The Demonstration Garden on Southeast 60th is an organic garden. No, we're not certified, but we garden with organic methods. Usually decisions are easy - compost, yes; petroleum based pesticides, no. Actually, we usually check our decisions with the Organic Materials Review Institute - OMRI. We let them worry about the details and follow their guidance if there is any question.
Sometimes, however, things are fuzzy. Last fall, we were advised to give several of our beds a significant boost of nitrogen. The form recommended was Urea. Urea is a natural, organic product. It is produced by most animals, including humans. It is a relatively simple compound formed by two NH2 groups bonded to a carbonyl (CO) group. The trouble is, urea is also a petroleum based product! It has been produced by a wide range of non-organic processes.
There is important history behind urea. In Thomas Jefferson's day, there was a widely held belief called Vitalism, which held that the chemicals of living matter were fundamentally different from those of inanimate matter. In 1828, a German chemist produced urea without any biological starting materials, thereby contradicting the theory of Vitalism.
After looking into the facts about urea, the volunteers at the garden were still unsure. In the end, we decided to ... - well, what would you do?