I’ve put off a post about organic garden fertilizing for awhile, because I sometimes wonder “who am I to offer gardening advice?” After all, I’ve made it very clear that I am also learning as I go. In fact, if you’ve been following my blog since the very beginning, you’ll know that my garden last year was abysmal. It was my first attempt at organic gardening, and it was a huge learning experience for us. However, I’ve had some questions about how I fertilize to help my plants thrive without resorting to commercial fertilizers. I thought I’d go ahead and share my tips now, so hopefully I can encourage other gardeners to convert! After all, if you see something that works, it might help you make the switch to organic. All of these tips are based on trial and error, and a lot of research on organic websites (see bottom of post for links).
My favorite fertilizers for my organic garden include:
- homemade compost (come back next week for a post on composting)
- Epsom salts
- used coffee grounds & banana peels
- egg shells
- natural garden mulch.
I feel that the combination of these in my garden has made a much bigger and healthier garden this year. Now, I’ll break down the how and why of each item I use.
First, and foremost, compost is the easiest and most essential addition you can make to your organic garden. I let mine mature all year, and then add it to my garden bed and till it in once before planting. It can make a world of difference! Not only does it add essential nutrients to your soil, it can also improve the drainage. This means that if you have heavy clay soil like I did, you can make it better year after year by simply tilling in your compost each year. Eventually, you won’t even be able to tell it was ever clay. It will just be dark, rich, well drained soil. If you aren’t adding compost to your garden yet, do it!
Epsom salt is another favorite in my garden, but this one seems to be more plant specific. Plants that really seem to benefit the most from the use of epsom salt are tomatoes and peppers, although I’ve also been advised to add it to my cucumbers as well. Epsom salt adds sulfur and magnesium to your soil, which are both vital nutrients to these plants. In addition, if it is added to your soil dry, it can help deter slugs, which are a really common garden pest.
To use epsom salt in your garden, there are a few ways you can do it. A great way to get your plants off to a healthy start is to add about a tablespoon to the hole before you plant your pepper or tomato plant. This gives your plants a great source of nutrients right at the beginning so they have the best start possible. In addition to using this during your first planting, you can also add it occasionally during the growing season. The best way to do this is to either apply it dry around the base of your plant, or mix 2 TBS of epsom salt into a gallon of water and use that to water your plants. This is my personal favorite method, although I’ve added it dry on a few occasions when I was in a hurry.
Coffee grounds and banana peels are two other great natural sources of nutrients for your veggie plants. Coffee grounds are a great source of nitrogen and banana peels are used to add potassium to the soil. For both of these fertilizers, you can either add them to your compost bin, or put them directly in your bed. I do a bit of both. When I want to put the coffee grounds in my garden, I generally just sprinkle the used grounds around the base of the plant. Not only does this fertilize the plant, but it also burns slugs, keeping them off of my valuable produce. For banana peels, I generally take whatever peels we’ve produced in the last few days and puree them in a blender with a bit of water, then pour it around my plants. You can add them whole, or broken into bits, but I feel that pureeing them first allows the break down of nutrients to occur much faster, giving you quicker nutrients for the plants.
Egg shells are another great addition to your organic garden. They provide calcium, and can also help deter slugs (are you noticing a pattern here?). When planting my garden at the beginning of the season, I added a handful of blended egg shells to the holes during planting. Then, throughout the growing season, I simply rinse my egg shells after breakfast and add them to a bag. Every few weeks I toss them into a blender and then pour them directly around my plants to give them an extra dose of nutrients to keep them healthy.
Lastly, if done correctly, your garden mulch can also be a great source of fertilization for your plants and soil! Many gardeners don’t consider this, since mulch is usually used to keep the soil moist and protect the plant roots from heat, but if you opt for a natural mulch rather than a bag of the rubbery mulch offered in stores, your plants will thank you. Natural mulch includes hay, straw, dried yard clippings, shredded tree leaves, and tree branches sent through a chipper. You will have to reapply your mulch more often this way, but that is because it breaks down so fast and goes right into the soil. As an added bonus, at the end of the season you can just till in whatever is left and leave it for next year!
After careful research all winter long, I devised this system of fertilizing my veggie garden. I’ve been using these natural fertilizers all season, and I’ve never had a garden look so good. I feel that a combination of these natural fertilizers gives my plants everything they need to remain healthy all season long. An added bonus is that you probably won’t have to spend much extra money by doing it this way. If you do your own composting, that is a free soil amendment. Bananas and coffee are already on my grocery list, and we eat eggs most mornings for breakfast. This system simply uses our waste to help produce more veggies! The only things we had to buy to help fertilize our garden were straw and epsom salt, both of which have provided other uses as well.
My favorite gardening websites are MotherEarthNews.com , Organicgardening.com, & organicgardening.about.com