Picture Snob

February 17, 2011

Bat Guano has a long history of being used for fertilizer

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The Inca were the first peoples to use and regulate bat guano for fertlizer. Guano is a name applied to both bat and sea bird droppings which accumulates to great depth in caves and on islands in the Pacific. I never used bat guano until it started appearing in nurseries in both big and small bags a few years ago. "The Incas assigned great value to guano, restricting access to it and punishing any disturbance to the birds with death."

It's importance as a fertilizer was widespread in the 1800's and the US passed the Guano Islands Act in 1856 giving citizens discovering a source of guano the right to take possession of unclaimed land and entitlement to exclusive rights to the deposits. That's how important it once was. But by the end of the 19th century, the importance of guano declined with the rise of artificial fertiliser. And now it has made it appearance again and I have used it the past few years with great success in the garden.

However, a commentor on this blog wrote that bat guano was dangerous and that maybe the organic world had gone crazy to be promoting such fertilizer. I appreciate comments like that which make me dig a little deeper for information. As a result, I came up with information on Histoplasma capsulatum or histoplasmosis. This disease is caused by a fungus found throughout the world. It is endemic in certain areas of the United States, particularly in states bordering the Ohio River valley and the lower Mississippi River. It also common in caves in southern and East Africa.

H. capsulatum grows in soil and material contaminated with bird or bat droppings. The fungus has been found in poultry house litter, caves, areas harboring bats, and in bird roosts (particularly those of starlings). The fungus once inhaled into the lungs can germinate and then transform into budding yeast cells which cause flu like symtoms. Histoplasmosis is not contagious and can only be contracted by inhaling the fungus.

So it is relatively rare although I also found there is a budding industry of bat removal and the clean up of droppings of bats and birds to avoid personal contamination.

Where does that leave me on using it as a fertilizer? I think I will handle the guano more carefully in the future, but I don't think the danger is immanent enough to stop using what has become a great help to me in the garden. I have never used it as a foliar spray but when used in a water based mix and sprayed on the leaves of plants, it is a fungicide. Figure that out! I might also look for the word, composted, on the package as the high heat of composting would kill any bacteria or fungus.

At Dr. Earth 726 Bat Guano

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Posted by Marilyn Renaker at February 17, 2011 2:09 PM
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