Sunday, April 27, 2014

Fertilizer fun, part 2

I thought I'd finally continue the thread that I started LAST April, the one about fertilizer use and how the overuse of fertilizers in our farming practices are wreaking havoc on the planet and the people who live on it. Overuse of synthetic fertilizers doesn't just affect those big commercial farms however, we small scale gardeners are also at risk of using way too much of the stuff. Synthetic (chemical) fertilizers do nothing for your soil, they can burn your plants, and overall they make your soil an inhospitable place for all those little worms and microorganisms that your plants need to be naturally healthy and productive. 

Ok, so you're ditching the miracle-gro, what do you use instead?

The first thing you need to do is get some great compost! Compost is your best friend when it comes to building up your soil and providing nutrients for your plants. You can make it yourself, which is of course the most economical way to go about getting food for your plants, from your plants. I bought this rolling composter last summer and have been amazed at how quickly all the plant material I put in gets turned into compost. Plus, my kids love rolling it, so they think they're playing with a toy and I don't have to turn the compost. Win-win!

You can also buy compost, although you need to be careful that you're not buying composted cow manure from cows that ate grass drenched with herbicides, because chemicals will often persist in the manure and may kill some of your plants. Of the kinds of composted manure that are readily available in the store (including Canadian Tire), sheep manure is apparently the best. 

If you've already composted like crazy and are looking for something a little more like a "fertilizer", try one or more of these amendments*:
a) Lime: increases PH of soil and adds calcium (and other nutrients depending on the type of lime)
b) Bone meal: helps with root development
c) Blood meal: provides nitrogen. If I have plants showing a nitrogen deficiency (yellowing older leaves), I sprinkle a little bloodmeal around the base of the plant and water it in. 
d) Fish meal: all-purpose fertilizer, and you can often buy this in liquid form.
e) Eggshells: great source of calcium! I dig these in when I plant my brassicas (kale, broccoli, cabbage) and my tomatoes.
f) Kelp: high in potassium, which is what is needed for fruit growth. Also has lots of trace elements.
g) Greensand: high in potassium but releases slowly so it's a great long-term amendment.

*List summarized from "Organic Gardening for the 21st Century" by John Fedor. For more details, check the book out of the library!


The other night I mixed up my own granular fertilizer mix using "Green Earth Bone Plus", "Earthsafe Kelp Meal" and "Earthsafe Blood Meal". The contents may vary by brand so you probably don't want to cut and paste my formula if you're not using those brands.

Basic All Purpose Fertilizer: 
1 part Blood Meal, 4 parts Bone Meal, 12 parts Kelp Meal 
          for an NPK ratio of 1.9 : 3.2 : 1

High Nitrogen Formula (for leafy veggies, winter squash, and corn):
1 (and a bit) part Blood Meal, 2 parts Bone meal, and 6 parts Kelp Meal 
         for an NPK ratio of 2.4 : 3 : 1

When I transplant or seed outdoors, each hole gets some of this and some worm poo, and we're off! I also usually purchase a small container of an organic liquid feed for my tomatoes that I use every few weeks during the summer.

And that's it! I hope you find this helpful in your journey of moving away from chemicals in your home garden. Feel free to comment here or on Facebook if there are other things you use!

No comments: