well at least that’s my goal. However my current garden is not as productive as the previous 2 gardens for some reason even with all the organic fertilizers I buy.


Keep in mind that organic fertilizer does not equate to a non-mining source. Just like organic produce does not mean that it was not sprayed, just that the sprays used are certified to be organic. That said, maybe you should try to find a farmer nearby with cows or horses, or maybe see if you can start getting used coffee grounds from Starbucks or spoiled produce to compost from grocery stores? That is, if you are trying to go a " holistic" route for the purpose of reducing your impacts while still getting good productivity.

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That is definitely possible Kris. You would think there would be a lot of nitrogen from the residual hay though.

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Help your local horse boarding place, use horse manure:

  • upwards of 50 pounds of manure per horse per day: if they are not contracting to have it carted out they are drowning on the stuff hoping somebody would take it.
  • Small outfits are fastidious about what they feed their horses. You can talk to the caretakers to find out exactly what went into the literal horses mouth. In contrasts commercial compost is full of whatever they pumped into the industrial farming operation.
  • horse manure is very dry, easy to manage when fresh.
  • horse manure is the least smelly. Even fresh is not unpleasant and honestly? Ilike the smell of afresh stack of horse manure. Probably because i associate it with all the good it will do for me.
  • it is afantastic soil conditioner. Freshly composted it still contains enough fiber to keep things very fluffy and retaining water.
  • off all the manures it has the most ideal carbon/nitrogen ratio to fuel composing. Ilike to spike mine with urea for extra nitrogen for the plants.
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I have 2 worm compost bins with coffee ground, eggshells, and rotten vegetables. I do have access to horse manure for cheap, it used to be $2.5 for a big bag but they are not as effective as my own compost. They add something to the horse manure, maybe wood chips, so I’m not buying horse manure anymore. Around here they used to give away coffee ground but maybe not anymore. Maybe that’s why my previous garden did so well. I got lots of free ground coffee from the local coffee shop.

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If you find an actual horse farm that compost will likely be free to you.