Bone meal is a commonly used soil amendment that is widely employed by gardeners to boost calcium and phosphorous levels in soil. Most commercially available bone meal fertilisers have an NPK formulation from 0-12-0 to 3-20-0, and thousands of different variations are currently on the market. Bone meal can be used to remedy large-scale phosphorous deficiencies and aid in the establishment of new transplants.
Although concerns have arisen over the link between mad cow disease and bone meal, none have so far been proven, and bone meal remains a safe slow-release soil amendment, widely available at home and garden centres.
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Bone Meal Application Rates
Bone meal in garden soil has a nutrient release time frame of one to four months. It should be applied at a rate of 1.36kg. per 100 square feet, although it can be used in ratios as high as 4.54kg. per 100 square feet. Application rates depend upon types of plants being grown and local soil conditions. Apply bone meal sparingly to avoid fertiliser burn, which can adversely affect the growth of plants. Organic fertilisers such as bone meal rely on microbial activity to make nutrients fully available to plants, and bone meal may thus be of little benefit in sterile potting mixes.
Method of Application
The method of application differs according to local conditions and the needs of various plants, but in general fertiliser is applied in one of three ways: broadcast, side-dressing and foliar feeding. Broadcasting fertiliser simply involves spreading the proper amount of fertiliser over the garden bed, and is best suited for treating large areas. Fertiliser should be worked into the soil with a spade, fork or tiller. Side dressing involves scattering the fertiliser 6 to 8 inches from each plant, and should be done after plants are established and growing vigorously. Foliar feeding can trigger the quickest growth response, as the fertiliser is applied directly to the leaves in liquid form. Bone meal is usually applied as a side dressing or broadcast into beds.
Identifying Fertilization Requirements
Fertiliser should always be applied according to the needs of the plants, rather than broadcast injudiciously. There are a number of indicators that can be used to gauge the lack of certain nutrients that can help in selecting the proper fertiliser and application rate.
Yellowing present on the lower leaves of the plant can indicate nitrogen deficiencies. Plants deficient in phosphorus often show purple discolouring, most often seen on the lower leaves. Potassium deficiencies usually manifest themselves as a brown stippling along outer edges of leaves, although this type of deficiency is one of the more difficult to diagnose without a soil test. Bone meal can be used to correct phosphorus deficiences. For a complete soil analysis, have a sample tested at a local agricultural extension.
Bone Meal and Mad Cow Disease
Although there has been concern over the link between mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and bone meal produced from bovine slaughterhouse remnants, studies have failed to establish any link, and the USDA has recommended the continuation of the use of bone meal as a nutrient for food crops. The treatments used for animal bone meal extraction in the United States are sufficient to kill pathogens. Areas that experienced large-scale mad cow disease outbreaks used processing methods of lower efficacy, and the USDA has consequently not allowed cattle product imports from these areas.
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- UAF Cooperative Extension Service; Fertilizing New Garden Soil in Raised Beds; Julie Riley
- Kansas State University: Johnson County Extension: Lawn and Garden
- Colorado State University Extension; Master Gardener Program; Adrian Card, et al.; 2008
- Virgina Cooperative Extension; Fertilizing the Vegetable Garden; Diane Relf, et al.; 2009