Oddly Queasy about the concept of Bone Meal

pegasus(5)October 31, 2002

Last year I put a layer of bone meal on my roses and bulbs, because it was the only thing I saw that was clearly identified as being appropriate for both. Both really seemed to benefit dramatically.

The idea of it grosses me out, though. Maybe it's issues with mortality, vegetarianism, giving more support to the meat industry (or whatever they make it out of!) than I care to -- but what would be the closest alternative?

I'm thinking manure or compost for the nitrogen and phosphorous and some kind of calcium or magnesium salt (is it calcium sulfate) for the other nutrients. Would this achieve more or less the same effect? I have some new roses I've tried not to fertilize too heavily in their first year, but how much manure, etc. would be good for their second?

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Hi Pegasus,
I don't have an answer to your question but a suggestion that you look at Organic Gardening Forum. I remember a recent thread about bone meal there, I think the subject was whether or non bome meal is organic. If you do a search you should be able to find it. Good luck!

    Bookmark   November 1, 2002 at 8:25AM
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A number of years ago (5 or 10?), there was concern about using natural bone meal because of the possibility of it containing a disease. Possibly someone with a younger mind than mine can fill in the details.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2002 at 10:33AM
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michaelg(7a NC Mts)

Manure generally has good phosphorus content. Also, I see nothing wrong with using refined phosphorus (super phosphate). It does not have the disadvantages that manufactured nitrogen fertilizers have.

Also the bone meal you previously applied will stay in the soil for years. Generally, gardens that are regularly fertilized by any means will have all the phosphorus plants need, because this nutrient is conserved in the soil. Good organic content and healthy soil life, such as mycorrhizae and earthworms, help to make phosphorus available to the plant.


    Bookmark   November 1, 2002 at 1:59PM
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kidhorn(7a MD)

I don't use bone meal. I use triple superphosphate(0-46-0). it costs less per phosphorous atom as as far as I can tell, it works just as well.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2002 at 2:14PM
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This is from a Google search. The actual link did not work, the Google backup "cache" did:
"......... Now then, what if anything does all this have to do with gardening? At the end of the TV program, the guest speaker (author of a new book called "Deadly Feasts") summarized a conversation he recently had with Dr. Gadjusek. The doctor asked the speaker if he ever used bonemeal on his roses. The speaker said, "Yes, I do." Then Dr. G. said, "I recommend you stop doing that." It turns out that among the 30 current victims of v-CJD being studied in Europe, three were rose growers and all three had been routinely applying British-made bonemeal to their roses. But they hadn't been eating it, OR the roses. So what's the connection? The answer lies in what happens when you dump part of a bag of bonemeal into a rose-plant hole: some of the dust blows back up into your face. It may be possible to introduce into your own lungs the agent that causes v-CJD by aerosolization--the process of inhaling dust motes, in this case dust from ground-up bones from animals that were infected with BSE when alive. This is a scary concept for sure. The British Royal Horticutural Society recommended recently that bonemeal users apply bonemeal only while wearing a facemask. I believe American gardeners are very unlikely to have exposed themselves to the BSE agent via bonemeal because (1) American bonemeal is processed using solvent extraction, and (2) American cattle are not known to harbor BSE. Nevertheless, it is now time to err on the side of caution. I will be omitting bonemeal from all my gardening routines, mask or no mask. "

Here is a link that might be useful: The Google cache

    Bookmark   November 1, 2002 at 3:07PM
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Here we go again. Filling the archives with those stale arguments, pro and con.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2002 at 3:24PM
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The following link is to the OG thread on bone meal where some of these issues were discussed.

Also see the OG Forum FAQ for cheap, natural fertilizers.

Here is a link that might be useful: og thread

    Bookmark   November 2, 2002 at 8:54AM
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lisa2(coastal CA)

I decided not to buy bone meal this year because I'm not sure that I want to support the slaughter house industry. So I had my local garden center order me a 25 lb bag of fish bone meal. Lots of phosphorous and calcium and trace minerals. My roses and veges love it!

    Bookmark   November 6, 2002 at 4:04PM
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michaelg(7a NC Mts)

There is no need for an argument over Henry's post. The quotation seems perfectly fair to me. It acknowledges that the risk of Americans getting mad cow disease from bone meal is, at present, slim to none.

On the other hand, modern, processed bone meal is not a particularly useful fertilizer.


    Bookmark   November 6, 2002 at 4:15PM
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reg_pnw7(WA 7, sunset 4)

As I understand it - used to was, bone meal was a good fertilizer because it was made from bone that had bits of meat still clinging to it, as well as the marrow still inside. Nowadays the bones are steam cleaned before being turned into bone meal so they dont' supply any nitrogen at all anymore. As stated previously, phosphorus is not generally limited in supply in the soil and what you add tends to last a long time. Nitrogen is what's limited. While bulbs don't need much nitrogen at planting time, a little is better than none. That's why the newer bulb fertilizers have a bit of nitrogen in them and wise nursery personnel no longer recommend straight bone meal but rather bulb fertilizer. It's also good for planting container plants, as it gets the phosphorus and potassium in the root zone where it's needed and only adds just a touch of nitrogen which is all newly planted plants can take.

I see no reason to prefer slaughtered fish to slaughtered cattle. The cattle at least get knocked unconscious with a bolt gun before being killed. The fish are generally left to suffocate slowly, or are bashed in the head with a baseball bat in the case of salmon fishing. Either way a conscious creature is being killed. Life feeds on life, no two ways around it. But to each her own.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2002 at 12:06AM
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flowersandthings(MidAtlantic 6/7)

If you don't eat meat than I guess it wouldn't make sense to use bonemeal..... but if you do I see no problem.... it's just using more of the animal..... goes to the native american idea of using as much of the animal as you can not letting it's life go to waste..... these animals would be slaughtered for their meat anyway...... it's very natural for animals to fertilize the soil...... it's part of a cycle......

    Bookmark   March 10, 2004 at 5:23PM
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hopeful_in_Brevard(z9b FL)

Im new to this forum and I was really glad to enter this thread. It has raised questions I have. I also dont want to use any animal products, and it was good to hear about an alternative to bone meal. I have a lot to learn about the subject organic gardening. I thank you all and wish I had checked this forum out a lot sooner.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2004 at 6:08PM
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you could try free range organic eggshells, if your a vegetarian out of concern for animals. YOu could always specify from a local egg provider to give you unfertilized eggs.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2004 at 9:28PM
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I believe it's good that you feel Oddly queasy about bone meal.

Several years ago I saw a frightening television special on bone meal and some type of rare disease that I believe affected the brain. They studied these people and found the common thread among them was that they had all gardened with bone meal. That was the last time I used bone meal.


    Bookmark   April 15, 2004 at 10:07AM
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aureliajulia(8b-9a South Coastal SC)

Although I try to use organic fertilizers, I have never, oddly enough, been tempted to buy bonemeal. Maybe it was just unappealing, at any rate triple phosphate works well.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2006 at 6:17PM
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