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yardmonkey
02-18-2004, 12:16 PM
A member has sent me a private msg asking about Milorganite. I decided to answer here for the benefit of everyone.

"I am offering organic fertilizer programs this yr with 3 of the apps being Milorganite. Can you please relate your experience with this product. Tell me everything but include whether or not customers asked you what was in it and if they were "grossed out" when they found out. ty very much !"

I started using Milorganite a couple of years ago since it is a pretty cheap organic fertilizer. Other bagged organic ferts that I have seen are $20 or more per bag. Milorganite is about $10 for a 40LB bag or $13 for a 50lb bag. I have heard many things about it. I have seen comments on Lawnsite such as "I think Milorganite is the best lawn fertilizer you can buy". I once heard someone say "It will green up a lawn overnight".

I was going to use it on a particular yard and the customer called and said she did not want me to use it. She had found some info on the web about it and decided it was not "organic". There are some articles on the web about Milorganite and other similar products warning about heavy metal content. Here's a couple of links:
http://ce.ecn.purdue.edu/~alleman/w3-class/456/article/milorganite.html

http://www.rfu.org/ws95.htm#Sludge%20Happens

Last year, the new bags of Milorganite had a new message printed on them. It said "For information on heavy metal content, see http://www.wa.gov/agr/ "
I checked the link and found that the state of Washington has a giant database of all commercial fertilizers. Any such products used in the state have to be registered and tested. But I did not find Milorganite listed. I wrote to them and they said "thank you for pointing out a memory problem in our database". Months later it was still not fixed. I just now went to check again and Milorganite appears in the database. Also the URL is changed.
http://agr.wa.gov/PestFert/Fertilizers/ProductDatabase.htm

Here is some info on Milorganite from the database:
(this is parts per million of the heavy metals)
Arsenic 7.2
Cadmium 6.1
Cobalt 5.4
Mercury 2.7
Molybdenum 15
Nickel 40
Lead 120
Selenium 5.8
Zinc 760

I have no idea what these numbers mean, as far as whether those are significant amounts. I'm not sure if the the website has info on this. And I have not compared other ferts in the database.
Milorganite has a website here:

http://www.milorganite.org

They basically say there that Milorganite is totally safe and meets the highest standards, etc. I will post some info from their site in a separate post following this one.

The local organic gardening store will not carry Milorganite. He says there are issues with heavy metals. But he will order if for me. I find it at most of the local nurseries. I get it at a feed store.

I discovered last year that there is the regular Milorganite in 40lb bags and Milorganite Greens Grade in 50lb bags. The greens grade is the same stuff but in smaller pellets and a larger bag. I prefer that, but it is not as widely available.

I have noted that a fresh application of Milorganite can be a bit smelly when it is wet. This goes away in a few days, but some people don't like it. Most people would not even notice it. This is kind of a sewage smell.

I have also had people tell me that their dogs like it. They may try to eat it. I have also seen pansies dug up by dogs after I put a tiny bit of Milorganite around each plant.

Although Milorganite is made from sewage sludge, the composting process should make it into just compost with no odor. Compost should not have an odor. But I think they interupt the composting process so it is only partially composted. And then they cook it to kill pathogens.

I had one customer (a biologist) tell me she did not want it on her yard because there may be pathogens in it.

When I tell people I want to use Milorganite on their yard, I usually ask "have you ever heard of it?". They usually say no. I tell them it has been made for over 75 years and is the most popular organic fertilizer. I sometimes say Milorganite comes from Milwaukee and means Milwaukee Organic Nitrogen. Depends on the customer, but I usually don't volunteer that it is sewage sludge unless they ask more about it. That does gross some people out. Most people trust me - if I say its OK, then they have no problem with it.

I continue to have mixed feelings about Milorganite. I do use it and think that it is a good lawn fertilizer. I am not sure that it is as non-toxic as they say. I'm sure there are many organic fertilizers that are "cleaner", but so far I'm not finding convenient sources for anything as affordable as Milorganite. I am still experimenting with other organic ferts. I don't have the volume of business or the controlled conditions over a period of time to be able to comment on how well Milorganite works.

I sometimes apply ferts by hand from a bucket. Most stuff I have used has a good smell to it. The Milorganite does have an odd odor and I sometimes notice a weird feeling in my throat after breathing it.

I think its OK to use as an organic fert, but I am hoping to move away from it. Just a matter of finding or making something that is
comparable in price.

Would be good to hear other people's comments....

yardmonkey
02-18-2004, 12:19 PM
From http://milorganite.org/regulations/specreg.htm

Regulations
MILORGANITE MEETS THE STRICTEST ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATIONS IN THE FERTILIZER INDUSTRY

Milorganite is registered as a fertilizer product throughout the United States, Canada, and in several countries overseas. It is subject to the same rules and regulations with respect to guaranteed analysis and labeling as all other commercially available fertilizer products, and in the U.S., registration is done annually with each state Department of Agriculture. However, because Milorganite is a by-product of a wastewater treatment process, it must meet additional quality and safety standards not imposed on traditional fertilizers, and is further regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Environmental regulatory agencies of individual states.

In the 1970's, Congress charged the EPA with the responsibility of developing rules and regulations for the disposal of biosolids obtained from wastewater treatment under the Reauthorization of the Clean Water Act. At that time, disposal was largely unregulated and the options for disposal were limited to incineration, landfill, land application, and direct disposal to the ocean, especially on the East Coast. Needless to say, disposal options most commonly used carried a highly negative perception. In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as input from a number of universities across the country, a massive research effort was launched to determine just how extensive this environmental problem was. After 15 years of extensive research, examined by an esteemed Peer Review Committee comprised of the leading experts in the fields of soil science, crop production and fertility, as well as several members of the Environmental Community such as the National Resource Defense Council, attitudes changed drastically. The research was completed in the late 1980's, and in 1992, the EPA promulgated 40 CFR Part 503. Part 503 outlines standards and criteria for a number of disposal options for biosolids, including the category of land application within which products such as Milorganite are regulated.

Primary concern with respect to disposal of biosolids such as Milorganite in a land application scenario as a soil amendment to cropland, or when used as a fertilizer product for lawns, gardens, parks, golf courses, etc., centered around heavy metals and pathogens. The extensive research conducted in the development of 40 CFR Part 503 established concentration limits of metals, as well as pathogen controls which posed "no reasonable threat to human health or the environment." The most stringent level of standards within 40 CFR Part 503 offering the highest level of safety was termed "Exceptional Quality Standards." This criteria establishes strict concentration limits of heavy metals, pathogen reduction and vector attraction standards. Products which meet the EPA's "Exceptional Quality Standards" require no further level of regulation and are free to move into commerce just as any other fertilizer product, subject to all the regulations imposed in the fertilizer industry. In fact, the EPA strongly encourages beneficial reuse programs for biosolids, such as the Milorganite program.

With respect to Milorganite, the heat drying process effectively kills all pathogens, as discussed in the Production section. Additionally, the drying process yields a final product which is stable and at only 5% moisture, does not attract disease carrying vectors such as rodents or flies. Milorganite easily meets all of the "Exceptional Quality Standards" as established by the U.S. EPA. Therefore, there are no environmental restrictions with respect to the use of Milorganite.

It is interesting to note three significant facts. First, all fertilizer products of which we are aware have detectable levels of heavy metals. Second, many fertilizer products have metal concentrations not only in excess of Milorganite, but could not meet the same environmentally stringent criteria as those imposed on Milorganite. However, they are not regulated under 40 CFR Part 503. Finally, several heavy metals are, in fact, essential plant nutrients without which plants would either grow abnormally or die. Specifically, zinc, copper, and molybdenum are essential nutrients, yet regulated under 40 CFR Part 503. Many commercially available micronutrient packages used to correct nutrient deficiency symptoms well exceed the "Exceptional Quality Standards."

A common question posed to us revolves around how Milwaukee controls heavy metal concentrations, and is able to keep them constant. Milwaukee is acknowledged throughout the country as having the most developed monitoring and sampling program, as well as the most progressive pretreatment program. Milwaukee, through a stringent permitting process, imposes discharge limits on regulated metals. These limits are constantly monitored and vigorously enforced.

Additionally, with respect to Milorganite, product samples are taken daily and composited weekly for analysis to demonstrate compliance with the 40 CFR Part 503 Regulations. Further extensive laboratory analysis is conducted to ensure safety, product quality, and to monitor any other contaminants, such as organic compounds, for compliance with the State of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources requirements. We are quite proud of our compliance record with all environmental regulations imposed on Milorganite.

trying 2b organic
02-18-2004, 02:23 PM
ty yardmonkey, 2 added benifits specific to my region are

1. has been shown to repel deer

2. contains iron which helps kill moss

I have been going through the same feelings and thoughts as you. If it becomes an issue for me I will drop it. The cost difference wont be worth it if people say it isnt organic or natural, both words i associate to my products and business. I can get 8-3-3 feathermeal-bonemeal-sulfate of potash for a few bucks more per bag.

I spilt a bag of milorganite in the cab of my truck yesterday and my lungs felt wierd too. I was inhaling the dust as i drove. I had just applied it on a customers raised bed flower garden and his dog started eating it. He asked me what it was and i told him it was organic fertlizer.

yardmonkey
02-18-2004, 08:37 PM
Have heard that about deer. I wonder why it repels them.

Here is a very good discussion about moss from the main forum:
http://www.lawnsite.com/showthread.php?threadid=51650

mtdman
02-19-2004, 02:28 AM
My question is, how good is it for introducing organic material into the soil?

yardmonkey
02-19-2004, 11:39 AM
I would think that Milorganite would not be the best way to add OM to the soil. Depends on why or how much you want to add, but probably the best way is to apply compost by the truckload. I screen compost with 1/2" hardware cloth when I pick it up. I made a screen that fits over the back of the pickup bed. I throw about 15 shovels up and then push it around with gloves and then dump the wood over the side. Good stuff. Otherwise I would use some type of organic fert that is more like 1-1-1 where you would apply like 6 bags instead of one bag of Milorganite. There is some stuff I get around here called Humore that is composted cattle manure and alfalfa. About $5/bag.

And of course - always mulch mow. I consider this to be the absolute most important part of organic lawn care.

FERT-TEK
02-19-2004, 12:04 PM
Yard monkey, I think it repels deer because it is made of sewage....feces among other things. The deer smell the product and confuse the odor for that of a predator. Just my take on this. I have also heard that urine from predators such as coyotes, fox and even humans will also repel deer.

mtdman
02-20-2004, 02:35 AM
Originally posted by yardmonkey
I would think that Milorganite would not be the best way to add OM to the soil. Depends on why or how much you want to add, but probably the best way is to apply compost by the truckload. I screen compost with 1/2" hardware cloth when I pick it up. I made a screen that fits over the back of the pickup bed. I throw about 15 shovels up and then push it around with gloves and then dump the wood over the side. Good stuff. Otherwise I would use some type of organic fert that is more like 1-1-1 where you would apply like 6 bags instead of one bag of Milorganite. There is some stuff I get around here called Humore that is composted cattle manure and alfalfa. About $5/bag.

And of course - always mulch mow. I consider this to be the absolute most important part of organic lawn care.

I am not sure that applying loose compost will be an option for me this season, but I am looking to add a service to my aerations where I can apply something to get more OM into the soil. Any suggestions?

way to grow
02-20-2004, 02:44 AM
What about humates or earthworm castings?? Would either of these be good to use??:confused: :confused:

Dchall_San_Antonio
02-20-2004, 03:46 AM
The best way to get "more OM into the soil" is to feed the OM that is already there so that it will multiply in the soil. Feed it with protein based fertilizers and it will do what you are wanting.

How does OM get into the soil? OM consists of two different components: living and dead. The living components include roots, worms, and microbes. You get more living components by feeding them (with protein and sugar) and not killing them (with excess water, herbicide, insecticide, fungicide, algaecide, disinfectants, etc.). The "dead" components of OM include dead roots, dead worms, dead microbes, dead leaves, and the poop from worms and microbes (remember I'm talking about in the soil, not on the soil). If the microbes are healthy and well fed, they will carry the OM deeper into the soil for you. Another way to get OM deeper in the soil is to grow deep rooted plants and then cut them off low to the ground. When you do this the roots die back from lack of photosynthesis enough to support the deeper root structure. The dead roots become OM deep in the soil.

Milorganite does not have pathogens in it. Before it was incinerated at 1,000 degrees F, it had plenty of pathogens in it but nothing survives 1,000 degrees. Personally I don't see how it can have any value left in it, but I'm not stupid enough to say it doesn't work. Too many thousands of extremely satisfied customers to fight that battle. Clearly something about it works.

Many of the heavy metals shown in the Milorganite list are also components of any multivitamin with minerals. My understanding is that ordinary Centrum vitamins would be considered toxic waste if dumped into a sewage system.

timturf
02-20-2004, 08:39 PM
Just wondering, what would be an ideal % om in the soil?

Qoute from our moderator "The best way to get "more OM into the soil" is to feed the OM that is already there so that it will multiply in the soil. Feed it with protein based fertilizers and it will do what you are wanting."
WRONG!!! OM doesn't mutliply by feedingit protiens! OM COMES FROM SOMETHING ONCE LIVING, LIKE DEAD ROOTS OR PLANT LEAF TISSUE. OM is then broken down into humas.

yardmonkey
02-21-2004, 01:45 PM
Tim, perhaps you are misunderstanding Dave's statement. He is not saying that the dead OM will magically "grow" by feeding it. He means that if you feed the living organisms, such as the grass itself, then there will be more living OM (roots, etc) which will contribute to more dead OM in the future. (actually - looking at his post - he explains this clearly.) And of course, if the grass grows well and is always mulch-mowed, then OM is being added continually.

So we are just setting up the process (or helping it along) of letting the lawn improve the soil on its own. This is often overlooked. Probably a smarter approach that just dumping OM on the lawn.

"Another way to get OM deeper in the soil is to grow deep rooted plants and then cut them off low to the ground. When you do this the roots die back from lack of photosynthesis enough to support the deeper root structure. The dead roots become OM deep in the soil."

I think this process is generally referred to as "green manure" and is often used in organic farming. Some plants, such as alfalfa have really deep roots which bring up lots of nutrients from the
deeper soil and add OM deeper into the ground just by sending their roots down, which will eventually be decaying OM. I'm not sure what would be practical ways to do this in lawn care, but people do it. This is one benefit of using rye grass in the winter.

Also, this is a function of weeds. I have read several places that dandelion taproots, when dead, provide little "tunnels" for earthworms in the soil.

There is a very interesting ancient book called Weeds, Guardians of the Soil by Joseph Cocannouer. He explains how all weeds have a purpose and how they benefit farmland by bringing up nutrients from deep in the ground.

mtdman
02-22-2004, 04:44 PM
I'm talking about crappy clay soils. Many of the new houses around here have clay bound soil after the builders are done with them, and what's left the home owners have to feed chemicals to in order to get grass to grow. I am interested in improving those yards, getting the lawns off drugs and growing naturally on their own. And most homeowners aren't interested in waiting years for the grass clippings to infiltrate the ground to improve the yard.

yardmonkey
02-22-2004, 05:36 PM
Well, we often wind up in the middle of difficult compromises - people want things fast but they don't want to pay a lot.

In my opinion, it can be ideal in some cases to just plow up the yard, and till in some ammendments and start over. In other words just go back to step one (the SOIL), which was skipped long ago. Most people don't want to get into such a large project, but some people may pay for it.

I was about to post a link here to the Compost Resource Page
(http://www.oldgrowth.org/compost/) but I went and found that it has been "retired". There were a couple of documents there consisting of old posts to the rec.gardening usenet newsgroup on the subject of compost. Luckily I saved these files long ago. They are long, but not super long. I might try to post them here. Anyway, there was a guy calling himself Mr. Compost who talked about renovating lawns with compost. He suggested applying something like 3" of compost and then tilling it in to a depth of something like 9". That is radical! I would think that good results could be had by applying 1" and tilling it in to 3", but you could wind up with the problem of water soaking the top and not going on down through the clay. Plus that is still a LOT of compost.

Also good topsoil and/or sand could be tilled in with or instead of compost. I think you have to use a LOT of sand to improve clay or you wind up with cement. The usual recommendation is to mix in organic matter to improve clay soil.

Yeah, I think just relying on clippings would take some time, but top-dressing with compost should speed things way up. It could also maybe be an option to topdress with some better topsoil.

The process that Dave describes is more than just accumulating clippings. I think that has more to do with getting lots of roots going. Which is probably mainly a matter of feeding the grass.

People apply various things to help with clay soils. Maybe gypsum.
I think gysum helps to break up clay, but I have heard that this is a temporary effect. Not something I know a lot about, but I know that people have developed programs of applying various things to gradually change clay soils (which is probably just accomplishing the same thing Dave is talking about - getting more OM in there).

There is a guy around here who used to make some stuff he called Earth Food. He claimed that applying this to a clay soil would dramaticlly improve it quickly. I think the main ingredient was alfalfa meal. He is also way into earthworms and I think a lot of this was based on encouraging worms. Applying compost should have the same effect.

I have read that fescue can have really deep roots, like several feet. Probably it has to be very happy and well-established to get that deep. But that seems to support the idea that just feeding the grass can put more OM into the soil.

We have a lot of the same problem here in Oklahoma - lots of clay and lots of bad home construction procedures. But at least we have bermuda grass, which is pretty tough and not too picky about soil.

Just some ideas........

mtdman
02-22-2004, 05:59 PM
Thanks a bunch, yardmonkey. My next question is, is the pelletized compost as good as regular loose compost?

yardmonkey
02-22-2004, 07:05 PM
OK - I posted the Compost FAQs in a separate thread. I read through most of it while posting it. LOTS of info there. Milorganite is discussed some there too. That Mr. Compost seems to really know his stuff.

I have never seen pelletized compost. I'm sure there must be some such products, but all the bagged compost products I have seen are loose. And I'm lucky enough to live in a place where there is a municipal compost facility, so I get to use that. Though I always screen it. I would guess that a pelletized product is a bit more expensive. Otherwise, shouldn't really matter. I tend to think it is better to spread loose stuff for better coverage.

One problem with using compost is that it is not widely available. Even here where we can get it free from the city, it is only released a few times a year. So I sometimes use bagged product like composted cattle manure, composted chicken manure, composted cotton burrs, etc. This stuff I am more likely to use as fertilizer or to work into a garden bed. When I apply compost to a lawn, I get it by the truckload. And a pickup load is not going to put even 1/4" on a 2000' lawn.

So probably its always good to research what kinds of OM ammendments are available cheap in your location. I'm hoping to find a source of bulk alfalfa meal around here.

mtdman
02-22-2004, 09:08 PM
My problem is in spreading it. I am not interested in wheel barrels and shovels, and I don't have the budget to buy a compost spreader. The pelletized stuff you can spread with a spreader.

Dchall_San_Antonio
03-02-2004, 03:49 AM
Originally posted by timturf
Just wondering, what would be an ideal % om in the soil?I believe 5% is thought of as a goal in most places.

Qoute from our moderator "The best way to get "more OM into the soil" is to feed the OM that is already there so that it will multiply in the soil. Feed it with protein based fertilizers and it will do what you are wanting."
WRONG!!! OM doesn't mutliply by feedingit protiens! OM COMES FROM SOMETHING ONCE LIVING, LIKE DEAD ROOTS OR PLANT LEAF TISSUE. OM is then broken down into humas. There are two kinds of OM, the living and the dead. The living microbes eat the dead stuff and form humus as a byproduct. The dead stuff contains sugars, proteins, starches, and lignins. The sugars are easily digested by many microbes. Proteins are easily digested by some microbes. Starches and lignins are eventually digested by a few picky microbes.

To me the OM that matters is the living stuff. They normally receive sugar from the roots of the plants. In nature they receive proteins from dead plants and animals. We simulate that by feeding proteins in the form of ground seeds, nuts, or beans.

If you like the dead stuff and want to incorporate it deep into the soil, the best way is to grow deep rooted plants and kill them. That puts the dead roots deep in the soil to decay right where you wanted them.

Catmann
03-04-2004, 07:05 PM
I did not read all of these posts in detail, but biosolids are in fact a good product to use. Biosolids have a proven and pronounced effect on the fungal biomass in the soil. This is essentially where the benefits come from.

Millorganite is fine, but this material is available all over the place now, and at much cheaper pricing than Millorganite. Biosolids are a commodity product and new plants are going up everywhere to find outlets for the sludge. You will likely see that in the next decade biosolids and poultry manures will be almost mandated by state governments through tax credits, etc such that these products will become as standard as urea is today.