Ideally, all of our gardens would grow from sustainably fertile soil, and with the right regiment, it’s even possible for us to get there. In the meantime, from time to time, it helps to have the fallback of fertilizer. Of course, there are many chemical options available at nurseries. For that matter, there are probably a few organic choices as well. Or, we could make our own.
If sustainability is on the horizon, however distant it may be, then it’s important we start learning to do for ourselves. We can make our completely organic, natural fertilizers at home. And, what we want to do when making these fertilizers is to work with the soil, building it up and stimulating the life within it rather than just feeding the plants.
Once the soil is healthy, the plants will be healthy, and this whole growing food at home thing will become much easier. But, a bit of homemade fertilizer on the way there can definitely provide some inspiration.
NPK and More
For the most part, when we buy fertilizers, it’s a game of understanding the right balance of NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium). Nitrogen helps plants grow, particularly the leafy side of things. Phosphorus works on moving things around in the plant and is integral to developing strong roots and flowers. Potassium balances a plant’s metabolism and regulates water pressure in its cells, which helps to prevent stressing out the plants.
While these things are important, sort of like fat, protein, and carbohydrates for people, they aren’t the only things plants need. There are a host of trace minerals and factors that help plants grow well and, in particular, crop plants provide nutrient-rich food for us. NPK will help plants get large, but the other stuff — equivalent to our vitamins and minerals — keeps them healthy.
The trick to make a good homemade fertilizer is finding a way to include as many nutrients as possible, like a superfood, rather than just NPK. This is done by mixing elements together, kind of like a balanced meal, to feed to the plants. Fortunately, most of the ingredients are simple and around the house anyway.
Recipe #1: Salty Pee, Ash and Grass
This recipe begins with a ¼ cup of Epsom salt, which provides sulfur and magnesium for the plants. It also includes two cups of wood ash (from a fireplace), preferably from hardwood trees with no chemical starters or charcoal, as a source of potassium and calcium carbonate. It’s also important to note that wood ash is alkaline, so it works well in combination with acidic soil but should not? be added to alkaline soils. Finally, two cups of human urine (be aware of medication) for a huge boost of nitrogen. Pee is almost completely nitrogen and safe to use.
These ingredients should be put into a five-gallon plastic bucket. They should be covered with fresh grass clippings until the bucket is about halfway full. The bucket should then be filled with water. This should steep for about three days, just short of fermenting. The solids should be strained from the liquid, and the liquid (or “tea”) should be diluted 1:1 with water. This fertilizer can be poured onto the soil around the plants.
Recipe #2: Stewed Seaweed
Somehow seaweed is a miraculous all-purpose fertilizer for plants. It’s stocked with minerals that seem to really stoke up the biological, botanical fires, not to mention a compound called mannitol, which helps plants absorb nutrients. That said, when dealing with fresh or salted seaweed, it is important to rinse it thoroughly before using it in the garden.
To make a seaweed stew, put about two quarts of chopped seaweed in a bucket. On top of that, pour about two to three gallons of water, cover it, and let it steep for around three days. After straining away the seaweed, this solution should also be diluted in equal parts with water and applied to soil around the plants.
Recipe #3: Sweet Banana Coffee
Blackstrap molasses is a fantastic garden friend. It has lots of minerals for the plants, and it feeds beneficial bacteria in the soil, stimulating the soil life. Organically-sourced banana peels, diced up, are a great source of potassium for plants. And, spent coffee grounds have a good wallop of nitrogen, as well as phosphoric acid.
These three ingredients can be mixed up with chopped straw, leaf mold, compost or grain husks (or a mixture thereof) and sprinkled onto the soil as a kind of mulch around the plants. This recipe will act more like a slow-release fertilizer for the plants.
These fertilizers will really help to give plants a lift when it’s needed. They’ll also aid with building up the soil’s nutrient content and microbiota. In combination with a good layer of mulch and the annual application of compost, soon enough the garden soil will be rich and vibrant enough to handle most of the cultivating without extra fertilization.
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