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1/23/15

Growing Organic: natural fertilizers for your garden

There are many things that you can use when it comes to organic gardening that can replace the need for commercial fertilizers. Growing green is not as difficult as you may think it is, and you can use products you already have in your home to grow beautiful healthy fruits and vegetables.


  • Banana peels
  • Coffee grounds
  • Egg shells
  • Grass clippings and leaves
  • Alfalfa pellets
  • Epsom salt
  • Milk
Take care not to use any grass clippings that have been exposed to toxins such as roundup or other herb or pesticides. In this post, we are going to go over the use of the above named things and how to go about using them in your garden.
To start with, you can use all of the mentioned above in a compost pile or bin. You can however mix them directly to the soil while planting, or make a tea for watering.
But, before I go into further detail, let's go over a few important gardening details.


  • NEVER plant a garden near a black walnut tree. All parts of the black walnut put off a toxin and you do not want leaves nor root to be near a crop you are growing as the toxicity can kill your plants. 
  • Your garden soil should be of good consistency. When soil clumps in your hand your soil is ideal.  If it does not, you need to add organic material to it to help aid fertile soil. (we will get into this later)
  • If you see insects or other life in the soil, this is a good sign!
  • ALWAYS water your plants before adding any natural fertilizer to them and ALWAYS water either early morning or late evening. Nutrients are best absorbed by the plant when the soil is warm. Watering before applying fertilizer helps open the plants up to the fertilizer much the same way using hot water opens up pores of the skin.
  • ALWAYS rotate you're crops every year! Planting in the same spot as last year can take the nutrients out of the soil, and plants will not grow as well.
  • If your soil smells funky, it needs to be amended with carbon rich materials such as dried leaves, straw or fully decomposed compost.
  • NEVER over do it with fertilizer. Too much of a good thing can be bad.
                                            These are things your garden loves

  • Nitrogen- for growth, healthy green leaves, 
  • Potassium- for strong roots, 
  • Phosphorus- for flowering and fruiting.
 Also, calcium, magnesium and sulfur for aid in the production of a successful garden.

   Banana peels

Banana peels are an excellent source of potassium and can help with growing healthy and strong roots. These are excellent to add to the compost pile and will decompose in a matter of 3-4 weeks.
Vegetables like cabbage, kale and tomatoes thrive with added potassium.
There are a few ways to use banana peels in your garden. 

You can:
  •  drop whole or chopped pieces of banana peel in the bottom of the planting row. Meaning, in the grow you intend to grow, put the peel down about an inch under the soil and water.You will use this method about a week before planting.
  •  Use them on established plants by burying the peels 1 to 2 inches below the surface at the base of the plant. Use 1-2 peels per 3 square feet.
  • Use the peels to make a tea to water directly to the plants. 1-2 peels to 2 quarts water or 3-4 peels per gallon of water. This needs to sit over night, and then after a watering in the late evening apply this concoction. 
  • If you are container growing, Use 1 half cup of peels per container.
         
Alfalfa

Alfalfa is full of nitrogen. Rabbit pellets are best to use as fertilizer as they break down better, horse pellets are to large in size.
Take care when buying pellets to make sure you are buying just alfalfa and not a bag of additives!
There are many ways to use alfalfa in the garden. 
First, you can use alfalfa, both pellets and hay to prepare your garden area for planting. When you have had a garden, at the end of the year the soil needs to have most of the nutrients replaced as the plants have soaked it all up from the ground. Alfalfa replaces a lot of the nitrogen that your garden has lost after a planting season. 

Using hay, you would 
  • cover the entire garden area when garden season is over, in a layer 3 inches thick. Over the winter the hay will decompose putting nutrients back into the soil for the next season. You can also use ground cover crops for this, we will get into that later.

To use alfalfa pellets for in between seasons to "re fertilize" your soil,
  •  you will scatter the pellets through out the garden area. Work them into the top of the soil and water the soil well. Use this method a few weeks before you start planting. 
If you are using containers, 
  • use a handful of pellets per square foot. Cover them with the soil and then water.
Three things you should know about adding nitrogen to your garden. 
  • There is a such thing as to much of a good thing.
  • Excess nitrogen can decrease the plants ability to fight off disease and pests. 
  • You will get lots of leaves, but not as much food.
  • If you apply nitrogen to late in the season, you will have weaker crops. 
  Nitrogen is best used in the first month or two on plants. 

Alfalfa is excellent for composting. It omits heat which can help speed up the rate of compost, even in the winter. 
For compost- use one cup of pellets per square foot of compost material.

For a tea, to directly water plants:

Using a quart mason jar, you will add a handful (or 1/4 cup) of pellets, and fill the jar with water. This needs to set for ten minutes, then you can water one plant, refill the jar with water, wait ten minutes and repeat. Of course if you have a rather larger area you use to garden, this will take up quite a bit of time and energy, You can use 3 cups of pellets to a 5 gallon bucket of water.
You can also add 3-4 crushed up egg shells to this concoction.

Do not use alfalfa on plants that are going dormant.


 Eggshells

Eggshells are an excellent source of calcium for plants. They also help to prevent blossom rot (or bottom rot) on your plants. 
This is blossom rot-



Either wash your eggshells, or bake them to kill the bacteria. Baking will make it easier to crush the eggshells up for use in the garden, and they are used best when crushed. 

Crushing them up to a fine powder works the best. You can either put a little powder in the plants hole before you bury it or you can soak 4 eggshells in a gallon of water for two days then use this tea to water your plants.


   Epsom salt
  • You can use Epsom salt in eggshell mix. 1 teaspoon per gallon of eggshell water.
By adding Epsom salt, you are making what is basically a homemade lime. Most people use commercial lime or  dust on their plants. I do not use anything on mine, I prefer to stay away from commercial fertilizers and avoid the risk of ingesting those harmful chemicals.

Epsom salt is 13% sulfur and 10% magnesium, both helpful to plant growth. 

You can add a tablespoon of Epsom salt to the hole just before planting or a tablespoon per gallon of water. DO NOT pour this mixture directly on the plants. This should be poured on the ground so the roots of the plants soak it up.

If you are using nitrogen already on your plants - brown leaves or alfalfa pellets than you shouldn't need to use Epsom salt. 



  Coffee grounds

 Coffee grounds are rich in Nitrogen and tomatoes LOVE coffee grounds. Use 6 cups of coffee grounds in an old sock, cotton is best, tie the sock at the top and soak in a five gallon bucket of water for three days. You can then use this to water your plants.

You can also sprinkle and cover about a half teaspoon around the bottom of each plant.

Please remember not to use to much nitrogen rich material, and not to use it to late. Nitrogen helps GROW healthy plants. Once the plants are growing and blooming, nitrogen is not needed as much. Once the plants starts to bloom you want to switch to fertilizers with potassium and phosphorus.

                                                         
  Dead/dried leaves

 Dead leaves are a material that is rich in carbon. Leaves are a excellent addition to the compost pile and can be used to cover your garden area in the fall before the first frost, if you do not use hay or cover crops. Over the winter the leaves will decompose helping to condition the soil for the next planting season. 

Using leaves to mulch with, help plants to maintain an even temperature and will distribute carbon as well as  nitrogen slowly as they decompose. 

  • You can mulch garlic- a cold weather crop- right after planting. 
  • You can mulch onions about a week after planting as soon as shoots began to show.

If you need the soil to cool off making it possible to plant your cold weather crops, then mulch your garden right after the first cold spell. 

Mulching your plants will also help protect them from the cold weather and frost. 
Do not pack the mulch down. Leaf mulch is better off being fluffy. 

 Grass clippings

A compost pile must! When composting, it is best to have both brown and green in the compost pile.  Grass is rich in nitrogen and can help break down a compost pile. Clippings also enhance the soil, and can be used as a fertilizer on plants. 

Fill a 5 gallon bucket with grass clippings, and then fill the bucket with water. Let sit for 3 days.
This will a concentrate, so when you are ready to distribute to your plants you should mix 1 cup of liquid grass to 10 cups of water.

                                         
   Milk

Milk is a fertilizer. I remember as a kid my father raised tobacco. I was never aloud to help chop down the tobacco plants as my dad did not want me getting sick from the nicotine in the plant, but he did let me fertilize the plants and kill the ungodly, ugly tobacco worms. Seriously, those creatures are just disturbing!  I remember the fertilizer concoction having milk in it. The milk, he said was to keep those monster worms away. 

Raw milk, of course is always better than pasteurized, but of course it doesn't matter much if you have no way to get raw milk. You can use raw, whole store bought milk, expired milk, evaporated milk or powdered milk. 

A milk tea added to your watering routine will help to ward off fungal diseases and pests. Melons, squash, peppers and tomatoes all respond well with a milk tea. 

To make a milk tea

  • Mix at a ratio of 1 part milk to 1 part water
Using milk and Epsom salt together will make your tomatoes happy.

  • 2 teaspoons Epsom salt to 1/2 gallon of milk water.A half gallon is 1 quart milk, 1 quart water.
You can refrigerate what's left.

Remember to always water your plants first before using fertilizer!


  Composting

Composting is an awesome way to make your own rich material that can be introduced into the garden to help living matter. Compost is just dead matter that has decomposed and released its helpful properties into the soil it becomes. 

When composting you want to have both green matter and brown matter. Brown matter being dead leaves, paper, straw, vegetable scraps, fruit scraps and manure and cardboard all work well for compost. You want to always have just a bit more brown than green in your compost pile.
Adding the alfalfa pellets I spoke of earlier will put off heat thus speeding up the decomposition of the compost. Your compost pile will need to be turned over and mixed up at least once a week. Doing this allows air to get to the matter underneath and aids in the decomposing time process. 

Your compost must always be moist. About the consistency of a wrung out sponge. Finished compost will be moist or dry, and crumbly and none of the materials recognizable. The time process until the finished product will vary on conditions such as, what type of bin you are using, or if you have a pile. How moist the matter is, if it gets enough air, if you turn the pile for air,or the weather. If you use a bin I would have one that has a few holes drilled in the top and the sides. This way water can get it and seep through and come out, leaving your compost moist but not flooded. 

If you use manure, the best kind to use is horse or cow. Never use pig manure, pigs carry certain bacteria in their feces that you wont want in your compost! Human waste is not exactly something that you want in your compost pile either. The story goes that pee is acceptable but, I cannot see peeing for the purpose of compost. Besides, the alfalfa pellets do pretty much the same thing as pee does anyway, and that is warming the compost pile to speed decomposition, 

Here are some tips

  • Always shred materials such as paper and cardboard
  • Ground up eggshells when putting them in the compost, it can take a really long time for an eggshell to decompose, grounding them will speed this up and using them in compost is especially beneficial.
  • The best place for a compost bin is in the sun!
  • NEVER use meat, plastics, anything glossy, dairy, glass, dog cat or pig feces.
  • You can add decomposed compost to your garden area in fall or spring, 3 inches thick on top the soil. 
  • You can use left over cooking water in the compost pile. 
  • When you add green to the compost, or food scraps, cover it with some brown to keep the critters away.
 Never use Black walnut leaves in the compost! 
Black walnut  trees produce a toxin.

If you are growing organic, you will stick to using only organic things in your compost pile.

So, I hope that this information has been helpful. Before I go, here is a recipe for compost tea.
Good luck with those gardens!

  Compost tea
 Stuff a cotton sock full of finished compost
let it soak in a five gallon bucket  for 1-3 days
Water your plants. 
 Feel free to add 
 1 tablespoon per gallon of black strap molasses.
 Molasses aids in flowering.