Bone meal is an organic product used extensively in agriculture and livestock farming. It mainly finds use as a nutritional and mineral supplement for livestock and as a natural fertilizer.
Not only is it an organic alternative to modern chemical fertilizers, but it also improves the overall composition of the soil. Additionally, bone meal enhances the overall crop quality and yield.
Even though bone meal is highly popularized for its soil amendment abilities, one should be aware that its improper use can cause certain complications. This article will provide you all that you need to know before entrusting bone meal fertilizer with the well-being of your soil and plants.
Continue reading for an in-depth discussion of its composition, key features, and things to consider before usage.
Bone Meal: Composition
Essentially, bone meal is made up of defatted bones of slaughtered animals. Bone meal is mostly a by-product of slaughterhouses. The leftover bones of animals are sterilized by steaming or boiling and then pulverized after drying.
Being rich in phosphorus content, it is considered an organic fertilizer. Other than phosphorus, bone meal contains a fairly high amount of minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc. Moreover, bone meal is a decent source of protein as well, depending on the amount of muscle and tendon left on the bones.
Phosphorus, its chief constituent, is one of the three vital micronutrients for plants. It has proven functions in the life processes of a plant. These include photosynthesis, cellular respiration, growth, flowering, and reproduction.
Bone Meal for Phosphorus Deficiency in Soil
Organic matter, clay content, soil mineralogy, soil pH, temperature, moisture, and soil aeration are some factors that influence the availability of phosphorus in the soil. However, most soils do not have adequate levels of phosphorus.
There are a few peculiar cases as well where deficiency of phosphorus is observed even when the total available phosphorus in the soil is adequate. It happens when the phosphorus available is immobile and its uptake is difficult for the plant.
Both these cases can cause phosphorus deficiency in plants, whose main symptoms include purple discoloration, brown tips, and delayed maturity. The leaves and stems of the plants also appear stunted.
Bone meal, in such cases, is the perfect soil amendment. As compared to rock-phosphates, polyphosphates, and chemical phosphate fertilizers, bone meal is a safer, organic, and environmentally friendly option.
When used appropriately, it enriches the soil and aids the growth of the plants tremendously.
Plants and Soils Best Suited with Bone Meal
Bone meal is an ideal fertilizer for plants that require a high dose of phosphorus and nitrogen. Some of these include legumes, allium, and flowering plants. Plants like garlic, leeks, onions, rose, amaryllis, etc. flourish when treated with appropriate amounts of bone meal.
Bone meal is usually recommended for use in acidic soils.
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Now that we have discussed the soil types and plants which are most suited to treatment with bone meal, let’s take a look at the advantages:
- Great source of phosphorus: Because of its rich phosphorus content, bone meal can single-handedly treat the phosphorus deficiency in soils.
In addition, the phosphorus in bone meal is in a form that is easier for the plants to absorb and utilize.
Pro Tip: If a soil test is not feasible, you can check for a purplish hue around the stems of the plants. This indicates that your plants need a phosphorus supplement and hence, bone meal can be a safe fertilizer.
- Calcium Supplement: Other than phosphorus, bone meal contains a considerable amount of calcium as well. Calcium is a secondary nutrient that promotes the overall growth of plants.
It also plays a vital role in the formation of cell structures. Calcium-rich soils are also observed to have a superior soil structure and better water infiltration properties.
Remember: Soils with low levels of calcium produce fruits that have a reduced shelf life. Other symptoms include premature shedding of buds, death of growing plants, and bitter pit.
- Balanced Nutrition: Although bone meal can be used singly in certain cases, it is most often used in combination with other nutrient-rich fertilizers.
Traditional fertilizers like farmyard compost and manure have low to almost zero levels of phosphorus. Hence, when used in correct proportions with other organic fertilizers, bone meal can contribute to a well-rounded soil amendment.
- Slow Release Properties: Bone meal needs a significant amount of time to completely decompose. It means that one application of bone meal in the garden soil will last at least a year.
- Healthier Plants: The balanced nutritional content of bone meal promotes root development, increased stalk and stem strength, and improved flowering formation.
- Higher yields: It works exceptionally well at increasing the overall yield. Plants treated with bone meal have been seen to mature early and show a more uniform growth.
The crops also have far better qualities and show a higher resistance to pests and plant diseases. Phosphorus in bone meal boosts the flower and seed production too.
Bone meal is most probably much more beneficial than it is detrimental to the soil and crop quality. However, it is important to be aware of the possible shortcomings of this organic fertilizer. Here are some:
- It cannot be used to amend soils with high pH levels.
- Being a slow-release fertilizer, it won’t be immediately effective at boosting the phosphorus content of the soil.
- Although it is not toxic, if ingested, it can cause gastrointestinal diseases in humans and animals.
- One should also prefer using bone meal as a blend with other similar fertilizers.
- Bone meal can also attract scavengers and animals because of its strong smell.
Hence, it should be worked into the soil well and the remaining fertilizer should be carefully stored away.
Before Adding Bone Meal to the Soil
Depending on the soil and other concerning factors, the soil needs to be prepared before the addition of bone meal. This includes making sure if the soil in the garden requires bone meal supplements in the first place.
Given below are steps for the same:
- Test the Soil: Finding out the true amounts of phosphorus and other elements in the soil is important because it helps to decide the ideal fertilizer for the soil.
Soil testing kits are readily available at local agricultural stores, local county extension offices, government offices, agricultural universities, or you can buy them online.
Check out our list of the 7 Best Soil Test Kits, for an elaborate analysis of soil test kits.
- pH Testing: This is another crucial step because bone meal can only be used if the soil had a pH of 7 or below.
- Soil Preparation: If the soil in your garden or field is highly alkaline, you will need to modify the pH by adding external neutralizing (or acidifying) agents. Some of these are sphagnum peat, elemental sulfur (or other acidic sulfur compounds), acidifying nitrogen, or organic mulches.
How to Add Bone Meal to the Soil?
After the soil preparation is done, bone meal can be added to the soil.
Although the amounts will vary according to the brands, adding around 1 tablespoon per 2 square feet of soil is recommended. This equates to about 3 cups of bone meal per 100 square feet of soil. Checking the package for the correct application is a great idea as well.
To plant, blend the bone meal with the back-fill soil. You can also sprinkle it on the top and then turn the soil thoroughly to mix.
About half a teaspoon per plant is recommended when planting seedlings or bulbs that bloom in spring. The next supplementation will be required in the next spring or summer.
After the application, the soil must be moderately watered to initiate the breakdown of bone meal. The bone meal will release nutrients over a span of about 4 months.
Remember: Bone meal application is easier when the weather is dry. You should, therefore, check the weather forecast before starting.
Alternatives to Bone Meal
Although all these organic plant meals may seem similar, they are fundamentally different and should be used for different purposes. Here are their characteristics, uses, and recommended doses:
Fish meal is obtained from dried fish waste, carcass, skin, scales, and is a waste product of the industrial production of fish oils. Fish meal is best suited to soils that have a nitrogen deficiency.
Unlike bone meal, its main constituent is nitrogen and it has an NPK ratio of 5-2-2. It is used to increase leaf growth, root growth, and to improve the soil structure. Further, it encourages growth in seedlings and new plantings.
Scatter the fish meal pellets or powder onto the soil and mix into the soil carefully to ensure even distribution. Take care to work them into the top 1-inch layer of the soil. This should be done at least a week before the plantation.
As the name suggests, blood meal fertilizer is derived from the blood of animals from slaughterhouses. Its production involves heating of blood to high temperatures to evaporate water, sterilization, and drying followed by crushing.
This is a pure source of nitrogen with an NPK ratio of 13-0-0. It is used for the immediate replenishment of nitrogen content in the soil. Blood meal also lowers the pH value of the soil, making it acidic. Hence, its use can be favorable for acid-loving plants.
In contrast to bone meal, blood meal should never be used singly. It should always be blended with other suitable fertilizers to create a balance. In addition, one cup of blood meal for every twenty square foot of soil is a good enough dosage.
Remember: The over usage of blood meal can have adverse effects on the plants. It can hinder flowering and fruiting, and in some cases, it can burn roots of the plants too.
Like other organic fertilizers derived from animals, feather meal is a product of the processing of feathers collected after poultry slaughtering. The feathers are subjected to extreme pressure and temperature and then crushed thoroughly to form a fine powder.
Feather meal acts as a nitrogen amendment and is known to have an NPK ratio of 12-0-0. The nitrogen content is in the form of keratin protein. For this reason, it cannot be readily absorbed by the plants because most of its nitrogen content is slowly released.
The best way to add feather meal into the soil is to work it into the top few inches of the soil. Keep in mind, it is usually suggested to mix about 3 to 6 lbs. of feather meal per 100 square feet of the soil.
Remember: Feather meal will take time to break down. Hence, refrain from adding too much of this fertilizer in hopes of getting faster results.
Contrary to all other meals discussed above, alfalfa meal is an organic fertilizer that is not derived from animals. It is, in fact, obtained from the fermentation of alfalfa plant seeds. Thus, this is a vegetarian alternative for organic farming.
Alfalfa’s NPK ratio heavily depends on its source, but the average would be around 3-1-3. Although its use is largely seen in livestock farming, it is a great natural fertilizer for flowering perennials and shrubs. It is also used to improve the tilth of the soil.
About 2 cups of alfalfa should be sprinkled around shrubs. Also, make sure to blend it in the soil with a rake. Afterward, the plants can be watered as usual.
Note: Alfalfa meal is alkaline in nature. Therefore, make sure to not use it with plants that are acid-loving.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is bone meal acidic or alkaline?
Bone meal is a weak base and would not lower the pH of the soil than it already is. Therefore, it is only recommended for use in acidic soils.
When should I give my plant bone meal?
Usually, bone meal is applied from February to November. But depending on the plant, it can be used before planting or during the growing season.
Can you use too much bone meal?
Generally, no. Soils can usually regulate the levels of phosphorus released into them, reducing the chances of overfertilization. However, for soils having adequate amounts of phosphorus, bone meal should not be used.
Things to Remember
Some key takeaways include:
- Bone should always be used in acidic soils.
- Care should be taken to not make over usage of bone meal. It won’t burn the roots of the plants but would promote algal growth. It will also lead to surface runoff and erosion.
To conclude, using bone meal as a fertilizer in the garden requires profound knowledge and a lot of effort. Above all, it can be an easy solution to phosphorus deficiency and a great soil amendment.
However, in the end, it all depends on the individual characteristics of the soil and plants that you wish to grow. Therefore, make sure to learn as much as possible before making use of bone meal.
We hope this article helped you learn more and guided you with the process of using bone meal as a fertilizer.
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