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Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society, Inc.
38 East Market Street, Rhinebeck, New York 12572 USA -  845-876-2626
Vegetarian - Vegan - Animal Rights - Health - Nutrition - Environment

The mission of the Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society, Inc. is to promote the vegetarian ethic in the Mid-Hudson (New York) region, educate the community and aid anyone in the pursuit of a totally vegetarian (vegan) cruelty-free and healthful lifestyle.


Articles From the Spring 1997 Newsletter

Gardening for Vegetarians

Gardening seems a very innocent pleasure, but for vegetarians it can be a minefield of difficulties! There is a lot of information available about organic growing, but organic is not synonymous with vegetarian.

Although organic methods try to prevent damage to the environment, they often necessitate the use of slaughterhouse by-products and other items derived from animal slaughter like blood and bone meal and fish meal. Organic methods also display no qualms about killing so called pests. Many vegetarians want to garden without using animal products and without any unnecessary killing of even the humblest animal. We don't pretend to be laying down definitive rules on this subject but here are a few notes that might help you to manage your garden in a way that causes the minimum of animal suffering.

Try not to use peat if you can help it. Britain's peat bogs are rapidly disappearing with the consequent destruction of wildlife. Two million tons of peat are sold to gardeners every year! Use home-made compost if you can or buy composted forest bark a renewable resource from managed plantations.  A new product in garden centers is composted coconut fiber or coir. This consists of the outer husks of coconuts so it is an ecologically acceptable, renewable resource. Trials have shown it performs as well as peat-based compost.

Spent mushroom compost, spent hops (as a top dressing) and composted stable manure are alternative fertilizers.

Dried blood and fish meal are often used to add nitrogen to the soil, these are definitely not vegetarian products. You should also look out for various kinds of composted manures that are on sale these days, some even labeled organic as many of them contain manure from factory farmed animals or droppings from  battery-kept chickens. Brands carrying the Soil Association's symbol come from free range houses.

Seaweed fertilizers are a good and acceptable substitute. Calcified seaweed however, is crushed coral, which is technically animal and besides, the way it is harvested is not good for the sea-bed environment! Bone-meal is a slaughterhouse byproduct.  In addition to being non vegetarian, we hear that now  organic growing is on the increase, bone-meal is being imported from South American countries where cattle ranching is helping to destroy the rainforest!  There is no evidence yet that BSE might be transmitted through bone-meal, but in view of the uncertainties about the origin and transmission of this disease and the fact that the causative agent seems to survive heat treatment, this is something that should be taken into consideration. There is also the probability that bone-meal may actually contain the cremated remains of pet cats and dogs. Don't use a product called worm compost without investigating its source. Some methods of making it are acceptable, but others may cause injury to the worms, or even kill them.

If you make your own compost, you know what's gone into it so you can be sure that it is acceptable! Invest in a compost bin, or make your own, or if you are really short of space, use a heavy duty polythene sack. Put a shovelful of soil at the bottom to provide the organisms that start off the fermenting process, then add layers of kitchen waste, fallen leaves, grass cuttings and any other organic waste matter, even shredded paper will compost, used kitchen roll and paper hankies (if you must use them! There are more environmentally-friendly alternatives) will compost very easily.  Tough things like cabbage stalks and banana skins should be cut into smaller pieces. Annual weeds can be put in whole but perennial weeds should have their roots cut off and discarded, never put any part of the plant bindweed into your compost, even small pieces will root and your garden will have a wonderful crop of bindweed when you spread the compost!

Make sure you don't add quantities of extra soil when you add weeds, it can slow down the fermentation process. If you are using the polythene sack method, tie the sack off when it is nearly full and pierce two or three air holes in the sides and leave to rot down until about a third of the original bulk is left, then turn out and spread on your soil. Most compost bins have provision for you to remove compost from the bottom without emptying the entire bin so the process can be continuous.

Some completely inorganic fertilizers are available, although frowned upon by the   organic movement, they do have the advantage of being produced without any animal exploitation.  Phosphate rock is mined from natural deposits and superphosphate is produced by treating it with sulphuric acid. Potash (potassium) is also mined from deposits of potassium chloride laid down when ancient seas dried up. Potash is suitable for immediate application and doesn't need further treatment.

Inorganic nitrogen fertilizers are based on ammonia, which in turn is made from nitrogen extracted from the air. The usual fertilizers are ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulphate, the latter is also a byproduct of the steel and manmade fibre industries. The Fertilizer Manufacturers' Association says that as far as it is aware, no animal testing of inorganic fertilizers is done in Britain as the fertilizers have stood the test of time and, if used properly, should do no harm. However, some foreign companies have carried out animal-based research.

If you have just treated your garden or lawn with an inorganic fertilizer, do keep any vegetarian pets like rabbits and tortoises from grazing on it until there has been a good fall of rain to wash the fertilizer in, concentrated fertilizer can poison if ingested. One of the objections to vegetarianism you sometimes hear is that without animal farming, there wouldn't be enough manure to make organic farming possible. People who think this forget about their own waste products. Human feces can be safely composted without hazard to health if a simple process is followed. This provides a truly humane source of fertilizer, it saves the pollution of waterways and coasts caused by our present system of sewage disposal, it conserves plant nutrients one person's annual excrement is the equivalent of 25kg of commercially produced 20:10:10 NPK fertilizer. There is no real objection to using human excrement as fertilizer except in people's minds.

Plants of the pea family, including ornamentals like sweet peas and lupins, have the ability to fix nitrogen from the air. They do this by means of special bacteria which live in nodules in the roots, so after growing a crop of peas, beans, sweet peas etc don't   pull the roots out when the plant is finished, dig them back into the soil to release the nitrogen.

This article is a selection reprinted from:
Parkdale, Dunham Road, Altrincham, Cheshire WA14 4QG
Tel: 0161 928 0793 Fax: 0161 926 9182
E-mail: info@vegsoc.demon.co.uk
Patrons: Paul and Linda McCartney
Registered Charity No.259358

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