The secret to a beautiful bountiful organic garden is in the fertilizer you use. All types of organic gardening are based on all-natural fertilizers, which are difficult-to-impossible to find at our average supply stores.
Those that can be found on shelves are expensive, and while they may sport “organic” labels on the packaging, yet you really don’t know anything about their content. The safest way to go organic is to make your own natural organic fertilizers.
You may find this option both easy and inexpensive since you will be using components that you already have somewhere around your house. To get started, let’s take a look at the basic elements that make up a good fertilizer, as well as the trace nutrients needed for more ‘specialized’ plant nourishment.
1. The fertilizer formula
Unless you’re an “alien” to gardening, you’ve probably seen the 3 letters listed on the label of the majority of ready-made fertilizers. If you aren’t familiar with what they stand for, this is the explanation: the letters represent nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium or N – P – K content.
These 3 vital nutrients are needed for strong aerial growth, root development, and overall plant health, respectively. A good way to remember N – P – K trinity is to associate it with the phrase “up, down, and all around.” Being aware of these 3 main components is essential for creating the perfect food for your garden.
2. Trace nutrients
Although N – P – K mixture possesses basic elements for plant development, plants cannot survive on them alone. There are 13 additional chemical elements that contribute to the health and productivity of your garden. Aside from these primary nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium), all plants require 3 secondary minerals as follows: calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg), and Sulfur (S). While the photosynthesis takes place, your plants use sunlight to break water and carbon dioxide down into hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), and carbon (C) – the three non-mineral nutrients which they turn into food.
On the other hand, the necessary micro-nutrients, which a plant must suck from the surrounding soil are: copper (Cu), boron (B), iron (Fe), chloride (Cl), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), and zinc (Zn).
Which of these minerals you must use in your customized fertilizer depends largely upon your soil type. Acidic soils (those with low pH) for example those with high clay content tend to be very poor in macronutrients (N, P, K, Ca, Mg, and S) while alkaline soils (those with high pH) are generally deficient in micronutrients (B, Cu, Fe, Cl, Mn, Mo, and Zn).
But garden soils with a neutral pH between 6.0 and 6.5 generally contain balanced amounts of both groups of nutrients needed to support healthy plant life. So, if you need help when ‘gauging’ the quality of your soil, take a sample and have it tested.
3. Tomato fertilizers
A tomato vine, out of all of the plants living in your garden, loves calcium the most! Because excessive leaf growth discourages blossoming and fruiting, these plants grow best when offered a healthy amount of nitrogen in an earlier stage. You can try using rabbit manure for a quick and easy N-boost!
Once your tomato vines get well-established, you can switch over to a fertilizer high in phosphorus and potassium, but low in nitrogen. Tomatoes also benefit greatly from magnesium and produce sweet-tasting fruits when are generously supplemented with this secondary fertilizing mineral.
4. Rose fertilizers
A perfect rose garden is a daydream of every arduous rose gardener. But this dream can be quite difficult to come true as roses require ‘undivided attention’ which includes: timely weeding, pruning, pest-treating, training, and, of course, feeding.
So, getting your rose fertilizer just right can have a blasting impact on the appearance and quantity of blossoms your bushes unfurl each year. Indeed, if you need a little help balancing your roses’ diet, read some of our previous articles on homemade fertilizers, and give them a try.
5. Up-cycling fertilizers
All households hold several common items which make much better plant-feeders than those waste bin-fillers. So, the next time you are about to toss these items in the trash, just consider feeding them to you garden plants instead: mix used coffee grounds with “brown” yard waste (dead leaves, dry straw and grass clippings) to add some “drafting” nitrogen to the soil.
As long as they are mixed well with a neutral medium, they are not able to significantly alter the soil’s pH. This “side fertilizer” is great for your roses, azaleas, and hydrangeas which love a little bit more acidic soil.
Another good home-borne fertilizer is eggshells as they are approximately 96% calcium. When used as plant food, they help to strengthen cellular structure and transport of nutrients inside your plants.
Just collect used shells and coffee grounds in a glass jar with a tight lid, or in a re-sealable plastic bag so that they don’t attract insects while they’re waiting the short while to be used. Or, if you keep fresh-water fish as pets, next time you clean their aquarium tank don’t waste the water. Used water from fish tanks is full of nitrogen and trace nutrients that can significantly improve your plants’ health.
Remember: This only applies to fresh-water tanks. Salty water (brine) can harm most of your plants!
6. Epsom salts
Epsom salts are hydrated magnesium sulfate. They are known to contain 2 important elements that plants need to maintain optimum health. The first one – magnesium – plays a vital role during photosynthesis and is used by plants for proper development of many enzymatic processes.
Plant seeds also need magnesium to germinate. The other element – sulfur – aids plants with several processes too which include: amino acid production, root growth, and the formation of chlorophyll. This mineral also gives cole crops and alliums their ‘signature flavors.’
You can also fertilize your onions, broccoli, and cabbages with Epsom salts to make them grow healthier and sweeter-tasting veggies. You can also use Epsom salts on tomatoes, peppers, and roses to grow as stronger plants with more blossoms.
As a general-use fertilizer, Epsom salts are a cheap way to feed your garden a galore of nutrients. The Epsom salt solution given below is also a great way to replenish magnesium and sulfur levels in depleted potting soil.
Prepare Epsom Salt Solution as a replenishing fertilizer for your plants:
Mix a tablespoon of Epsom salts with one gallon of water and apply to garden plants as a foliar spray once every 2 weeks.
1. For ‘feeding’ roses, use 1 tablespoon of salts per foot of the plant’s height mixed in a gallon of water. Spray once in the spring when leaves begin to appear and again when your roses start to bloom.
2. For feeding vegetables, sprinkle a tablespoon of Epsom salts around each seedling as soon as they are transplanted into the garden. Repeat this feeding following the first bloom and fruiting.
3. For feeding potted plants, dissolve 2 tablespoons of salts in 1 gallon of water, and then use this solution in place of normal watering once a month.
7. Vinegar fertilizer
If your garden hosts acid-loving plants such as roses, hydrangeas, and berries, then plain white vinegar is an inexpensive and effective fertilizer for them. Simply mix 1 tablespoon of vinegar in 1 gallon of water. Freely use this solution in lieu of your regular watering routine about once every 3 months.
Remember: Test your soil before altering its pH. While many plants do thrive in an acidic environment, when the soil’s pH is too low, it can get harmful for plants and bring about diseases.
Composting is becoming ever more popular with organic gardeners as an excellent practice for recycling waste materials and feeding a garden at the same time. Ingredients that make a highly-nutritive organic compost mix include:
1. Air and water to sustain the bacteria responsible for decomposing organic matter,
2. Dry “brown” material (carbon) such as dead leaves, straw, and other dried garden and yard waste, and
3. Wet “green” material (nitrogen) such as rabbit or chicken manure, grass clippings, and other fresh green matter. But you must try to avoid adding weed seeds to the mix because your compost may not get hot enough to kill them naturally.
Another important thing to bear in mind when balancing your home-borne compost, is that you need a ratio of carbon to nitrogen somewhere around 30:1 and 40:1. Remember, it is also important to leave your compost to “cook” for a while (so to speak), especially if you use manure, as this will naturally kill any harmful pathogens living in the rotting material. But remember not to let your compost age for too long as rotting organic matter will begin to lose nutrients the longer it sits.
9. Compost tea
Once you have made compost available for your garden plant diet, you can add it straight to the garden plants or turn it into tea for your plants.
Prepare Compost Tea in this way:
1. Fill a 5-gallon bucket about a third of the way with finished compost.
2. Add water until the bucket is almost full – about an inch or two from the lip.
3. Leave the mixture to steep, stirring frequently (just like cooking stew in a crock pot.)
4. In 3-4 days, strain the compost out using a porous fabric like cheesecloth.
5. Return the solid material to the compost pile or feed it to your garden.
6. Apply the solution either directly to the ground or as a foliar spray.
Remember that the liquid should be diluted to about 1 part “tea” and 10 parts of fresh water.
One side note: Working with compost is messy and stinky business. So, remember to put on gloves and eye protection. You may also need to wear a breathing mask.
10. Grass clipping tea
Did you know that grass clippings make an excellent nitrogen-rich fertilizer all by themselves? Well, it is true!
If you need “grass tea” for your garden, make it like this:
1. Fill a 5-gallon bucket about 2/3 of the way with fresh clippings.
2. Top off with water to an inch or two from the lip.
3. Let the mixture steep for about 72 hours, stirring at least once a day.
4. Strain to remove grass clippings, and then dilute the finished product 1 part “tea” to 1 part fresh water.
5. Apply this solution as a foliar spray or directly to the ground.
Final note: Make sure that any ingredients you use in your homemade fertilizers do not contain herbicides, or other chemicals, which may do more harm to your garden than make good. Remember: plants love food that is free of harmful chemicals and toxins, just as much as people love when their diet is chemicals-free and healthy!