Using blood meal for gardens, compost piles

droogie6655321April 17, 2007

I was reading that blood meal is a good high-nitrogen additive for gardens and could help speed up compost decomposition by adding a shot of nitrogen.

Has anyone used this stuff before? Any less-than-good experiences? Also, I haven't seen it on sale anywhere. Any ideas where I could get some?

Also, is it possible to over-use this particular fertilizer? All my plants are somewhat young and small -- are they easy to "burn"?

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Blood meal is indeed a good high-nitrogen additive for gardens. You can use it to speed up decomposition as it is about 12% nitrogen, which is the highest nitrogen content you will find in an organic amendment.

I used it the first two years in preparing beds in my vegetable garden. I used it sparingly--at about half the recommended rate as I didn't want to take any chances on having too much nitrogen in the soil.

You can usually find it at nurseries and at big box stores like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, etc. It is usually with other amendments like bone meal, cottonseed meal, etc. Sometimes it is in boxes, sometimes in bags. Sometimes Wal-Mart has it on the same row as their chemical fertilizers like Peters, Miracle Grow, etc. It comes in fairly small sizes like maybe 3 or 4 lbs. I have never seen it in a really large bag.

You can overuse it, so follow the label directions carefully. Young plants are very easily 'burnt' and blood meal that is overused will burn them quickly.

Also, if you have dogs....or if your compost pile or garden beds are accessible to dogs.....the smell of blood meal (and bone meal as well) will attract dogs and they will dig around trying to find it. I mean they will dig and dig and dig some more.

Also, I usually have vultures circling overhead within a hour or so of putting out blood meal. The first time this happened, I didn't know why the vultures were there and I kept looking around the area for a dead or dying animal. On the second day, when applying blood meal to another garden row, the vultures came back and I made the connection. Sure enough, any time I use the blood meal I have vultures flying around forever. Of course, I am in a very rural area and have lots of vultures around anyway.

As a bonus, blood meal somewhat repels deer and rabbits.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2007 at 4:35PM
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Well, I don't have to worry about vultures (or deer for that matter) in Broken Arrow! It's very suburban. I know your local wildlife can cause you some problems, Okiedawn, but I really envy you for most of it (except the bobcats and mountain lions).

I was planning to use the blood meal in liquid form. I read you can mix it up in a gallon milk jug with some water and apply it that way so it absorbs even faster. Have you ever done this?

I'll use it carefully and sparingly whatever I do. What are the consequences of having too much nitrogen in the soil? I know too little of it can cause yellowed leaves and other problems.

I sorted through my compost a bit the other day when I mulched my garden (Right before a major rain! Good timing!). It's coming along pretty good with some nice little "nuggets" of humus throughout, but it could use a kick in the pants to accelerate it into the final stage of decomposition. Since I can't get any manure, I figured blood meal would be a good substitute.

Thanks for the specific advice. I'll stop by Home Depot on the way home since I don't shop at Wal-Mart. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   April 18, 2007 at 2:06PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I love our wildlife, too, most of the time. We looked long and hard to find a place where we would have lots of wildlife. Luckily the mountain lions are only about a once every year or two thing and the bobcats have become more scarce as we have acquired more large dogs! We are seeing more and more wild pigs, and that always concerns me. They are notorious for tearing up yards and pastures and aren't afraid of humans.

I have never used the blood meal in liquid form. If you are just going to use it on the compost pile to speed up the breakdown of your organic materials, I can't see where any harm would come from doing that.

There are many consequences of having too much nitrogen in the soil, but it can vary from plant to plant, so it is hard to just come up with a general list of "nitogen side effects". In general, though, excess nitrogen is a huge threat to the microbial components of your soil. Since organic gardeners want to encourage the soil microbes, we try to be careful not to harm them. In addition to that, the repeated use of excess nitrogen over a period of time can lower your soil pH significantly. It can also interfere with mineral uptake from the soil.

If I give vegetable garden plants excess nitrogen, I will be rewarded with a huge amount of lush green growth. Now, you might ask me, how can that be a bad thing? OK. With tomato plants or pepper plants, I want fruit/vegetables. I am not going to eat those lush green leaves. While the plant is responding to all that extra nitrogen, it is making leaves and, to a lesser extent, stems. It is not making tomatoes or peppers to the same extent. So, one result of excess nitro is "all foliage, no fruit". In the same way, a zinnia or sunflower might have big lush leaves and lots of them and few flowers.

To further complicate things, the stems can't keep up with all that lush, rapidly growing foliage and may bend over towards the ground and even break.

It can happen with flowers, and especially with wildflowers, like bluebonnet or gaillardia, that are grown in a homeowner's flower bed. These plants only need a certain amount of nitrogen and they tend to get what they need from some pretty poor soil sometimes. In a residential setting with improved soil and the use of nitrogen fertilizers they get too big, they grow too fast and they 'flop over'. That is why you are often cautioned to grow such plants in 'lean soil'.

Finally, the biggest side effect of excess nitrogen that I have noticed is that plants which are overfed and have that big lush foliage with be much, much, much more attractive to insect pests and to disease as well, especially fungal and bacterial disease. If I accidentally feed something too much nitrogen, within a couple of weeks it will be covered in bugs like aphids or grasshoppers.

Also, there is another lousy side effect of too much nitrogen in your garden speeds up the breakdown of humus that is in your soil. So, while you may want to use blood meal in a compost pile to speed up decomposition, you only want to use it in garden beds at 'just the right rate' so it doesn't speed up the loss of compost/humus/compost from your beds. By the way, frequent rototilling of the soil also speeds up the breakdown of organic matter in your soil, which is one reason that no-till farming is a big thing now. Heat also is an enemy of organic material in soil. There is an old saying "heat eats compost" that sums up why those of us who live in regions with excessive heat have to work a lot harder to keep our soil enriched and humusy than gardeners in cooler regions of the country.


    Bookmark   April 18, 2007 at 3:45PM
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Thanks for the advice on soil. Y'know, at OSU I used to think it was strange that there was a "soil science" wing of the campus, but now I see what all has to go into it. Soil is a living thing and has to be treated with care if it's been neglected.

Yesterday I started digging some more. I plan to double the size of my garden (which isn't saying much, given how small it is, but still). I'll be adding at least 30 square feet to it, and I plan to do more for the soil than I did for the first bit.

I was so excited then, I probably didn't take the time to do that much for the soil, but this time I will. I've already noticed that the soil neighboring my new bed is healthier than the soil I made the bed from the first time I dug. There were lots of earthworms (responding, I think, to the compost mulch) and only one grub (he got the boot).

This afternoon, I'll dig around in the pile some more and grab some of the black stuff to mix into the soil. Then I can top-dress it with some of the less-rotted stuff like I did with the rest of the garden.

It's funny -- I thought mulching with the compost would make for an ugly garden, but it's really quite clean-looking. It makes the plants stand out, and I can already tell it's retaining water and temperature better.

Some people must thing digging and mulching is a chore, but I like it even though it's exhausting work. Just thinking about how much it will improve the soil makes it worth it.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2007 at 9:58AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

I hope you have a wonderful afternoon in the garden. If you think the soil is looking good now, just wait until it has benefitted from the use of the organic process for several years.

This spring, while planting tomatoes in the very first raised bed of soil in my vegetable garden, I was amazed just looking at what used to be red sandy-clayey soil with no organic matter. Now it is very dark brown and in fact is almost black. It is full of compost/humus and earthworms as well. This bed was heavily improved in 1999 and 2000. Since then all it has had in the way of improvement is that the mulch breaks down and feeds the soil. The change in what it was like then and what it is like now is very encouraging.

Because my veggie garden is so large, I only add heavy amendments to a bed for the first and second year. Every year or two I add a new raised bed as I enlarge the garden. To try to create a huge area and improve/amend the soil all at once would be such a daunting task.

Compost may be many things, but never ugly! There is a reason many gardeners refer to it as 'black gold'.

I am glad your gardening efforts are showing such great results. Keep it up (!) and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

    Bookmark   April 19, 2007 at 10:45AM
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Jeff, welcome to the wonderful world of soil. I saw a gardeing show several years ago where the elderly lady was telling the host. Plants can live with some sun, some rain or lack of rain but the key to healthy beautiful plants is soil,soil,soil.

I have never forgotten that bit of advice and all the digging and backbreaking work over the years have paid off. As one of the nursery ladies told me one day as I was browsing, "you can plant a stick and it will produce".

I did not tell her but it really depends on the stick :)

Great to read your enthusatic work. I was so inspired I went out and did a little digging and it is almost dark. You need to post everyday so I can be inspired again and possible have everything done by July. Sure like that will happen. I move plants and build new beds like some people move furniture, constantly.

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Just remember to sit awhile after a project and admire,admire,admire. Steffie

    Bookmark   April 19, 2007 at 8:48PM
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Thank you Steffie, I do. Every morning with my coffee and every afternoon after work.

Tomorrow I'll be getting up bright and early on a Saturday to fight what will probably be a crowd of mostly women older than I to get the first chance to buy some plants at the Sand Springs herbal festival. I planted too early on my first swing at outdoor gardening and so I'll probably have to re-plant a few things, but I'm chalking it up to experience.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2007 at 8:36AM
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I bought some blood meal once - my cats loved it!


    Bookmark   April 22, 2007 at 2:17PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

We're waiting to hear what treasures you found at the Sand Springs Festival!


    Bookmark   April 22, 2007 at 2:59PM
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I have used blood meal for years. I tried to follow this thread in its entirety and thought I had a few things I could add. I noticed that using it to replace manure was mentioned. It is not a replacement for manure, but it sure does help when there is not enough manure. Manure and compost have the wonderful qualities of making the soil moisture just right. There is nothing to replace compost or manure except other compost or manure.

I also live in a rural area and never had a buzzard show up for dinner just because I threw out a little blood meal. I do have pets though, and they all prefer fish emulsion over blood meal any day. Gee, anybody got any thoughts on why? If you can keep the pets out of the fish emulsion,it is the most perfect replacement supplement that I have found for manure and compost, but it is not a perfect replacement either.

I have used blood meal in small quantities, large quantities and everything in between. I have never burned a plant root with it, and I am not sure why. I cannot burn plants with rabbit manure either. That is called a cold manure. Goats and sheep, I am told, also produce cold manures. It means that although they produce nitrogen in abundance, the jillions of creepy crawly things that break down the soil do it somehow differently that other livestock manures. I have certainly burned roots with chicken manure. Rabbit manure has more nitrogen than all of the common live stock manures found in North America, and I do not know any animal that produces more nitrogen in its manure than rabbits. I love the stuff, but we are not talking about rabbit manure. We are talking about blood meal which I also love.

Also liquid blood meal was mentioned. Really? Couldn't you just do your own slaughtering? I do not know anybody that sells it that way and don't think I would buy it if I did. If you want to pour a store bought nitrogen rich liquid over a spot, use the fish emulsion that I just mentioned in a paragraph above. Just develop a good plan for keeping pets out of it. I don't have any because I do not wish to spend the money on other products that repel them. Those also exist. Just ask for them wherever you buy garden supplies.

Let me add this about nitrogen's side effects. Nitrogen does indeed promote lush green foliage that may not be desirable if one really wants bigger fruit than plant, but I have to add that bigger plants produce bigger fruit. I grow watermelons on land that I inherited from my father. When I told my mother that I planned to do that, she was quick to remind me that my father never could grow watermelons on that land. (He would not listen to good advice because he thought he knew everything.) There were several reasons for that, but we are just talking about fruit size. His watermelons and at first mine were far too small, baseball or softball size, and part of the reason was because I did not know how to time watering or fertilization and such. Watermelons need the most nitrogen while the vines are forming and before the fruit forms. Then while fruit is forming, they need to receive the most phosphorus and potassium. However, this is not advisable if nitrogen has not been applied aggressively enough. Even as I write this I have watermelon flowers, but still have to apply nitrogen to get all of my melons on the same page. They are growing at different rates because they popped out of the ground on different days, and I replanted about a week after the first planting, and the second planting also popped out of the ground on different days. I also plan to sell them. So I have them in many stages. Some only have their dicotyledon leaves while others have long vines, but I am not satisfied with any of their growth rates because I know from experience that at present they are only long enough to produce baseball and softball sized watermelons. Therefore I am making amendments with Organic Miracle Gro Liquid plant food that has 8-0-0 and is made from sugar beets. If the smallest plants I have right now started making fruit at their present size, they probably wouldn't have anything bigger than marbles. I am sure that all of this applies to all fruit and vegetables. Bigger plants make bigger produce, but more phosphorus and potassium applied at the right times make more fruits and vegetables.

I hope this has been informative. Grow something really grand.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2010 at 12:47AM
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On the subject of wild hogs--I help my husband trap them and I have had them dig up my front yard with 5 dogs barking crazily at them the entire time(3 of the dogs are not even kept in kennels, so it's not like the hogs knew the dogs couldn't get to them--they just weren't afraid of them) Anyway, I digress. Two points about hogs: they will dig up any bulb, root, or food source if it is where they can get to it, and they ARE afraid of humans here in Texas. They only get aggressive when they are hurt or trapped. The occasional exception to that is the sow who has piglets. But I have seen sows turn and run at the first sign of danger and leave the tiny piglets to fend for themselves. I have a garden that is fenced in and located right next to my dog kennel and have had no hogs(yet) get into that portion of my garden.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2011 at 9:27AM
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