Q: An older gardening friend says we should all be using mineralized fertilizer. No one seems to know what that means. Can you help?
A: It’s sort of like my mother’s muscadine hull pie. Thick muscadine skins are sour and inedible. But boil them, add a bit of sugar and put them in a pie crust and they become savory and delectible. Organic fertilizers like animal manure or compost contain large amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, but plants can’t absorb it in the chemical form the organic material presents. If, however, these chemicals are converted to water-soluble molecules, plants use them readily. Mineralized fertilizer is organic fertilizer that has been cooked or otherwise converted to a plant-friendly form. A plant doesn’t care whether its food comes from the back of a cow or from the front of a fertilizer factory. Mineralized and organic fertilizers, though, contain important micro-nutrients and soil conditioning compounds that synthetic fertilizers lack.