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:



An early flowering, easy to grow plant- Hellebore

Mar 092012
Fava beans

by Avis Licht

Fava beans
Beans are legumes that “fix” nitrogen

Nitrogen is absolutely vital to plant health, and legumes are the plant world’s way of taking nitrogen out of the atmosphere and putting it into the soil. I think that’s pretty amazing. Therefore, legumes are a gardener’s best friend. Next to rain, which of course is our best, best friend. I’ve written on how rain also brings down nitrogen from the air to the soil for plant use. This is also amazing. But that’s nature for you.Most nitrogen in the world is in the form of a gas – which most plants can’t use. However, legumes, which are in the pea family, grab nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots on nodules. It’s actually a bacterium call Rhizobium that converts the nitrogen gas into a form that will be released into the soil that plants can use. This bacteria occurs naturally in the soil. You can increase the amount of nitrogen that a plant will fix by adding more of this bacteria, known as an inoculant. You can buy coated seed or buy the rhizobium and coat your own seed. You can find out more about them from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply


Here’s a short plug for my book on putting in a Spring Garden. (Keep on reading for more info on legumes.)Spring Garden Made Easy

To help you get started on your Spring Garden,there’s plenty of good advice in my ebook:The Spring Garden Made Easy. It’s $10. If you’ve gotten useful information from my blog,here’s a way to keep me going. Thanks for reading. Be sure to leave a comment and let me know if you have any questions or suggestions. I love to hear from you.

The most commonly grown legumes for nitrogen fixing are alfalfa, clover, fava beans, vetch and peas. The best time to harvest your legumes is BEFORE they flower and form seed pods.  The pods take up most of the nitrogen.  You can cut the plant at the base, leaving the roots in the ground and either put the green tops into the compost pile, or work the greens into the ground.  If you put the “green manure” into the ground it will release the nitrogen over time.  Initially the nitrogen will not be available to  your next crop because it will be tied up in the decomposition process. What this means is that you should plan ahead for legume planting, so that you have time for the greens to break down in the soil before planting your next crop. Legumes make a wonderful cover crop for the winter, and at the same time  prepare your soil for spring planting. If you need to plant immediately, I suggest you put the greens on the compost pile, leaving the roots in the ground.

Nitrogen in legumes

This diagram shows the difference in nitrogen availability in young and old plants. It is from Robert Kourik's book, Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape (used with permission)

There will be more information on organic fertilizers in the next few posts.  Subscribe to my blog and you won’t miss any of this useful information. Robert Kourik will tell you about blood meal – the pros and cons.  Find out about other safe and interesting ways to fertilize your garden organically.



Feb 202012
Spring flowers

by Avis Licht –

Coffee, especially organic

Drink your morning coffee, then put it in the compost.

Great news for coffee drinkers in the gardening world! Although many people love to drink coffee, it has often gotten a bad rap about its health effects.  Well, I’m here to say that a very reputable source has reported that coffee is very good for your health.  Especially if you’re a woman.  What has this got to do with your garden? Keep on reading!

Here’s what Dr. Sadja Greenwood has to say about coffee in her health blog.

“Positive news about caffeine and coffee is on the rise! Annia Galano, a Cuban chemist, recently published a paper suggesting that coffee is one of the richest sources of healthful antioxidants in the average person’s diet. It scavenges free radicals that can have damaging effects on the body. Here is a summary of recent research.Less Cognitive decline: A study found that women over age 65 who drank over three cups of coffee a day showed less cognitive decline over 4 years than those drinking one cup or less. No such relationship was found for men in this study.(Too bad for you guys.)  Decaf coffee and caffeine alone did not give this protection.” That’s the good news about coffee drinking for us coffee lovers.
The better news about all those extra coffee grounds is that they are fantastic for your garden.
  • They contain nitrogen, and provide generous amounts of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and copper.
  • It is a myth that used grounds are highly acidic.  The acid in coffee is reduced by the water when the coffee is brewed.  What’s left is not highly acidic.
  • Grounds are best used in the compost, or mixed into the soil. Don’t use them as a mulch on the surface, as the grounds tend to grow moldy and get hard.
  • Worms love coffee grounds. You can safely put them into your worm bins.

Here’s a link to another article on composting and coffee. It has lots of information:Coffee grounds in the garden.

Spring flowers

Enjoy a cup of coffee while walking around your garden in the morning

Oct 102011
Rain brings nitrogen into the soil

Soft light rain through our oak trees. (click to enlarge)

 In California we have a long, dry summer. When the rains come in the Fall it is truly time for rejoicing. But, the rain isn’t just water, it’s also incredibly useful fertilizer. You may have noticed that your plants really perk up after a rain. Much more so than just using your irrigation system.

Rain makes plants rejoice

Lettuce seedling in the rain

The largest single source of nitrogen is in the atmosphere.  However, plants are unable to use nitrogen as it exists in the atmosphere. Nitrogen from the air (N2) enters the nitrogen cycle through several unique types of microorganisms that can convert N2 gas to inorganic forms usable by plants. Some of these microorganisms live in the soil, while others live in nodules of roots of certain plants. Rain droplets pick up nitrogen in the air and through mineralization increase the available nitrogen in the soil in a form that the plants can readily use.

All that just to say, we really love the rain.  Of course, nature is much more complicated than that. Pollution in the air can cause acid rain, which is not a good thing for your plants.  You can read more about nitrogen here.

The  process which converts  atmospheric nitrogen into plant available nitrogen needs moist soil and warm temperatures.  In order for the rain to penetrate into your soil you need to make sure your soil is loose, not compacted and preferably with mulch or compost added to the surface.

Plant seedlings in the Fall for harvest over the winter

Kale seedling in the rain

Healthy soils, make healthy  plants, make healthy people.

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