A Scientific Look: Is Tower Garden Mineral Blend Organic?
I like organic. Who doesn’t?
Years ago (probably before some of you were born!), I subscribed to magazines like The Mother Earth News and Organic Gardening and Farming. To this day, I still keep clippings on stuff like how to recycle water and how to build a composting toilet.
As the term “organic” has grown more popular and as people have started using it to buy and sell food products, it’s become apparent “organic” means different things to different people. To prevent misunderstandings and level the playing field, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) got the unenviable task of defining what the heck is “organic” —and what is not. These regulations went into effect in the mid 1990s.
Organic practices are top-of-mind among many gardeners. As a result, people often ask whether Tower Garden—the Mineral Blend in particular—is organic. And the short answer is no, Tower Garden Mineral Blend is not organic (despite being completely safe).
But let’s consider the longer answer, the scientifically sound one that challenges the common preconception that organic equates to good and synthetic to bad.
Are Minerals Organic?
There is a meaning of organic that goes back much further than the current popular definition
Early in our education, we are taught that our world can be divided into three kingdoms: animal, plant and mineral. We can lump the animal and plant kingdoms together as living things. The Latin word “organicus” gives us several related words for living things: organization, organisms and organ. Living things—animals and plants—are organisms.
If you’ve taken chemistry courses, you may know the most basic differentiations of chemistry are organic chemistry (the chemistry of carbon compounds), and inorganic chemistry (the chemistry of minerals).
Can you see why “organic mineral” is a contradiction? Minerals are inorganic by nature (until they become part of a living organism—at that point they become organic). They are simple elements of the earth. They do not move. They do not eat. They do not reproduce. Minerals do not die because they are not alive.
Where Minerals Come From
Here is where my discourse takes a turn towards the philosophical.
Do you realize every atom in your body—every carbon atom, every nitrogen atom, every hydrogen atom —has existed since the world was created? Yes indeed, the atoms that make you are billions of years old!
Let’s use an atom of nitrogen as an example. Nitrogen is the most abundant gas in the atmosphere. It makes up 80 percent of the air around us. Certain types of bacteria in the soil “fix” nitrogen gas into soil by converting it into nitrogen salts, like nitrites and nitrates.
Nitrites and nitrates are still considered minerals, so they are still inorganic. Plants use these compounds to make a wide variety of products, such as amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. When they are incorporated in this manner, nitrogen atoms become part of an organism—and so they become organic.
These plants then serve as food for higher organisms like you and me. And in turn, the nitrogen atoms become part of our body and serve many purposes. They form muscles, enzymes and blood cells—they have thousands of different uses in our body.
Eventually compounds and tissues get metabolized (or we get metabolized when we die), and those atoms of nitrogen become part of the earth or atmosphere again.
And the cycle continues.
Let me repeat: basic elements like nitrogen were made when the world was created. We cannot make minerals.
We can combine them in different ways. But in the end, they are still there—carbon, nitrogen, sulfur and so on.
Why Minerals Cannot Be “Made”
I vividly recall a chemistry lab demonstration in college where our instructor had us (carefully) combine two very potent chemicals: hydrochloric acid, one of the strongest acids known, and sodium hydroxide, a strong alkali (and the main ingredient of Drano), also known as lye.
The resulting reaction yields two of the safest compounds: water and sodium chloride, also known as salt. I recall this experience well because we let the solution dry and got to taste the salt crystals we made!
I remember thinking—the salt molecule I “made” could have been a salt molecule in a prehistoric sea. It could have served as currency in some prehistoric tribe. It could have gone through many cycles, and at some point gotten separated to make hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide. And that afternoon, I may have simply reunited a couple of very old friends!
So it would be presumptuous for me to say I made something new. I merely combined two elements that have existed since the world began.
This may seem like a long preamble. But it is absolutely necessary because it illustrates the fallacy in forcing the classification of minerals as “natural” and “man-made” (or “synthetic”).
Some would argue that the salt molecule I produced in the lab that afternoon was synthetic or man-made salt. But it truly is a moot point because I only put together two elements that nature has been combining and splitting for billions of years.
The Relationship Between Minerals and Plants
Moving on to living things—plants are by far the simplest. But they play a huge role in life: they serve as a bridge between the inorganic, mineral world and the organic, living world.
As I pointed out above, plants can take minerals (i.e., matter that has no life) and convert them into incredibly complex organic molecules—true living matter like carbohydrates, proteins, fats and vitamins. These in turn serve to nurture the next group, the animal kingdom, which includes humans.
So we could say that plants are the bridge between the inorganic world of nonliving minerals and the vibrant, live, organic world of animal life.
Think about the beautiful smells of flowers and the amazingly varied tastes and colors of fruits and vegetables. Plants are capable of making this huge variety of complex organic compounds from a few minerals in the ground (along with water, carbon dioxide and sunlight).
Providing Plants with Minerals
Since plants are limited in their ability to feed themselves, it is to our advantage to provide them with the different elements they need to grow. This helps plants generate food in the form of leaves, buds, flowers and fruits.
That’s the premise behind fertilizers. Whether we deliver the minerals themselves or use some precursor like compost (i.e., organic matter broken down into its basic elements), the idea is the same.
But this is where we run into a curious situation with Tower Garden: one element plants need for healthy growth and production is iron. When plants grow in the in soil, access to iron is rarely an issue. But Tower Garden grows plants in a water and air environment rather than in soil. And iron does not dissolve well in water.
But a compound called ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) can help.
EDTA is safe for human consumption. In fact, it’s used in medicine. Precisely because of its ability to bind metals, EDTA is injected into the bloodstream or muscle tissue of people suffering from heavy metal poisoning. Once the EDTA binds the heavy metals, they can't have any effects on the body and are excreted.
In fertilizers, this property of binding and suspending metals actually helps plants absorb them. EDTA is an organic compound (from the standpoint of being made of carbon). But it is also man-made. So its presence in the Tower Garden Mineral Blend—even though it represents less than 0.05 percent—prevents us from using the “all natural” moniker.
Isn’t it ironic that a compound so safe it can be injected into the human body to heal it (and that helps plants procure the iron they need) is classified as not natural?
If you want to read more on EDTA, here is a good summary.
Over to You
In closing, our world is an amazing creation—rich and varied. As such, it cannot always be reduced into black and white labels that tell us whether something is good or bad.
Tower Garden Mineral Blend provides the healthiest, closest-to-nature fertilizer we can formulate to grow healthful fruits and vegetables using the Tower Garden growing system.
Wouldn’t it be a shame for people to miss out on the healthful benefits of growing their own fruits and vegetables at home—in an environment that they completely control—simply because they wrongly imagine that “synthetic” always means “bad”?
Questions or comments? Let’s continue the conversation below.
Leave a comment
Want to leave a comment? We'd love to hear it. Please note that all comments are moderated. Anything resembling spam will be deleted. Try to make this a meaningful conversation for all involved.