Organic Fertilizers for Vegetable Gardens
Fertilizing an organic vegetable garden can be the easiest thing in the world. Lots of people think it’s complicated and that you have to buy 5 or 6 different fertilizers to have a successful garden. This is not true. It can be very simple and you can grow the most beautiful and tastiest vegetables without spending a lot of money or time.
When considering fertilizing, think about how nature works. How does nature produce rich and fertile soils?
….fertile soils are created in nature from decomposing organic materiel such as tree leaves, dead grass, broken branches, fallen fruits, flowers, etc. These organic materials fall to the ground and slowly decompose with the help of moisture, bacteria and insects. Decomposing plants material releases nitrogen into the soil which is food for plants but it also does a hundred other beneficial things to the soil. It is very hard to provide the same benefits with artificial or synthetic fertilizers.
So, now let’s talk about Organic Fertilizers.
Homemade Organic Fertilizers
The most popular and easiest obtainable organic fertilizer is compost made from dead leaves and grass clippings. If you have trees and grass, you are set for free organic fertilizer. Tree leaves and grass clippings are great to create a rich compost fertilizer for vegetable gardens, flower beds, trees and grass. You can pile the leaves and grass in a corner of your yard or put it in a compost bin to help decomposition. The leaves and grass will slowly decompose with the help of moisture and aeration. Compost is ready to spread when it is a dark brown color. It doesn’t take long. Keep turning it and adding water every couple of days.
Here’s a little twist on composting that is easier and very effective. Save all plant scraps like potato skins, left over carrots, cucumber ends, old lettuce, etc. and put it in a plastic bucket in the kitchen. Instead of throwing these scraps in a compost pile, just dig a hole where you want to fertilize and bury the scraps. I usually dig a 6″ – 8″ deep hole and dump the scraps in it and then cover it over. It will decompose and turn into compost in the soil. It works great. It will also keep the soil loose and soft instead of hard and dry.
You can also use the dead leaves and grass clippings as a mulch to cover the soil in a vegetable garden and around other plants too.
Secret Tip: My backyard used to be full of weeds and so I would spend a lot of time pulling them and then throwing them in the garbage….until recently.
Now I make mulch out of them by either mowing them down with my electric lawnmower or I pull them up and then mulch them with the lawnmower. It makes great mulch for my garden and it’s free. I let the weeds grow when there is a lot of rain and then mow them down. I sometimes get 3 lawnmower bags full of clippings. I then throw it in the garden and spread it around. I use my lawnmower as a wood chipper, sort of. It will mulch even bush limbs if they’re not too thick. Easy Mulch!
So what does Mulch do and why use it?
Mulch is an organic “blanket” of organic material. In other words, it’s a 1″- 2″ layer of dead grass or leaves on top of the soil. This “blanket” of organic material does wonders for the soil. Let’s look at the benefits of Mulch.
- Slows down evaporation of water – plants will be able to get more water and you’ll need to water less often. The soil will also remain soft and easy to dig and aerate.
- Insulates soil from the Sun’s heat – soil will stay cooler on hot days which will aid in water conservation. Dry soils tend to get rock hard or turn to sand, neither of which is ideal for plant growth.
- Natural Fertilizer – mulch will slowly decompose and release nitrogen and nutrients into the soil.
- Attract beneficial insects – mulch will attract lots of beneficial insects like worms. Worms are “Gold” in the garden. They feed on the dead organic materiel and then leave behind nutrient rich worm castings or better known as “poop”. Worm casting is THE BEST fertilizer known to man. Worms also loosen and aerate the soil when they burrow through it. If you want a productive and beautiful garden, GET WORMS in the soil.
- Reduce Weeds – Mulch will reduce the number of weeds in any area where it is used. It smothers weeds, reduces seed germination and enriches the soil. Weeds do not like rich, organic soils. Weeds prefer dry, desolate areas where there is little competition for growth.
- Reduce Soil Erosion – mulch will slow down and even stop soil erosion caused by hard rain or water sprinklers.
Store Bought Organic Fertilizers
Worm castings are by far the ideal fertilizer for just about any plant whether it’s a tomato plant, grass lawn, lemon tree or your favorite flower. Not only does it contain the most balanced nutrition but it’s also a “no brainer” to apply. You can apply as much worm castings as you like. It will never harm any plant. You can sprinkle a little around your plants or cover the soil with a 3″ layer. It’s doesn’t matter. It’s 100% SAFE.
Worm castings contain organic matter plus bacteria and digestive enzymes that are dynamite for plant growth and health. There is nothing else like it. It’s the most complete fertilizer and soil enhancer.
There are 3 ways you can get worm castings.
- Attract worms into your garden or yard naturally by composting, mulching and watering regularly.
- Worm Farm – you can start a worm farm easily with some plastic containers or buy a Worm Farm Kit
- Buy Worms Castings – you can buy 1- 5 lb bags of worm castings locally or online.
Composted Steer Manure
Composted Steer Manure is available at your local Home Improvement store or nursery in 20 lb bags. It’s very cheap and highly effective. I bought several bags at Lowes for about $3 – $4/bag. I used some on a small Oak tree in my front yard and it made a huge difference in a short period of time. The Oak tree looked like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree when I first bought it. It had very few leaves and they weren’t bright green. After 2 years of watering frequently with little change, I decided to fertilize it with Steer Manure. I applied about 3″ of composted steer manure around the root line of the tree. I only water it on weekends and it is full of bright free leaves. It has also grown over a foot in the last year. Amazing!!!
Raised Box Garden Soil/Compost
Raised Box Garden Soil is mostly compost and great for the garden or flower bed. I bought several bags when I started my raised box garden in my backyard. It is a mixture of fine and somewhat course composted material. You can use it as a fertilizer, compost, soil enhancer/conditioner or mulch. I have to tell you…it attract worms like crazy! Keep it moist and you’ll have hundreds of worms whenever you dig.
I’ve been using this product as mulch in my garden. It’s dark almost black and works really well as mulch. I cover the soil with about 1″ of this product. It keeps the soil moist in between waterings. Here in Arizona the summer temperatures have been above 110 degrees for over a week and the soil stays moist 24 hours after watering. That’s amazing!
I’ve used it as a garden soil and as a mulch. It’s perfect for both. I bought it at Lowes for about $7.00/bag. I think I bought Kellogg’s and GardenTime.
Blood meal is dried animal blood, plain and simple. It is effective for adding Nitrogen to the soil quickly but it can be harmful if too much is used. You need to be careful when using Blood Meal as a fertilizer/soil conditioner. Mix a small amount with your garden soil…like 1-2 cups in a 4×4 garden or 1 tablespoon per square foot of soil.
Bone meal is ground up or powdered animal bones. It’s purpose is to add phosphorus to the soil. Phosphorus is essential for plants in order to produce flowers and fruit. You should have your soil tested before using Bone Meal as it can be harmful or do nothing for plants in certain conditions.
Bat guano is basically bat poop but not just from any bats. Bat Guano is only taken from fruit and insect eating bats. It is very high in Nitrogen and produces green plants with a high rate of growth. It is very effective but care must be taken with its application. Too much may do harm. Use it sparingly, like mixing a cup or 2 with your soil in a 4×4 garden.
Fish emulsion is a thick liquid made from fish scraps. Fish emulsion is a concentrate that you mix with water ( 1/2 oz to 1 gallon of water) and then apply to your lawn or garden twice per week. It is high in Nitrogen. It can produce bright green plants and increase the growth rate but care must be taken to not use too much as it can “burn” plants.
Kelp Meal is a powder made from Kelp seaweed. Kelp is a brown algae that grows off of the coast of California. It is huge and grows at an astonishing rate, sometimes 3 feet per day. It is harvested, dried and powdered. It is a great mineral fertilizer with over 70 vitamins and minerals. Kelp meal is 100% natural and organic and will not harm plants. It is however low in NPK or Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium.
Which fertilizers can you use in an organic vegetable garden?
- Worm Castings
- Composted Manure like Steer and Cow
- Plant scraps buried in soil
What is an organic fertilizer?
An organic fertilizer is any biological material that naturally occurs in Nature and provides nutrition for plant life..