Gardening Matters

In case you have not yet heard of it, I’d like to sing the praises of Milorganite. For the uninitiated, Milorganite is an organic fertilizer made by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. The name comes from MILwaukee ORGAnic NITrogen. It has been around for more than 85 years and has been commonly used on farms, public parks, golf courses, yards and gardens.

As you might gather from the name of the folks who make it, Milorganite is a byproduct of the city of Milwaukee’s sewage operations. It is not made of dried sewage. Let me say that again to calm the more squeamish amongst us. It is not made of dried sewage. Nor does it smell like sewage.

The city collects common sewage from residential and commercial sources. It is first gathered in large tanks—the kind of tanks you really don’t want to be downwind of. It is then treated with microbes that break down all the yucky, smelly, unhealthy stuff. The remaining cleaned water is filtered off, aerated and returned to Lake Michigan. The sludge remaining in the tanks are the microbes that died of starvation after they ate up all the yucky stuff. This sludge is filtered, dried, baked at 900-1200 degrees and then packaged as the fertilizer that is sold as Milorganite at most garden supply stores. That 900°-1200° treatment kills the germs, the nasty stuff and any residual unpleasant smell.

All along the manufacturing process, the Milorganite people conduct repeated tests to assure the quality and purity of their product. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) even adopted Milorganite’s standards for removal of traces of heavy metals. They have never had a health or safety related product recall.

Milorganite is great for a number of reasons. It is an organic by-product of a sustainable method for water purification that does not rely on chemical treatments. Further, it is a slow-release fertilizer. The granules of Milorganite are broken down slowly in the soil. It will not “burn” plants or give you a quick rush of growth soon to be followed by the absence of nutrients to feed your plants. Under normal conditions it will treat your plants continuously for eight to ten weeks.

Milorganite contains 85 percent organic matter. As Milorganite is added to your garden it will serve like soil conditioner or compost to help improve your soil. It is also a balanced fertilizer. It not only contains the usual elements of fertilizers (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium,) it also contains all of the ten trace elements that are necessary for healthy plants. (If you must know, they are: calcium, sulfur, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, boron, chlorine and molybdenum).

And it can safely be used for lawns, public areas and vegetables. It is environment, pet, child and dinner friendly.

As the TV ads say, “But wait, there’s more.” Milorganite has been tested by various state agricultural authorities, including those at the University of Georgia. It has been found to have a positive effect on deterring deer from plundering your gardens. (You can see the results of the UGA study at While there is no absolutely positive deer deterrent that does not involve a salt lick, a flashlight, guns and blood, Milorganite does help keep the little boogers at bay. And that’s good enough for me.

Give Milorganite a try. As they say at the Milorganite factory, “We’re No. 1 in the No. 2 business.”

Jeff Coghill has been gardening in DeKalb County for over 30 years and has probably killed at least one of each kind of plant he has tried before getting another one to thrive. He is a gardening volunteer at the Dunwoody Nature Center and works closely with members of the DeKalb Master Gardeners group. He can be reached at

(2) comments


Official US government policy is the disposal of toxic industrial wastes in public sewers. Sewer treatment concentrates the chemicals in the sewage sludge. Pretreatment is no longer strictly enforced for fear of costing industries money and causing loss of jobs.

In 2007, tons of Milwaukee sewage sludge "Milorganite" had to be scraped off 30 public parks and disposed in EPA licensed hazardous waste landfill because of toxic levels of carcinogenic PCBs ( polychloride biphenyl ethers). In 2008 and 2009 Milwaukee had more problems with excessive levels of PCBs in their sludge biosolids.

In 2010, high levels of toxic lead (1100 parts per million) in the Milwaukee sludge biosolids spread on Kenosha, Wisconsin, farm fields greatly exceeded the EPA limit of 300 ppm in Class A EQ sludge biosolids.

Sewage sludge Milorganite is a dangerous "fertilizer" which should not be used on home gardens or public parks and playgrounds where children and pets are exposed.
Class A sewage sludge biosolids has caused many incidents of illness:

Chemical pollutants and pathogens in sludge are taken up and internalized by vegetables and plants.

Wastewater treatment does not inactivate infectious human and animal prions which US EPA acknowledges are also present in sewage sludge, including Milorganite.

Helane Shields, Alton, NH


We'd like to clarify no Milorganite branded products had to be remediated from properties due to the contamination of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District’s (MMSD) facilities in 2007. Any product that had been compromised was disposed of (under EPA guidance ) and facilities were properly treated, tested and put back into operations through EPA oversight. The District has a robust monitoring and pretreatment program designed to insure that industries do not introduce harmful substances into our systems that cannot be treated. In addition, any class A fertilizer product produced by the MMSD undergoes thorough analysis for product quality and consumer safety (including metals and PCB testing on a daily basis), meeting or exceeding all government standards for this product category.

We would offer the writer of this commentary the opportunity to visit our facilities and discuss our protocols in producing the high quality product consumers have trusted for close to 90 years.

Jeff Spence
Milorganite - Sales & Marketing Director

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