Feb 172015

by Avis Licht

An organic gardener’s success is based on a few basic necessities. I think the health and quality of one’s soil is right at the top of the list. After that comes sufficient sunlight, appropriate water and healthy plants.  Today I want to talk about some simple ways to fertilize your garden and improve your soil’s growing  capabilities.

Compost and mulch make a beautiful cover for the sil

A beautiful garden grown with compost, manure and mulch

An organic fertilizer refers to a soil amendment derived from natural sources that guarantees the minimum percentages of nitrogen, phosphate, and potash. These include plant and animal by-products, rock powders, seaweed, inoculants, and conditioners.  These minimum amounts can be very small. For example, horse and cow manure  often have less than 1% nitrogen by weight. This is not to say it’s not a good fertilizer, it is. But depending on your plant’s needs, you may need to add other sources of nitrogen.

One word of caution. An organic fertilizer means it comes from natural materials, BUT it doesn’t mean it’s organic.  Cottonseed meal comes from a plant, but cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops.  There will be pesticide residues in cottonseed meal unless it specifically says it comes from organic cotton.  Bloodmeal and bone meal take a great deal of production and energy to produce these fertilizers. Plus you don’t know how the animals were raised. It can seem very complicated to stay fully organic. When possible ask for the source of your fertilizer.

Different manures have different nutrient values based on the animal, what it ate, how much bedding is in the manure and so on. In another post I’ll talk about the relative merits of different manures. For now, let’s just agree that manure from herbivores that is composted, is a good organic fertilizer. I say herbivores, because we don’t want to use poop from meat eating animals like dogs, cats or humans.  There is risk of parasites or disease organisms that can be transmitted to humans from meat eating animals. For ease of listing, here are Vegetable fertilizers: alfalfa meal, cotton seed meal, green manure, sea weed, wood ash. Animal by-products include: manure, blood meal, bone meal, fish meal, feather meal and bat guano. Mined minerals include: rock phosphate, green sand, gypsum.

compost bin

Compost bin for a family of 4 – 6 people

The easiest fertilizer is compost that you make at home from material in your yard.  But it takes a LOT of material to make a little compost. You’ll probably have to bring in compost or topsoil when you first start your garden. This is not terrible, it just costs money and uses outside resources.  Sometimes we have to do that.

Soil amendments are materials that don’t have a minimum amount of nutrient, like compost.  They can be worked into the soil or laid on top. Amendments are important for the humus they add, the tilth, and aeration of the soil. Without proper soil aconditions, it doesn’t matter how much nutrient you put in.  Roots need air, water and microbial activity, which all comes from adding organic amendments.

Mulch is material laid on the surface and does not add nutrient to the soil until it breaks down over time. Mulch protects the soil from compaction, erosion and keeps the weeds down.  It also conserves water. Even though we don’t call it a fertilizer, it’s a very important part of the garden and soil and plant health.

The Four Major Elements to Fertilize Your Garden:

1. Nitrogen: For Vegetative Growth:  Bloodmeal, Cottonseed Meal, Liquid Fish, Fish Meal, Pelleted Fertilizers, Feather Meal

2. Phosphorus: For Flowering and Fruiting: For fruit, flower, and root development. Use Soft Rock Phosphate. You can also use Bone Meal.

3. Potassium: For Vigor and health. Use Sulfate of Potash or Greensand.

4. Calcium and Trace Minerals: For Health and Resilience: Almost all soils test low in Trace Minerals. Add Compost, Kelp Meal

In previous posts I wrote about legumes, which fix nitrogen and wood ash.  Keep coming back, as I’ll go through the whole list of fertilizers. In the mean time, dig up your beds, or sheet mulch them, and then add compost and/or composted manure.  You’ll be off to a good start.

Mar 152012
Blood Meal

It says "All Natural" but where did it really come from?

by Guest Blogger Extraodinaire- Robert Kourik, author of Your Edible Landscape Naturally

As organic gardeners, we’re always looking for natural and non-harmful ways to add nutrient to the soil to aid in plant growth.  One of the most important nutrients and one of the hardest to find in organic form is Nitrogen.  Nitrogen encourages leafy growth and fruit and seed production. As plants grow, they take nitrogen out of the soil and it needs to be replaced.  But how? Growing nitrogen fixing plants is one of the best ways to restore it in the soil.  But this takes time.  Compost and manures, which are also excellent for the plants, have relatively small amounts of nitrogen.

Blood meal is a fast-acting, high nitrogen, organic fertilizer. It is concentrated and often thought of as “hot”, meaning  too much can hurt tender root hairs or roots. Often just a light sprinkling is enough.  It can have a nitrogen content of 12.%, 1.00% phosphorus and 0.60% potassium. It can also attract dogs, racoons, possums and other meat eating animals that will dig up the garden beds. Blood meal, as you would expect, is a byproduct of the animal butchering industry. It takes a lot of energy to create blood meal in the form we use it in the garden. We also don’t know how the animals were raised.  So it’s a bit of a stretch to call it “all natural and organic” in the way we want it to be safe and harmless to nature.

By knowing what blood meal is and where it comes from, you can make an informed decision about whether to use it or not.

You can save energy by growing a legume crop solely for the accumulation of nitrogen in the lumpy nodules located on its roots—fertilizer gathered free from the nitrogen in the air. Legumes that produce enough nitrogen for hungry crops (like corn) are  alfalfa, fava beans, clover and peas. Till under the young foliage before it blooms—called green manuring. This will increase the yield of crops without using blood meal. Use green manuring of any legume in any annual vegetable bed.

You can read more about fertilizers and everything else you might want to plant in the edible landscape in Robert Kourik’s book, Designing and Maintaining your Edible Landscape Naturally, at his website: www.robertkourik.com



An early flowering, easy to grow plant- Hellebore

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