Bone Meal

by - March 01, 2013

I made a genius discovery this week, perhaps several. By genius, I mean that I pulled a dumb gardener stunt. Last year, I used Alaska brand liquid fertilizers and fish emulsion on the seedlings for phosphorus, but this year, as my favorite plant store is closed on Sundays, I found myself at Lowes where the only liquid fertilizer options were of the electric blue, just add water nature. Most options on the shelves were geared towards Nitrogen (Lowes shoppers really love green leaves and green lawns, I suppose). So I grabbed a bag of bone meal, which published a higher P value than N value. At home, I swished it around in a cup of water hoping it could suspend long enough to pour over the tray of seedlings. First, bone chunks sink. They don't suspend. They don't even pretend to suspend. Bone powder does suspend for a bit, so I managed to pour out the water sludge combo over one tray and figured I'd wait to do the other. The next day, I kept smelling poo. After nearly a full day of blaming the foul odor on the boys, and after a thorough search for random poo, I took a big whiff of the seed tray and found the culprit. Fortunately, I had one dome lid on hand tall enough for my leggy seedlings, and the odor is now contained.

UPDATE 3/2/13. Today I discovered about 70% of the tomato seedlings completely withered. So don't directly apply bone meal to the soil surface around plants.

The scoop on bone meal:

1. Bone meal is crushed beef animal bones, typically used for phosphorus needs which boosts root and bulb growth. Fish bone meal has higher levels of phosphorus.
2. Bone meal is insoluble in water. Mix it into the soil when starting seeds or bulbs or use as a side dressing. If you've already planted your seeds in little seed pods or trays, use fish emulsion for your immediate phosphorus needs.
3. It doesn't smell so great. Use it outside.
4. Not all bone meal is created equal. Check the bag for the N-P-K percentages.
  • Espoma is 4-12-0
  • Dr. Earth Fish Bone Meal 3-18-0
  • Green Thumb 6-12-0
  • Miracle-Gro Organics 6-9-0 (This is what Lowes carried. Notice the Scott's brand has less P than the other options on the market and higher N than most. I'll likely return one bag and find Espoma.)
5. Fish bones have been used to nullify lead. If you suspect your soil might have lead, probably not uncommon in urban areas, do your research.

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  1. very helpful! I used Espoma. I like their products. so stinky! green sells, so I think a lot of people play up the nitrogen. also, it doesn't stay in soil for long so it can always be added. I just use grass clippings for my nitrogen, so I focus on other nutrients. thanks for the info!!

  2. FYI Page: Not all bone meal is from 'beef' animal bones. Quite a lot is from poultry or swine. Also, it typically is blood and bone, though bone seems to be a better term since most people are more adverse to 'blood' in the terminology. From an animal nutrition standpoint you are getting a lot more with it than just P and N. Even though drying can 'denature' many vitamins there still seems to be evidence that many survive along with other minerals. Good luck with the growing!



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