Bone Char

inespilarMarch 29, 2012

My original soil test says my vegetable garden is low on P and recommends adding it. I ordered bone char from Fedco, mostly because it seemed like the best P product for my soil from what they offered.

I realize I might be having a goofy moment, but it really creeps me out when I incorporate it in my garden. It smells bad and has a really disconcerting black color. Then I looked at the wikipedia entry and wondered about the whole color/quality issue they discuss. (but of course that might be related to bone char's other uses in water filtering and sugar production). And although this is OMRI approved product, I am wondering if this is the gardening equivalent of "pink slime"---just have so little faith in how cattle are raised/slaughtered/processed in our country.

Thoughts? Am I being a nervous nellie?

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It's just calcined bone meal, isn't it? I don't see a problem with that. IMO, from the "pink slime" POV, I would think it much preferable to bone meal.

I don't know the technical details about it, but I know that both Fedco and North Country Organics (probably Fedco's supplier) are pretty vigilant when it comes to "organic."

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 5:20PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

Are you thinking Mad Cow? I think you would probably have to eat it, right? I don't think you can get mad cow from the soil, even if you eat what you grow since I don't think plants can carry it. But, maybe someone else knows. Blood meal is black, so you are sure it's not blood meal?

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 5:43PM
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Yes mad cow and whatever else my be lurking. It's definitely not blood meal.

Good to hear that North Country Organics has such a good reputation. They are the manufacturer. Thanks.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 8:14PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

I was hoping someone else would answer, who was more official then me. I looked up mad cow on Wikipedia. It is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob when human's get it. I found it does come from eating bad parts of the cow such as brains and intestines. People are not supposed to eat these things. I have heard HIV came from people eating monkey brains. That is only one theory. Pink slime is the bad part of the meat. But, even if your bone char came from cows with mad cow, you could not get mad cow. I am sure burning it to a "char" would kill the mad cow, and you are not going to eat it anyway. I am sure it perfectly safe.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2012 at 5:31PM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

I'm certainly not official but I have to agree that if it was heated enough to become black, you're looking at dead chemicals there, not biohazards.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2012 at 5:38PM
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I looked into the same thing, and there's not enough studies on it. As far as I can tell, there haven't been any cases of people getting BSE from eating plants grown in bone meal. It may be possible to inhale infected bone dust and get BSE, but I can't find any cases of that either except for urban legend.

I would be worry about other stuff in the bone. Keep in mind that bone meal used to be a calcium supplement until it was found to contain stuff like lead.


    Bookmark   March 31, 2012 at 8:58AM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

I had not heard of the lead angle, although it would certainly make sense because lead mimics calcium.

So I did a little research. Many websites will say that bone meal dietary supplements contain lead, but don't quote any actual data. But I found the big study from the Am. Journal of Public Health from 1994 or so where 79 brands were tested.

The abstract says that Pb levels ranges from 0.03 to 8.8 ug/g. Micrograms per gram is equivalent to milligrams per kilogram, or parts per million. Now, this may not be safe to eat directly, but that's a different question than soil amendment, toxicologically speaking.

I can tell you these numbers are low in terms of soil background and soil toxicity. For example, background Pb in the clay in my area ranges from 5-20 ppm or so. The state considers residential use (including gardening) safe at up to 260, and EPA, 400.

Whether you agree with the agencies is up to you, but even the high range of 8.8 is so far below that, that I would have no problem at all putting bone meal on my garden.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2012 at 1:14PM
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We've found Bone Char to be an excellent source of natural phosphorus. It's less expensive per pound of phosphorus that rock phosphate. Also, I saw a post about the synthetic phosphorus sources just being rock phosphate that has been reacted with acid. This is true, but the problem is that when you put it back in the soil it gets locked up and becomes unavailable to plants. Good Luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Bone Char

    Bookmark   April 7, 2012 at 8:05AM
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bluegoat_gw(Zone 3b)

Here's an other source of P that may be available to you.

Here is a link that might be useful: Soft Rock Phosphate

    Bookmark   April 7, 2012 at 11:50AM
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The Mad Cow disease vector is not alive, so sterilization temperatures do not "kill" or neutralize it.

It is a prion, a protein, and would have to get hot enough to denature. I once read that it can survive 900 degrees, that even if Fahrenheit is kind of hard to believe.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 12:28PM
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