Natural and Mostly Free Fertilizers
It’s Spring so we have a lot of garden work to do. During the winter months, I was thinking about gardening, of course. I began to research How to Fertilize your garden naturally and found a lot of good information. Growing our herbs and veggies as naturally and organically as possible is what many of us want. This might help you too.
Plants need three things to survive and thrive: Potassium, Phosphorus, and Nitrogen. While store bought chemical fertilizers typically have these nutrients, you can also provide them to your plants without the harsh chemicals by just making them yourself, and most of them can be made with things that you already have on hand and will probably just throw out.
There are many different all-natural fertilizers that you can use in your garden or with potting soil. Some of these fertilizers can be made or collected at home using common items from your pantry or your backyard.
So here we go…..
1. Grass Clippings
If you haven’t had chemicals on your lawn you can collect your grass clippings to use on your gardens. Half an inch to an inch of grass clippings makes a great weed-blocking mulch, and it is also rich in nitrogen, which is an essential nutrient for most plants.
You can also add clippings to your compost pile.
Composting involves mixing grass clippings and other plant materials with a small amount of soil containing microorganisms that decompose organic matter. Grass clippings are excellent additions to a compost pile because of their high nitrogen content.
Grass clippings should not be the only compost material. As with mulches, a thick layer of grass clippings in a compost pile will lead to bad odors from anaerobic decomposition. Mix them with dry materials such as leaves or straw.
Just like grass clippings, many of the weeds that you’ll find in your gardens are very high in nitrogen and will make an excellent fertilizer. The problem is, once you’ve pulled the weeds, you certainly won’t want to put them back in the garden because any seeds will sprout and make new weeds. The solution? Make weed tea. To do this, fill a five-gallon bucket no more than 1/4 full with weeds that you’ve pulled. Then fill the bucket the rest of the way with water, and let the weeds soak for a week or two. Once the water turns nice and brown (like tea), pour this weed tea on your gardens.
3. Kitchen Scraps
Put your kitchen scraps to work. I keep a baggie (there are commercial scrap holders on the market) and put my veggie and fruit wastes in the baggie. I typically have a mesh cone in my raised beds to add the kitchen scraps to regularly. They decompose adding nutrients constantly.
This is one of my favorites. Sometimes we have available manure on the farm, but I have also purchased rabbit manure in bulk from breeders. You can find manure for sale. The rabbit manure is not hot. So this can be used immediately.
Manure comes from a variety of sources — cows, horses, chickens, and even bats. Each type of manure is high in nitrogen and other nutrients, but you’ll need to use it carefully. Raw manure is highly acidic and may have more nutrients than your plants need, so too much can burn your plants. It’s best to use composted manure. Since it is less nutrient-dense and acidic, you can use more of it to improve your soil’s water retention without risking your plants. You won’t have to wait long—manure quickly turns to a perfect odor-free soil amendment.
Manure has been used for centuries as well for fertilizing and you can use manure from any farm animal that you may have. If you don’t have farm animals, your neighbors will probably be glad to give you some manure from their animals. You can make a manure tea. You’ll want a shovel full and the manure should be pretty well aged, so nothing from the same day that you plan to make the tea. Put the manure in a pillowcase or burlap sack and then soak the bag in a five gallon bucket of water for about two weeks. Just dilute the tea with water by half and use it to water your plants. Not only does this help to add essential nutrients, you also get the benefits of manure without actually having to smell fresh manure on your plants.
5. Tree Leaves
Rather than bagging up the fall leaves and putting them out on your curb, collect them for your gardens instead. Leaves are rich with trace minerals, they attract earthworms, they retain moisture, and they’ll help make heavy soils lighter. You can use leaves in two ways: Either till them into your soil (or mix crushed leaves into potting soil), or use them as a mulch to both fertilize your plants and keep weeds down.
In our gardens I always let the leaves from the fall stay in my gardens until spring. They are the perfect mulch protector over the winter.
6. Coffee Grounds – adds nitrogen adding acidity to the soil
Lots of plants, such as blueberries, rhododendron, roses, and tomatoes, thrive best in acidic soil. Here are other plants that will benefit – veggies, hydrangea, magnolias. Recycle your coffee grounds to help acidify your soil. There are a couple of ways to do this— you can either top dress by sprinkling the used grounds over the surface of the soil this will perk those plants right up. or you can make “coffee” or “coffee tea” to pour on your gardens. Soak up to six cups of used coffee grounds for up to a week to make garden coffee, then use it to water your acid-loving plants.
If you’ve ever used lime on your garden, then you know it comes with lots of benefits — it helps lower the acidity of soil for plants that don’t like acid, and it provides plants with lots of calcium, which is an essential nutrient. Lime itself is an all-natural fertilizer that you can buy at the garden center, but if you’d rather save some money, there is a cheaper way to get the same benefits. Simply wash out the eggshells from your kitchen, save them, and crush them to use in your garden. It turns out that eggshells are 93% calcium carbonate, which is the scientific name for lime.
The shells contain a lot of calcium which helps with cellular growth in your plants. Calcium deficient soil can lead to blossom end rot on tomatoes and various other garden catastrophes. This egg shell fertilizer will help to end that. Just crush up used egg shells and then bury them in the soil. Or, you can make a spray with egg shells and a gallon of water. Boil the shells in the water for just a few minutes and then leave overnight. Strain the shells and add the water to a spray bottle to spray directly onto your soil.
8. Banana Peels
We eat bananas for their potassium, and roses love potassium too. Simply bury peels in a hole alongside the rose bush so they can compost naturally. As the rose grows, bury the peels into the soil’s top layer. Both of these approaches will provide much-needed potassium for the plant’s proper growth
We all know that bananas are rich in potassium. They also contain calcium and phosphorous and are perfect for fertilizing flowering plants, fruit trees and plants. You can just bury banana peels in the soil at the base of your plants and allow them to decompose. You could also freeze your overripe bananas and then bury those next to your plants. Or, make a spray by soaking banana peels in water for three days and then spray your plants or seedlings to add the needed nutrients. This is also a great recipe for houseplants.
What is brilliant about comfrey is that it contains high levels of all the essential nutrients for plant growth: Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (NPK) together with many other trace elements. Comfrey out-performs manure, compost and many liquid feeds for concentration of nutrients. It produces these from a deep root system extending right into the subsoil that most edible plants cannot access. It also has an ideal Carbon:Nitrogen ratio which means that it does not hamper absorption of nitrogen by plants. When cutting comfrey it is advisable to use gloves as the hairs on the stems can irritate skin.
There are many great ways to use comfrey around the garden:
- Mulch: Leaves can be cut and left to wilt for a couple of days before piling them around hungry plants such as potatoes and tomatoes as a thick mulch.
- Dig in: Wilted leaves can be dug into ground that is being prepared for a new crop and will break down to give an excellent feed.
- Liquid Fertilizer: Comfrey leaves can be crammed into a large container with a hole in the bottom with a small container underneath to catch the thick black liquid which will be produced in a few weeks. Weighing the comfrey down with an old brick will help this process and some people add rainwater but this does make the resulting ‘comfrey tea’ smell awful! Once produced, the liquid should be diluted 15:1 with water before using it as a leaf feed for plants such as tomatoes.
- Potting Soil: Comfrey leaves can be shredded and mixed with leaf-mold to produce a balanced soil for plants in pots, although it is a little strong for young seedlings.
- Compost Activator: Adding high-nitrogen sources is a great way to boost ‘hot-composting’ if you have the right balance of green and brown shredded material. Comfrey, being high in nitrogen, is ideal for this and should be well combined with the whole mixture rather than adding it as a layer.
I grow comfrey, which is a beautiful perennial plant with lovely flowers, and always use the waste from the dead leaves in the fall in my gardens. The medicinal benefits are fantastic too!
10. Epsom Salt
If you prefer something a bit simple you can mix Epsom Salt with water for a good fertilizer, too. You can find Epsom salt at many stores and it’s really inexpensive. It’s also a great source of magnesium and sulfur and is especially good for roses and tomatoes. This is a no-fail fertilizer. You just can’t get this one wrong. Just add a tablespoon of salt to a gallon of water and use this to feed your indoor and outdoor plants.
11. Aquarium Water
Aquarium water contains (obviously) fish waste from the bottom of the tank, which makes a great plant fertilizer. So instead of throwing that water out the backdoor when you’re cleaning your aquarium, give it to your garden plants. Just be sure you use “fresh” water and not water from a saltwater tank. That would be BAD…really bad. Also be aware of the smell and stick to using this on your ornamental outdoor plants. For veggie gardeners willing to spend a small amount, there’s a commercial product called fish emulsion that’s extremely effective and affordable as well. Then again, you could always go fishing! Another favorite of mine!! I do use the fish emulsion and have great success.
12. Wood Ash
Wood ash from fireplaces makes a great plant food on the cheap. Wood ashes contain potassium and calcium carbonate so it would make a nice option, which you can apply by simply having it sprinkled onto your soil. Just be sure the ashes that you’ll be using have no charcoal or lighter fluid which can be harmful to your plants. Fireplace ash fertilizer can even jolt your grass back to life. If you have a few spots dying out, simply apply a small bit.