Using Bone Meal For Plants? Here Are The Risks

Bone Meal For Plants
“Mad Cow Disease” – Of course we find a way to blame the cows

Using bone meal for plants has been passed down for generations. It is made from ground animal bones and comes in a granular or powder form.

When I did a lot of landscaping as a teenager and in my early 20s, I was using bone meal for almost all of my plantings, but then I learned about the potential risks and studied organic gardening and learned about a few superior products.

Mad Cow Disease (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) Concerns

Since the mid-1980s and especially the late-90s, there has been concern as to whether using bone meal for plants might be harmful, as inhaling the dust can cause a form of Mad Cow Disease in humans.

I think there are a lot more important things to worry about, but if you’re into the precautionary principle, you might want to use something else.

In the SOUL Organic Land Care Standard, it says using bone meal is “Permitted only if guaranteed free of specific risk materials (e.g. prions associated with Mad Cow Disease). Use is strongly discouraged due to the potential spread of prion diseases.” (Source)

Many certification bodies in Europe and Canada (Source) have prohibited its use due to the risk of BSE contamination. Organic bone meal is often exempt, but almost impossible to find.

It’s fairly difficult to guarantee the bone is free of prions, since the nerves run through the bones, and since it’s very difficult to kill them no matter how much heat and toxic chemicals are applied, so most of us organic gardeners just don’t use it.

Many scientists claim there is little risk to humans from using bone meal for plants, but there are some who are seeing disturbing trends (here are some articles).

I won’t get into the science here and I don’t pretend to understand it all, but I’ve decided to follow the precautionary principle and stay away from using bone meal in my organic garden.

My goal is not to scare you away from using it, but just to let you know about this Mad Cow thing, and to let you know about some other great products you might want to look at instead.

What Is The Purpose Of Using Bone Meal For Plants?

Bone meal supplies phosphorus and a few other elements, but conventional and organic gardeners mainly use it for the phosphorus because it is supposedly important for root development, which is kind of true.

The other things is, how do you know you need phosphorus? Maybe your soil has enough or too much already, and adding more might just throw the nutrient balance in the soil more out of whack.

Adding any concentrated minerals just for “good measure” is inappropriate, as it can set off a string of unintended reactions in the soil. Good organic gardening practice is to add specific minerals only when you know you need them, generally based on an organic soil test, and using bone meal for plants is no different.

What Might You Use Instead?

What you use instead of bone meal for plants depends on how much effort you want to put into this, but the cost isn’t much and neither is the time. There are the 3 products I generally use when planting in my organic garden.

I talk about them in my next article: Bone Meal Alternatives

Update: Some people say I’m scare-mongering with this post. I actually thought I was pretty laid back about the whole thing. It’s important for me to note that this is just a blog post. It’s not meant to be an authoritative dissertation with all kinds of sources. Indeed, a lot of the chatter about using bone meal and Mad Cow Disease is over 10 years old (like this website) and I don’t know much about the research going on now – it’s just that when I was studying organic gardening, I was taught to avoid using it because my national organic standard didn’t allow it, and still does’t allow it. You’re certainly welcome to use it. I’m not trying to offend or scare anyone. Have a nice day!

133 Comments

  1. Jill on November 9, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Thank you for the recipe. I didn’t know about any of these products.

  2. Heidi on March 29, 2011 at 7:13 am

    Wow, that is seriously helpful!

  3. Home_remedies7 on April 4, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Thank you for this very useful information. In your next to last paragraph you say to take the seeds out of the water and kelp mixture after soaking over night. Then mix the micrrohizal fungi powder; do you put it into the water. I guess you are supposed to put the seeds back into the water (you do not say that) and for how long do you leave the seeds in the micrrohizal fungi before taking them out and drying them? Carol

    • Phil on April 5, 2011 at 2:45 pm

      I just mix the wet seeds with some mycorrhizal fungi powder and then leavethem to dry from there. They don’t need to be soaked again. The only reasonI leave them to dry is because some small seeds are difficult to sow whenwet. I don’t want them to be bone dry, just easier to sow.

  4. Mary Martens on April 14, 2011 at 12:15 am

    Hi Phil-This time my computer opened up to page 2-hoorah! I was wondering if you have a recommended source for the mycorrhizal. We peresently buy a product called Myke but it is very expensive.Thanks, Mary

    • Phil on April 14, 2011 at 12:21 am

      I started a company in Victoria, BC a few years ago called The OrganicGardener’s Pantry. It’s now run by my good friend Christina. She currentlysells Myke, but is in the process of transitioning back to a superiormycorrhizal product that I used to carry.I would check out her website to see her prices on Myke (http://www.gardenerspantry.ca/… orcontact her to see when she’ll move back to the other product.

  5. Adamsaab on May 16, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    So I’m looking a piece of land which is under a court sell because the previous owner was using the acres to bury Mad Cows. I’ve been told that if I want to grow there I’ll need to do some consulting with the Ministry of Health before they allow food to be sold off that land.Any thoughts? Should this really be a concern?

    • Phil on May 17, 2011 at 12:24 am

      It could definitely be a concern. I don’t know all of the details about theprions associated with Mad Cow Disease, but they are extremely difficult todestroy and they will definitely still be viable in that soil and they arepotentially quite dangerous to humans. If you grew the food in a differentarea than the buried cows, I’m not sure if that would be a problem.

      • SaludaBevie on October 16, 2012 at 3:07 pm

        Hi. Love your e-mails. Want to comment on Mad Cow Disease. I am a hospice nurse and have actually seen someone with Mad Cow die. Not pretty. Also I was in Europe in early 80’s when Mad Cow was discovered as factor. No knowing then immed that it was being tranferred to humans, I did eat beef. Now I can nolonger donate blood which I did regularly most of my life prior to that and have to live with knowing I might be harboring the disease. It is unlikely but the risk remains. It is a difficult disease to eradicate and No One should take a risk of being exposed to it in anyway. The gentleman who is looking at the land should go elsewhere and that land should be a toxic waste site.

        • Phil on October 16, 2012 at 4:36 pm

          Thanks for your insights Saluda.

  6. BLADESKATER00 on June 25, 2011 at 1:29 am

    So what do you use that is better than bone meal? 

  7. JonathanBrown20 on July 22, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    In the N.E. Of USA and in Canada we are quickly moving into grass-seeding time. How do you suggest planting grass seed with mycorrhizal fungi, sea minearals and liquid kelp? Are they needed? What is the easiest method to get the seeds to bind to the present soil? For example, top-dress with compost and top soil, then soak seeds in recommended Organic Planting Recipe?Your suggestions have been terrific. Thank you so much.Jonathan

    • Phil on July 23, 2011 at 12:33 am

      With grass I often mix a mycorrhizal fungi powder in with the seed before I spread it. Then I come by after seeding with a mix of sea minerals and kelp (and probably compost tea or EM) that I spray on the ground. Or if you have the ability to spread moist seed, you can soak the seeds overnight in the organic planting recipe and then put the fungi powder on right before you spread the seed.I don’t worry too much about binding the seed to the soil soil. Most important to me is keeping the seed moist.

  8. Bill on July 26, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    As most of my garden is planted, if I watered in the ‘MF’ will it survive, grow and eventually find its way to the various roots? If the MF does grow throughout the soil will this eliminate the need to apply it at the next planting?

    • Phil on July 27, 2011 at 11:12 pm

      If your soil is porous, the MF will get down there and you won’t have toapply it at the next planting. I tend to wait until spring or fall to applyit when it’s a bit cooler and wetter, but fungi can take it a little drier.As long as your garden is occasionally watered, you should be good to gonow.

  9. Veggie Gardener on August 4, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    this guys nuts or whomever wrote this been using it for years no funny biz lol no”mad cow”…. bonemeal’s just fine, just use dust particle mask or lightly moisten meal& wear gardening gloves soil microbes love bone & blood meal.But for alternative i recommend Jamaican bat guano or peruvian sea guano they r awesome but expensive compared to bone meals for phosphorous nutrient….

  10. Mr. Tomatohead on November 10, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    Hi Phil, are you a bloke? Using ml instead of oz? Just hassling you for fun.I enjoy reading your lessons.

    • Phil on November 11, 2011 at 12:57 pm

      I’m a Canadian, eh? We’re metric.

  11. Hair_flipper on November 11, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    Recently, I used bone meal to fertilize carrots, potatoes, and beets, and even ate them. Can I be sure that the bone meal was not derived from downed cows? You only need one prion particle to be permanently ill.

    • Robert Buchanan on April 26, 2015 at 3:35 pm

      You bone meal didn’t come from 20 year old British dairy cows. Most countries only had a few cases and those cases where long ago.Also it takes millions or prions to successfully pass along the infection between cattle. That is why muscle meat is large noninfectious but nerve tissue, digestive tract, and a few other organs are highly infectious.

  12. Sam on November 19, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    “Most experts” say it is safe but one person who cannot name the sources of his “information” says not. Mmmm, I wonder who I would give scientific credance to?I heard somewhere just isn’t good enough.

    • Phil on November 19, 2011 at 2:46 pm

      Hi Sam, most experts said 2,4-D was safe, too. But it’s true, there are certainly more dangerous products out there than bone meal. But the potential for bone meal to cause a worldwide epidemic is there in the future if we don’t clean up for our farming system. So for me, it’s more of a principle than me being worried about contracting BSE-related illnesses right now.

  13. Visitor on December 6, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    Oh please!  It’s been 25 YEARS since the big scare and predictions of frightening epidemics of horrible diseases.  The entire English population should be crippled and dying by now!  THIS HAS NOT HAPPENED.  Not even slightly.  If there’s no hint of it after 25 YEARS, it AINT GONNA HAPPEN!!! This author’s recommendations in the link at the end of the article are actually good, but the silly scaremongering about BSE is just that.  BSE was caused by organophosphate poisoning of UK cows, not some weirdo slow acting mutant virus.

    • Phil on December 6, 2011 at 10:58 pm

      I can see I need to expand on this article and refer to sources. I’ll do that soon.

    • Robert Buchanan on April 26, 2015 at 3:40 pm

      BSE is caused by prion. It is similar to a disease in sheep called scrapy which has been around for millenia. A prion is a damaged version of a particular protein molecule which is capable of converting helthy version of the same molecule into the damaged version. It is not a virus. it is not caused by organophosphates.

  14. andrea on December 10, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    the “experts ” also said it was safe to clean up the oil spills and 9/11,and look how many people got sick and died! You go ahead and trust the” experts”,who probably have a financial connection to the product.If there’s a safer alternative,wouldn’t you want to use it,better safe than sorry.

  15. Mtd81 on March 3, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    The bone meal I always get is ground up FISH bone.

    • Phil on March 3, 2012 at 11:42 pm

      Ya, that’s fishbone meal and it’s good stuff. Nothing to worry about (that I’m aware of) there.

  16. Rociodeblanco on March 9, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    I live in Urugay, Sourh America. It is hard to me to get some of the seeds I used to plant when I lived in New York. we have the foru seasons, now endind summer. We don´t hace snow but we have cold winters, very windy and very humid too, bad combination. I enjoy your lessons and I am eager to start with sprouts. I have a question: I love mini vegetables. Are the different seeds to plant for normal size carrots or beets or cucumbers and the baby ones? Or it is just a quiestion of harvesting earlier? thanks for your time an wonderful lessons,Rocío, amdg 

    • Phil on March 10, 2012 at 7:05 pm

      Hi Rocío, sometimes it’s early harvest time, but often it’s seed cultivars. Perhaps you can find seeds online.

  17. Ruminantia on March 26, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    Hi Phil,Do you have a recommendation for plants to grow that will clean up excessive P and K from the soil?  I had a soil test a few years ago and the P and K were both so far off the charts, I wouldn’t think about adding more intentionally, but is it true that the P and K, even at very high numbers may not be available to the plants?   As you said above that the MF “are often specifically credited with bringing phosphorus to plant roots, which is a good thing because plants have a difficult time getting phosphorus out of the soil, since it is held very tightly”.  I have used EM-1 from Arbico Organics and they also recommended Nitron Micro-Nutrients which is Fe .10, Mn .05, and Zn .05.  I did not do a very good job of using the EM, but plan to do much better about it this year since reading your blog!  So back to my question,  do you know about specific plants that I can grow that will bring my soil’s P and K into a better range (I had read about this once, but can’t remember exactly what it was).  Or is this something that I should even be concerned about?  Thank you!Also, would be interested in better understanding the use of Sea Minerals.  I always thought that ocean water was high in sodium, (and thus bad for plants) but is this a myth?  Or is the sea mineral product desalinated somehow, leaving beneficial minerals behind?

    • Phil on March 29, 2012 at 1:08 pm

      Hi Ruminantia, it’s a big question you’ve asked, and unfortunately, I can’t get into too much detail here. The first thing to do about the Phosphorus and Potassium is don’t add any fresh manure, and not too much compost. As for plants that balance the P and K, that’s more difficult. There are plants that will bring certain nutrients up from deeper in the soil, but as for removing specifically P and K from the soil and keeping it out, that’s a little far fetched – a lot of the nutrients will just return to the soil at leaf drop. I would be more likely to soil test and if K is indeed high, there are certain mineral fertilizers that can knock some the K out of the soil. P is a little trickier, but I wouldn’t worry about having too much P – just don’t add more.As for sea minerals, I know it’s not all that logical, but the salt is not a problem. I wouldn’t use it if I had a salt problem already, and of course I don’t go dumping a whole lot of it on the soil, but a little is good.

  18. Margie on April 4, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    Although I was leery because of factory farm practices I recently bought some Bone Meal but haven’t used it yet. I was told that it was good to use with blood meal to give transplants a good start. Is this right or is there something better? I do use manure/compost tea, and rock dust too. My question is would the earth worm neutralize anything bad in the bone meal?My response to “Visitor” is that they have found the Alzheimer’s disease is possibly the human form of Mad Cow in some cases. I’d rather be safe!

  19. Phil on April 5, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    Earthworms won’t neutralize the prions in bone meal. Almost nothing can destroy prions, even very high temperatures. It sounds like you already have a great setup with your teas and rock dusts. Personally, I would skip the bone meal.

    • Robert Buchanan on April 26, 2015 at 3:42 pm

      Prions are protein and therefore fairly heat resistant. Bacteria in the soil can/do eat prions.

  20. Ron on April 18, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Hi Phil,I have SEA-90, a cristalized sea mineral product.  When I dilute with water (1tsp/gal)  how do I apply to plants and soil?  A sprayer? A watering can?

    • Phil on April 20, 2012 at 5:51 pm

      Yes, assuming the sea solids will go through a filter, either of the above will work or a hose-end sprayer. Some kind of sprayer is nice to get full leaf coverage.

  21. Heather on April 20, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    Hi Phil, I’ve been wondering how long these products last, — mycorrhizal fungi powder, EM, sea minerals, kelp, rock dust, etc. — do they expire? I’ve purchased some of these through amazon, and don’t see indication on them.   Of course, probably like many of your readers, I’m also always interested in brand/source recommendations in the US. I did see and appreciate the blog post you did on some products you reviewed that are sold on amazon. 🙂  Have a good weekend!

    • Phil on April 24, 2012 at 4:48 pm

      Hi Heather – they should have an expiry date. Microbial inoculants are often best used with a couple of years. Biostimulants are more like a few years. It should say though.As for specific recommendations, I’ll have some in month 2 of the Academy within a couple of weeks.

      • phillip on June 5, 2013 at 2:30 pm

        EM should be good up to 1 year from manufacture. keep all microbial innoculants in a cool dry place. the minerals should last a long time.

  22. Charles on April 25, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    Key Phil I love your posts. I am just 20 years old and you have given me years of skills a head of learning from people and the land. My knowledge of plant physiology leads me to belive that what you are saying is true. These additives (I’m guessing) are just very small amounts to give the plants a boost right after planting/ seeding. If you feed the plants roots they will not grow deeply to search for anymore nutrients or water. Thus making them I’ll prepared for harsher conditions later in the season.When planting started plants, lets say tomatoes, the fungi spores get dabbed on the outside after the water mixture is applied to the roots? Also I usually dig a trench first for many plants, tulip bulbs, carrots, peas, beans and more. Can I just equally pore the water mix in the trench? And sprinkle the fungi spores in the garden.Also once fungi is established should/ could you not work on making a small side area specifically set up to grow the mycorrhizae mushrooms. Like in a forested border along the side of your land. (the area you exploit for leaves?)I would also really appreciate it if you could start a resources page each with a number and then when you say a fact from one in a post put the associated number down on the fact.Thanks so much and I wish I could join your academy but I just do not have the time/ resources right now.

    • Phil on April 26, 2012 at 5:54 pm

      Hi Charles, nice to have you here and I’m sorry you can’t do the Academy now, but hopefully you pick up a thing or 2 from my free stuff.Yes, you can pour the water mixture in the trench and ideally sprinkle the fungi spores right onto the seeds/roots while planting. As for propagating mycorrhizal fungi, that’s fairly tricky. Fortunately, once you have them in your soil, as long as you treat them well and don’t till much, they should stick around for you forever.

  23. Bo9 on May 18, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    I use organic bone meal- but doesn’t baking the bones before crushing them kill the BSE?

    • Phil on May 18, 2012 at 9:19 pm

      No, the prions actually survive extremely high temperatures.

  24. MIke on May 26, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    I use it around flowers as it seems to keep the squirrels away .

  25. Carol Leaver on June 13, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    How about blood meal is that something a gardener should be concerned about?

    • Phil on July 11, 2012 at 1:48 pm

      Hi Carol, sorry for the late reply – I missed this earlier. Blood meal has the same potential problem.

  26. pia on July 6, 2012 at 9:47 am

    Hi Phil,First of all I would like to thank you  very much for your 15 lessons. I learnt a lot from your informations, even I applied my recent knowledge in my mother garden. She have big surprise because every year she and my father sprinkle the tomatoes with some non toxic pesticide, with nettle macerate.Also, we know that in some quantity it is action as fertilizer (1 liter at 10 l of water). Many times we apply on our vegetables , macerate nettle. But in small quantity 1 liter nettle at 1o l water its used as pesticide. This year I stop to aplly as insecticide . I would like to ask if you know that nettle macerate is good to be used as fertilizer? I bought this year some biostimulant , it contain fulvic acid ,humic acid and fitohormones, microorganisms.Also they said it has California worm. Is it good?I am ready for Academy.Thank you.

    • Phil on July 11, 2012 at 1:57 pm

      Hi Pia, yes the nettle is a wonderful fertilizer. You’re lucky to have it! I can’t comment on the quality of your biostimulant without reading the label and ingredients and so on, but I reserve that service for Academy members because it takes some work on my end. But it sounds like a reasonable ingredient list. I’m not sure what the ‘California worm’ means, unless you mean worm compost, which  has the potential to be great (unless you live far away from California and then it’s obviously not great for the environment to ship it).

  27. Dan on August 29, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    PhilI would exercise caution in using sea salt or kelp from the Pacific Ocean as evidence of radiation from Fukushima has been found in kelp off of the California coast. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/he… from what I’ve been reading, the Fukushima plant has been, and is still, leaching radioactive water into the ocean and it’s being carried over to North America by the currents.   

    • Phil on August 31, 2012 at 6:50 pm

      Yes, thanks Dan. I did contact the manufacturer of the kelp I use and apparently analysis has been carried out by the marine biologists of the BC ministry of fisheries and ocean and although they did find some signs of increased radioactivity, they were not even close to levels that are known to endanger humans. While I don’t simply take their word for it, I do still feel fine about using it in the garden.

  28. Oldnewbee on September 3, 2012 at 5:24 am

    Phil, I’m new to all this and having a great time putting into practice what some of my friend call “weird”.I live on the coast in Washington State. Can I use the ocean salt water and how much to I dilute it?Jim

    • Phil on September 3, 2012 at 10:06 pm

      Hi Jim, absolutely, you can actually do up to 1 cup per square foot of soil per year, watered in after.

  29. Chickenfeet123 on September 25, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    hi

    • Chickenfeet123 on September 25, 2012 at 4:02 pm

      please respond

  30. Kat on September 26, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    Hi Phil,Love your stuff thank you!  I live by the ocean…are you saying that I can take the sea water and use it on my edibles?  Do you remove the salt?

    • Phil on October 1, 2012 at 4:34 pm

      Yes, you can use it at 1 cup per square foot of soil, probably just once or twice per year and then water it in. No need to remove the salt.

  31. Chickenfeet123 on September 28, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    does bone meal work good with snake plants?

    • Phil on October 12, 2012 at 11:44 am

      Hi Chickenfeet, it seems you didn’t read my article. I don’t use or recommend bone meal.

      • Chickenfeet123 on October 14, 2012 at 3:41 am

        Ummm…I did read your article but I am doing a science fair project where I test different types of fertilizer. Bone meal is one of my fertilizers so I wanted to know if a snake plant is a good plant to use. Please respond.

        • Phil on October 16, 2012 at 4:25 pm

          It would be best to use something very fast growing like radishes from seed. They’ll be up a few days after seeding.

  32. Bruce Horace Robinson on October 2, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    HI Phil! I really like your blog and your excellent gardening tips. I agree with you that bone meal should not be used and I do not use it in my garden. However, I wish you had cited the naysayers who say we should not use it because there is a danger that using bone meal will contaminate your soil with prions that cause Mad Cow Disease. Please excuse me, but my common sense is causing me great difficulty in seeing how this could occur. Let’s say that I used bone meal when I planted my San Marzano tomatoes this spring. Are you trying to argue that any prions that might be in the bone meal would have been taken up by the roots of my tomato plants and thus become imbedded in the tomatoes themselves? Are you trying to imply that I will get Mad Cow Disease this way? Where is the scientific evidence for this? I agree with you that we should always be wary of what we put into our garden soil. But I do not have time for fear-mongering. I want hard science and practical tips that helps me to grow great vegetables.

    • Phil on October 2, 2012 at 9:59 pm

      Hi Bruce, thanks for your comment. I agree with only half of that article you linked to, but that’s another story. The concern is not that you’ll get the disease from a tomato, but from inhaling the dust directly, or that the people who manufacture the dust will get it. But as I’ve now written in a little update at the beginning of the blog post, my intention is not to scare anyone. It’s just a simple blog post, relaying what I learned when studying organic gardening. I certainly don’t mean to offend anyone, and I thought I was fairly calm about the whole thing. Thanks again, Phil

  33. Bruce Horace Robinson on October 2, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    Hi again, Phil! Thanks so much for your quick reply to my post. When I clicked on the link I provided in that previous post about bone meal I got an error message. I am sorry that I used the phrase “fear-mongering” because it does appear that you were discussing the possible danger of using bone meal in a calm manner for those who might handle it or breathe it in. I think you are doing a great job in bringing these issues to our attention. We definitely seem to agree in general that bone meal should not be used in the garden and we can agree to disagree on the scientific reasons why that is so. Happy gardening to all!

    • Phil on October 2, 2012 at 11:10 pm

      Oh, one extra thing Bruce. I’ll see if I can explain this succinctly. This lesson is on a hidden part of my website, but it’s also unlike most of my other lessons in that it’s published as a regular blog post on the public part of my website, too.That public post I had actually edited at some point in the last year to give it a softer tone and to link to a couple of sources. When you commented, I assumed you were commenting on that blog post because I forgot that this was also the 15th lesson (I answer comments from a backend system, so I don’t always know what post it’s on).Bottom line is that I hadn’t edited it here and you’re probably right that it was a little too harsh in its delivery, and probably didn’t have any links to the organic standards I was looking at, so I apologize for that. I have now updated it to the newer version. Thanks again, PhilP.S. I edited your original comment so the link will work.

  34. Claudia Fugate on October 9, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    Good information – May I use some of your ideas in an article I’m writing on animal sources for organic fertilizers? 

    • Phil on October 11, 2012 at 12:17 pm

      Of course, Claudia.

      • Chickenfeet123 on October 11, 2012 at 11:51 pm

        Please respond I need to know. I’m using this website as a source if you don’t mind!!!

  35. Bobking2 on October 15, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Hi Phil. Thanks for all the usefull tips. I enjoy your blogs very much. Earlier this summer, i made some fungus with powdered baby oatmeal and added it to my compost tea process at the beginning of the brew and sprayed veggies and flowers in the evening. Also poured some next to some plants. Am i doing some good or just wasting time. Can i add a purchased MF fo compost tea at some point in the process to give the garden and lawn a boost from time to time or is there a better way, (other than when planting initially as you have descrbed).Thank you very much for blog.

    • Phil on October 16, 2012 at 4:31 pm

      The oatmeal is not a bad idea, especially if you want more of a fungal-dominated tea, like if you’re using it for trees and shrubs. I’m sure it can’t hurt for veggies, too, but we’re especially interested in bacteria for those.Mycorrhizal fungi can be added to tea after it’s done brewing and then sprayed onto the soil with the tea. There’s no use spraying it on leaves, though, since the MF relationship is with the roots.

  36. jay on November 3, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    Add anthrax to your concerns.

  37. Bella on November 11, 2012 at 10:03 am

    Hallo, I put bonemeal over my plants and lawn. Since then, my dog, wire haired foxterrier does not want to put her foot(paw) outside anymore. Why?

    • Phil on November 13, 2012 at 8:52 pm

      Hmmm, I don’t know. Some dogs actually like it.

      • Darlene on December 11, 2013 at 5:31 am

        will it hurt your dog if they eat this bone meal? For had dog get into it and liked it a lot and did not seem to make him sick. Do you think it is okay to mix in there feed? My dad had hunting dogs and us to mix his own feed and used bone meal in it and the dog really did good on it.

        • Phil on December 12, 2013 at 2:48 am

          I wouldn’t recommend it for the same reasons mentioned above.

  38. Amber Williams on November 19, 2012 at 4:35 am

    This blog should be updated to note that not all bone meal is made from Cows. There are other bone meal products out there that are still organic. Miracle Grow even has a bone meal product that is not made from cow bones.

    • Phil on November 19, 2012 at 5:57 pm

      Thanks for the tip, Amber. I don’t support Miracle Gro (Scotts), but you’re right, it’s an important distinction. As far as I know, porcine bone meal doesn’t cause problems.

  39. lewis11c on November 30, 2012 at 7:24 am

    thanks for the risk buddy

  40. Sarah Frazier on February 16, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    I just moved into an apartment and found a bag of organic bone meal that the previous tenants had left outside for maybe a year. I opened it to pour it out and it smelled and looked like feces. Do you think that’s what happens when bones decompose? It is hard to believe it is someone’s idea of a prank.

    • Phil on February 25, 2013 at 9:18 pm

      I imagine a rodent got in there.

  41. sherry on March 1, 2013 at 5:47 am

    if I have a packet of bone meal in India how should I dispose it safely so that it does not harm me or the environment ?

    • Phil on March 4, 2013 at 5:39 pm

      Good question. I really have no idea. Perhaps sending it to the garbage dump is okay, or perhaps it should be sent where more toxic materials go.

  42. Mariella on March 1, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    I am such a beginner!!!i only have passion for seeing plants grow and the environment sparkle with Life. But not knowledge at all. Your 15 lessons have made me aware of the depth of my ignorance and the amazing tapestry of knowledge and skills that are needed for the job – I thank you dearly for that while I take time to ponder what to do next. All the best wishes to you ang all growers who follow you.

  43. Mariella on March 1, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    Ok, perhaps you will not think i am taken advantage of you if i seek your expertise with my experimentation….You see, I live in Tropical Australia – poor, clay soil and lots of seasonal rain. Being almost 60 I decided to overcome my inability to dig such a hard soil by planting directly into didderent size containers containing horse manure (I can purchase at a reasonable price. ) I am about to planti tropical fruit trees and vegetables for the wet season is amost over. Are you able to predict what I should expect from adopting this practice, and of course, some related advice.?

    • Phil on March 4, 2013 at 5:47 pm

      If the horse manure is well composted, it may work out okay. If not, it can burn roots and cause other problems. I would rather see a mixture of perhaps 50% soil and 50% composted horse manure. Also, unless you have very big containers, there is not near enough room for the root system to grow, so the trees will stay fairly small and will be more prone to sickness. Foliar feeding with a mix of ocean water and water may help them get nutrients.

  44. Karen on April 3, 2013 at 2:30 am

    I stopped using blood or bone meal after being told by a client that his mother had died that year from the human form of mad cow disease. She had been under the care of our state’s health science university. Her doctor said he had 10 people die that year of the disease and that every one of them was an organic gardener. I started using soft rock phosphate with good results. I ordered it in bulk. I used soybean meal for nitrogen and greensand for potassium. Also some trace minerals from the sea. The man who game me my tomato plant starts was amazed when he saw how much bigger my tomatoes were than his which were started at the same time from the same seeds.

    • Phil on April 4, 2013 at 1:30 pm

      Thanks for sharing Karen.

    • Dee on April 13, 2013 at 7:26 pm

      This is very disturbing! People all over the world are adding this to their gardens & inhaling it, not realizing the risk! Scary!

  45. Johnny on April 3, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    Sea water has a multitude of beneficial minerals and also every toxic substance known/unknown thru direct dumping to runoff.

    • Phil on April 4, 2013 at 1:30 pm

      Yes, I wouldn’t advise getting it from an industrial area. And even in the pristine areas there are unfortunately trace amounts of everything, but right now the benefits outweigh this. I’m currently trying to get my supplier to do some more testing on his product for toxins.

  46. Pa Chute on April 5, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    Hi Phil – I’ve been following your articles and really like your approach to gardening. Those natural additives are the way to go in my opinion.However i’m always concerned (make that p o’d) that every time I find a good article or a recipe for natural garden practices it always has some product that you have to buy somewhere from some remote part of the world. My guess is that they are promoting some product to sell. For instance Micorrizae – except for the sahara desert it is everywhere in the world. How do the forests sustain themselves – from a bottle of powder obtained from who knows where?Sorry for ranting. ha haKeep up the good work

    • Phil on April 11, 2013 at 2:17 am

      In the case of mycorrhizal fungi, they remain in the forests because the forests aren’t being tilled or plowed or bulldozed. Our residential properties are a different story, so the fungi are often very much depressed. But yes, I agree that in the long run the goal should be to use not too much in the way of products.

  47. William on April 12, 2013 at 2:32 am

    Just want to throw my 2 cents in here as I know a little bit about microbiology. The use of bone meal should not be a cause for concern or fear. Mad cow disease’s prions are only located within the nervous systems tissue (spinal cord / brain). The bones used for bone meal would not contain any prions because when a cow is found to have mad cow disease they are put down and disposed of. No part of the cow is used for any use to prevent the spread of the disease. There is a human form called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, but no cases have been identified within the USA. Mad cow disease is not truly an American problem but rather found in the UK mostly, and occasionally in Canada. The chances of you becoming ill from the use of bone meal are about as likely as being hit by a meteor. The plant does not consume any protiens (prions) from the bone meal because it cannot use them, but rather consumes the core elements like phosphorus and calcium. What it doesnt use it leaves behind. Really, there is no need to worry. If bones contained the prions for mad cow disease, do you think there would be beef stock? bone in steaks? For further reading check places like the CDC’s website. It’s always a good idea to check your references as a lot of misinformation is out there.

    • Phil on April 14, 2013 at 11:36 am

      Thanks for your comments William. I agree there are a lot of more important things to worry about, but of course it would work out that this is one of my articles that a lot of people seem to find – jeepers! My understanding is that the nervous system runs through the bones. That’s why organic agriculture standards around the world strictly forbid using bone meal unless it can be proven to come from disease-free animals. There have been several cases of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in the U.S., but not many. Same with Canada.

      • Robert Buchanan on April 26, 2015 at 3:48 pm

        We are talking about 3-4 cased.All of these cases were exposed outside of the U.S. and there only exposure was through eating beef.There are no cases of someone developing vCJD from exposure to bone meal.

    • dashing on October 5, 2014 at 8:55 am

      I bet you approve monsanto/scotts AGENT ORANGE, ROUND UP SEED GMO’s and CANOLA OIL originally: (lubricant / pesticide).EU farmers eradicated Mad Cow Disease the instant they eliminatedCANOLA OIL and GMO Feed. EBOLI too.satanic illuminati rothschild monsanto scotts, Fortune 500. Federal Reserve, FED. NWO. uncle sam. OWG one world gov. same entity us of a CORP / INC. Act of 1871. The other America.

  48. Mark Allen on April 28, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    use worm castings-but be careful some of the castings you buy are sterilized -if si it is garbge do noy use it

  49. Lucky on May 17, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    Do you know what the nitrogen content is as I am trying to heat up strawbales in Colorado and want to do it organically.Te extension office said to use urea at 45 %, and a Pueblo office said to use liquid lawn fertilizer.I want to go organic, but need the strawbales to heat up and cool alittle before planting seeds, and sweet potatoes.It is almost time to plant and the bales have only heated up to 80 degrees and cool down at night.Please any thoughts or suggestions would be helpful.

    • Phil on May 20, 2013 at 8:44 pm

      I haven’t done the kind of straw bale gardening you’re implying, but my recommendation would be a sustainably-produced organic liquid fish fertilizer. I try not to use much of it because there are sustainability issues, but it is very good for nitrogen. Also, you may want to group the bales together to get more mass going, and keep them moist to encourage microbial activity.

  50. sea on June 18, 2013 at 4:59 am

    Is sea minerals the water from the sea and liquid kelp the mushed up kelps from the sea?

    • Phil on June 20, 2013 at 9:55 pm

      Yes, sea minerals is ocean water, except it’s concentrated down many times. And yes, liquid kelp is basically mushed up kelp from the ocean.

  51. jingle on July 1, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    Phil – thanks so much for the lessons. I’ve learned a great deal, to give up some things I still have kept using and reinforcement for things I’d given up on. My question today concerns an avacado tree we started from seed which is now in a 10 gal container and about 4′ tall (hip high). I’m getting ready to transplant it into a larger container. Since alvacado will not live through the winters here in the GA mountains, how can I keep it healty in a larger container that I can move into the greenhouse for the winter and let out for the rest of the year. My goal, of course, is to get avacados – lots of them!. There are other fruit trees that I would like to grow also like olive and citrus. Would your “tea” be good for container trees as well? How often do you apply or only when transplanting?

    • Phil on July 3, 2013 at 9:57 pm

      I apply some kind of foliar spray as often as every week and as seldom as every 1-2 months. Eventually, you want to put that tree in a big container or right in the soil, and instead of moving the tree, move the greenhouse (or take of the plastic). I don’t have much experience with that kind of thing, but that’s what I’d do.

  52. jingle on July 4, 2013 at 2:10 am

    Thanks Phil. I never thought of moving the greenhouse. I guess I’d need to figure out how to get that done. A fruit bearing avacado can get pretty big. I supppose I could build a frame and put something like bubble wrap around it during the winter, mulch really thick around the base so the roots wouldn’t freeze. Here the freeze typically goes down around 2″ maybe 4-5″ of mulch out at least a foot beyond the leaves, would that work?

    • Phil on July 6, 2013 at 1:27 pm

      Something like that could work. I couldn’t say for sure. And you can prune the tree to keep it smaller although of course that isn’t the best for the tree so it may have more health/pest issues.

  53. Kelley on August 14, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    Is this fungi the same as that in bean and pea innoculant?

    • Phil on August 18, 2013 at 1:22 pm

      No, the bean/pea inoculant is a special bacteria, not a fungi.

  54. thoomfoote on September 4, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    Just this summer I “discovered” how easy it is to make compost or worm castings tea in 50 gallon barrels with molasses and powdered kelp with fungi. For smaller scale gardeners, a 5 gallon bucket is just as easy. The results are evident within a week and it is a viable substitute for bone meal.

    • Phil on September 5, 2013 at 10:08 pm

      Yes, it’s beautiful stuff for sure.

  55. John Westendorp on September 14, 2013 at 4:24 am

    Phil, first off, thank you very much for offering such things as you have for free to the public. With a science background, I knew a few things already. Having said that, I have plenty more to learn, and you helped me along, for which I am obliged. If anyone thinks it’s complicated on the outside (dirt, plants, microbial flora, etc.)…you should look into cellular biology, genetic coding (DNA) underlying it all, and it’s corresponding information theory, etc. Wow! I will even go on to say that the LORD absolutely knew what he was doing when He fashioned this world, before sin tainted it so much! Whether you share that perspective or not, we will both agree this world is wonderously structured! I am also Canadian. Yeah. I have looked over you website briefly but maybe missed some stuff. If you have an online store that sells some of these products I would like to look them over…if so pass along a link. I see you don’t toot your own horn, but I am asking. I find it difficult to get some stuff into Canada from the States b/c of border restrictions/rules/regulations, etc. I’m hoping you have some good options/products/recommendations.I use my own products on the garden…I sell AGGRAND natural fertilizers. I use our liquid kelp, along with the 4-3-3, and a few other things as needed. You are right on about the plant growth hormones in liquid kelp. I am finding as my soils get more balanced each year, (annual analysis) I need less and less fertilizer in general, but our biggest shortcoming is nitrogen shortage. Aside from blood-meal, is there a cost-effective, bulk sized organic nitrogen source that you know of that is just primarily nitrogen? I have 3-4000 square feet of garden. You’re a knowledgeable guy, keep on sharing what you know so well: the world can only improve from it and it’s very appreciated by many of us.Cordially,Johnjawsoil@jawsoil.com

    • Phil on September 16, 2013 at 1:17 pm

      Thanks for sharing John. For nitrogen, I mostly use good compost, plus legume cover crops in the winter to build up more nitrogen. But when a boost is needed, a liquid fish hydrolysate is a wonderful help – I don’t use it much anymore because I don’t think it’s sustainable, but it is useful product. Another one is organic alfalfa meal. My friend Christina runs my old business ( http://www.gardenerspantry.ca ) and sells the liquid fish and some other awesome stuff.

  56. Greenback Cafe on September 25, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    The most problematic bones would probably be the spinal column and the skull — the spine encases the nerves of the spinal cord. If bone meal were made from all the bones except the skull and the back, then I suppose it would be free of prions.Since prions resist heat, then even bone char would pose a problem. I wish I had thought of that before buying 50 pounds of it …

    • Phil on September 29, 2013 at 2:12 pm

      Thanks for sharing. But don’t nerves run through all bones in the body?

      • Greenback Cafe on September 30, 2013 at 9:44 pm

        Considering the functions that nerves carry out: 1) to transmit signals from the brain to cause muscles to contract; and 2) to provide the brain feedback from the environment, I find it highly unlikely that nerves would be found inside bones alongside marrow. The most sensible place for nerves to be found would on top of or alongside the muscle they are meant to communicate with and in proximity to the environment they are meant to sense.The sciatic nerve, for example exits the spine near the hip and runs along various muscles in the buttock and back of the leg.Even if you took a cross-section of a vertebra, you would see that the bone itself is sort of donut-shaped, and the spinal cord, the nerves, goes through the holes in the donuts of the vertebrae, not within the bones themselves.Getting back to bone-char, the problem is still one of separating the spinal cord and cranial nerves from the spine and skull. Barring that, one would have to separate the back and skull from the rest of the skeleton.Either way, it’s something I doubt would be cost-effective for a bone meal or bone char processor.

        • Phil on October 3, 2013 at 12:08 pm

          Interesting, thanks again for the info.

  57. Kmfetty on October 25, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    Will the sea minerals kelp etc be a risk with the high radioactive contamination from Japan now polluting the ocean?

    • Phil on October 27, 2013 at 10:12 pm

      I’ve been asking sea minerals/kelp/fish manufacturers and trying to keep on top of any new information, and so far it seems to be entirely fine.

  58. Patch on August 13, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    I don’t know enough to make a comment on risks incurred using Bone Meal. However I DID stop using it, toward the end of last gardening season because it is not balanced in term of nutrients provided and I did notice a change in the foliage and not for the better. I do know people who use it and swear by it but my gut told me to find alternates so I did. I’m getting very good results with tomatoes (grape) and various peppers. Best ever actually with 4-way organic earth.

  59. Smarterthanthat on March 27, 2015 at 9:41 pm

    bone meal, mad cow…CDC, FDA and other FEDs would be all over this like flies on shit….get real

  60. Robert Buchanan on April 26, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    You won’t catch BSE from bone meal. 99% of infected cattle were in the UK during the 90s. Unless your bone meal comes from geriatric English cows it won’t be from an infected cow.It is really hard to “catch” BSE. Almost everyone in Britain (and much of western Europe) consumed meat from infected cattle for decades. Since the 90s a small number of people may have developed a prion disease that might be caused by BSE. So if you were eating cans of 20 year old British beef, you might have a 1 in 2,000,000 of infection.Prions (BSE) are hard to destroy with heat, but bacteria in the soil do a really good job. Prions are proteins and bacteria eats proteins. Bacteria and plants are not harmed by prion proteins – the prion is just a source of nitrogen.There may be other downsides to bone meal, but BSE isn’t a threat. There are enough real dangers…

    • Jared Goodman on July 4, 2016 at 12:54 pm

      Thank you, Robert, for bringing that perspective to the discussion. Now I won’t feel so skittish about using bone-char as my source for phosphorous and bio-char. 🙂

  61. Mr Gardener on September 14, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    This article about bone meal should not be viewed as a scare tactic. it is just one person’s opinion about one thing. People should do their own research about things that are safe to use in your garden. Use some common sense. If you depend on what experts say bout something then you might be misinformed. Experts are a lot like medical doctors. Ask seven of them about something and it is entirely possible to get seven conflicting answers. Also what the experts are saying about something now might be entirely different than what they say about the same thing a year or two from now.

  62. Torre Chianca on July 4, 2016 at 9:18 am

    I remember a story in all the papers years ago that some bone meal was human, it was coming from India

    • Jared Goodman on July 4, 2016 at 1:01 pm

      So long as the individuals in question weren’t murdered and their remains were disposed of with respect and in accordance with any existing family members’ wishes, I have no qualms about that.Our remains all get recycled into the environment eventually. I have read about cultures where the corpse is reverently laid out on a hillside where scavengers (vultures, mostly … ) are allowed to consume it.

  63. MollyMcGuier on January 18, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    If you are composting any of today’s supermarket foods or veggies we have to throw organic to the wind. AND, we ALL do it… The BEST way to get the best garden food. Keep on growing, keep on getting others to grow.. I grow indoors in the winter.. Giving friends fresh spinach, basil or lettuce really lights a fuse… Give your friend the seedlings with instructions.. Plant veggies in their garden for them.. Once you are hooked you are hooked.. IMAGINE

    • Phil on January 19, 2017 at 4:26 pm

      All true. Thanks for sharing Molly!

  64. Melissa on April 4, 2017 at 8:45 am

    Phil, I didn’t read through everything so the answer may be here but can you recommend a soil for a beginning Gardner that does not contain bone meal. As a vegetarian I didn’t want to use it but it is in all the conventional soil I have found. Organic is a must for me so I finally compromised and used Dr. Earth with fish bone meal but it has soy meal in it too which I would like to avoid as well. Any help you can give me?

    • Phil on April 7, 2017 at 7:49 am

      Sorry Melissa, I don’t keep track of branded soils. If I need soil, I buy it in bulk from a garden center, in which case it’s generally just plain topsoil, perhaps with some compost mixed in. And I generally only buy soil if I’m building a raised bed. If I already have soil and I just want to improve, I usually use just compost.

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