What goes in the ground…goes on the table
This will be a part series on dirt, Makin dirt that is. Dirt is on of the most critical elements if any farmers product. Whether you grow food for the masses or just your family, there ate many elements that are needed for soil health and producing healthy wholesome food.
Home gardeners spend millions each year on fertilizer for their gardens and houseplants.
WOW! While many scientists agree that chemical fertilizers are harming the environment,
organic fertilizers are draining our wallets. The good news is that you can easily make your own
fertilizers from organic waste material and other things that you have around the house.
3 Reasons You Need Fertilizer
Your plants need fertilizer because:
1. Most soil does not provide the essential nutrients that are required for the best plant
growth and production.
2. Even if you are super lucky to have rich loamy soil that all of us crave, as your plants
grow they absorb those nutrients and leave the soil less fertile.
3. All of those beautiful flowers, fruits, and veggies that you grew last year took the
nutrients that were in the soil. This year, your garden needs another boost of nutrients
for this year’s plants.
Why It’s Important To Know Your Soil
While it’s important to fertilize your plants and the soil, it’s also important to know what your
soil needs. That’s where a soil test comes in. Get one from your local county extension office.
When you send in your sample, you’ll get the report. It tells you what your soil has in
abundance and what you really need to add for best plant growth.
Also, soils vary in their ability to hold nutrients and make them available to plants. Sandy soils
do not hold nutrients well, clay soils do. However, clay soils do not like to give up the water
they hold, so it is more difficult for plants to take up the nutrients that are available.
Which Do I Need, Soil Amendments Or Fertilizers?
Soil amendments are mixed with soil to improve the physical properties or increase microbial
action. It makes a plant’s roots happy and healthy. Amendments improve the soil’s water
retention, permeability, drainage, air holding capacity, and structure.
Fertilizers are soil amendments that are applied to promote plant growth not change the soils
The short answer is you need both.
For today we’ll talk organic
Types Of Organic Fertilizers
Dry fertilizers are mixed into the soil. They work well for both in-ground gardens and container
gardening. These types of fertilizer are added to encourage long-term growth in seedlings,
transplants, and crops. An example of a Dry fertilizer is straw or pine needles.
Liquid fertilizers are just what they sound like…nutrients in liquid form. There might be a
binding agent to help them to be absorbed by your plants. These fertilizers might be poured
onto the soil surrounding the plant so the roots can take them up. Or they could be sprayed on
the leaves. Foliar (leaf) sprays are great for some vegetables during the growing season. Liquid
fertilizers are great for growing plants that need a boost in leaf growth or flowering and
fruiting. An example of a liquid fertilizer is comfrey or manure tea.
Fertilize With Other Companion Plants
Using this permaculture technique, you can fertilize your soil and plants with companion
planting. A perfect example of this is the Three Sisters Planting of the southwest Indigenous cultures.
You’ve probably already read about 15 of the best
1. Aquarium Water
3. Blackstrap Molasses
4. Coffee Grounds
5. Cooking Water
6. Corn Gluten Meal
7. Egg Shells
8. Epsom Salts
10. Wood Ash (Note: Be careful of wood ash if you already have alkaline soil. It can sweeten
the soil, meaning it raises the pH. It also adds salts.)
11. Green Tea
12. Hair (human or pet)
13. Horse Feed
15. Powdered Milk
Here are 35 more great fertilizers to consider:
1. Worm castings
Worm castings are soil superfood! They provide nitrogen and make soil absorbent. They
also introduce a huge number of beneficial microbes and bacteria to the soil.
The jury is out on this one. Many tests have shown that beer doesn’t add anything, but
some people swear by it. Beer is a simple sugar and plants need complex sugars.
Scientifically speaking, it probably doesn’t work. However, it does work to get rid of
slugs and is a great cool down on a hot gardening day! Also, if you brew your own beer
or live near a microbrewery, you might want to use “Beer Mash” (the grains leftover
from making beer). It’s a great soil amendment.
Ammonia naturally occurs in the soil. There are microbes in the soil that pull nitrogen
from the air and put it into the soil in the form of ammonia. The amount is what is
important here. Use 1 or 2 ounces per gallon of water mixed with molasses. Microbes
love this stuff. If you’re uncomfortable using man-made ammonia, you can always slide
down the list and use urine instead.
4. Liquid Dish Soap
This is another one that is up for debate. There are a lot of studies that show that dish
detergent (made with a lot of chemicals) is harmful to plants. However, there are some
organic dish soaps that will help your “supertonic” to penetrate the soil. You only need a
couple of drops in 32 oz. of water to get the job done. Remember, more is not better!
5. Dog and Cat Food
Make sure that it is an organic pet food. Sprinkle the dry pet food on the bed or
container. Turn the soil or water it in. It provides protein to feed the fungi and bacteria,
nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium, plus other minerals. To discourage
vertebrae pests, be sure to cover this fertilizer with cardboard.
Tea and tea bags are excellent for your garden. As the bag and tea decompose, they release nitrogen. First, make sure your tea bag is compostable. You don’t want the ones
made of polypropylene. If the bag is slippery, don’t use it in the garden. Tea also makes
a great brew for acid-loving plants like azaleas and blueberries. Tea also helps deter
some root maggots.
7. Bone Meal
Alright so this is a stretch for just having some lying around the house. However, bone
meal is a really good source of phosphorus and protein. It is coarsely ground animal
bones and waste products. Make sure you need phosphorus in your soil before adding
it. A soil test is your best friend in the garden. However, if you want to make your own
bone meal, here’s what you do:1. Collect bones by storing them in the freezer.2. Clean them by making a bone broth. 3. Once they are clean, sterilize them. Place them on a baking sheet under the broiler for 10-15 minutes.4. Dry the bones by placing the cooking sheet on the counter for about three to four weeks. They need to be completely dry. 5. Crush them into a fine powder with a food processor. If you use a mortar and pestle, be sure to wear a mask over your nose and mouth. 6. It is now ready to use.
8. Antacid Tablets
If your soil is low in calcium, this should be a go-to. It helps prevent blossom end rot in
your tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Push one tablet into the soil by the plant’s
roots. Voila! Instant calcium boost.
9. Coconut Coir
Coconut coir has become the replacement for the non-renewable Peat Moss. This soil
amendment adds air and space to assist with water retention and nutrient uptake. It
makes a great seedling starter!
10. Humanure (To prevent pathogens and disease, only use for fruit and nut tree, not
Okay, I hear you with your “Ewww’s,” but hear me out. This organic material is a
valuable resource rich in soil nutrients. In the U.S., each of us wastes more than a
thousand pounds of humanure each year. Composting is key! It takes a year to fully
compost human feces and breakdown the pathogens. For more information, check out
The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins.
Makes a great mulch and soil amendment. The added bonus is that the soil-based ink
kills diseases in the soil. It can be shredded or laid in a thick layer on your beds. It is best
to wet the newspaper before applying.
This deep-rooted herb was once a traditional remedy to help heal broken bones. Its vast
root system acts as an accumulator by extracting a wide range of nutrients from deep in
your soil. These nutrients naturally accumulate in its fast-growing leaves. Cut 4 to 5
pounds (1.8 to 2.27 kg) of leaves from each plant. It is super-rich in nitrogen and
potassium. Some research has shown that comfrey leaves have 2 to 3 times more
potassium than farmyard manures!
Yes, you read that right! Human urine is an excellent source of nitrogen. It is great to
add to compost tea or your compost pile as an activator. Pathogens, disease, and toxins are quickly killed within 24 hours of leaving your body. Dilute the urine with water in a
ratio 1::2 and water your plants.
14. Citrus rinds
Stir those rinds right into the soil. As they break down, they’ll release sulfur, magnesium,
calcium, potassium, and more nutrients. You can also dry the peels and grind them into
a fine powder that can be added to the soil.
15. Kelp meal or seaweed
Kelp contains small amounts of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, but it’s very high
in trace elements, too. Typically, you’ll mix this liquid fertilizer with water. Use it as a
foliar spray or pour it onto the soil around plants.
16. Granite dust
Granite is made of volcanic rock. It is filled with more than 60 different elements,
including potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. It also includes the trace
elements that make the soil nutrient dense. Be sure to read the label!
17. Green manures
This is a favorite! Green manures are a fall cover crop that is grown on beds or pastures
before or after crops or flowers to add nutrients back into the soil as they grow. They
get turned under after their season. Some green manures include clovers, vetch, rye,
18. White Vinegar
There is a lot of chatter on the Internet about white vinegar changing the pH level of
your soil. Tests have shown that it may have a temporary effect, but it is nearly
impossible to change the pH of your soil, except over the very long-term. However, feed
your container plants with a mixture of 1 Tablespoon of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of sugar
in 8 ounces of water. Bring the mix to a slow boil until the sugar dissolves. Then, let it
cool and feed those hungry plants.
19. Grass clippings and Weeds
These are an excellent source of nitrogen and potassium for your fertilizer teas. Put the
clippings in a 5-gallon bucket filled with water. Cover and let marinate for 3 to 4 weeks.
You’ll have a lovely batch of “green” fertilizer tea.
The part of the mushroom that you see is actually the fruiting body. The real magic is in
the soil. Fungi are part of the soil web that helps bring nutrients to your plants.
I will stop here today…
Until Next Time…
Photos by Aaron Aveiro
Information courtesy Marjory Wildcraft