Understanding the complete cycle of how to grow your own food for your family is crucial to the basics of survival, and is a great aspect of personal growth. Humans are a part of nature, but the connection between people, especially those in the west, and the food they eat, has been severed. It’s time […]
Don’t Kill Yourself Making Compost!
Long ago, I used to spend a lot of time making big piles of greens and browns—carefully mixed, watered, turned, and sifted…. And yet I never had enough compost to go around.
I’m sure you know the feeling!
I still make piles, since I like to have fine compost for sprinkling on new garden beds and making my own potting mixes; however, I no longer rely on finished compost for the majority of my fertilizing.
Instead, I’ve got a much easier system: compost tea.
Read More: “How to Make Composting Easy”
Watch Me Make Compost Tea
This is my favorite way to make free fertilizer. I use moringa leaves, manure, urine, compost, weeds, and other nitrogen-rich materials. I put them in a big barrel, top it off with water, and then let it rot on down into liquid fertilizer for my gardens. I’ll also add a cup or two of Epsom salts if I have them available for the extra magnesium and sulfur.
After a couple of weeks of sitting in the sun and rotting, you’ve got a compost tea with some serious fertilizing power. Take a look:
How to Use Compost Tea
I’ve fed big plots of corn and other crops effectively with very little trouble and very little material after discovering how well this anaerobic composting method works. It’s similar to Bokashi composting, but without having to buy Bokashi starter. Just let nature take its course, and you’ll have a rich, green garden like I do.
Warning: You don’t want to pour this stuff on your greens or on other crops you’re going to eat right away, as it is most definitely not safe for consumption!
I cover this method in my popular book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, and I’ve had people write in and share their own successful experiments with the “big stinky barrel o’ fertility” method. Give it a try. Aside from the smell, I think you’ll like it.
A Quick Update
Here’s another video I made that offers specifics about my anaerobic compost tea recipe … even more stinky goodness from my “tea pot”! Won’t you be my neighbor?
(This article was originally published July 8, 2016.)
When it comes to self-sufficient living, nothing quite compares to the benefits of raising chickens in your backyard. Our small flock of hens provide us with so much more than just great tasting eggs. They also help eliminate weeds, keep
The post Raising Chickens – The Perfect Solution To Self Sufficient Living appeared first on Old World Garden Farms.
As a rule, when we grow plants, we follow some known practices. The practices may be based on our own experience, on the wisdom of our parents and grandparents, or on scientific research. Whatever the source, it is useful to examine the practices through the lens of the Laws of Nature, sometimes referred to as ecological principles.
The Laws of Nature are broad and substantive statements for how nature functions.
So the question becomes, “Are our plant-growing practices in harmony with or in conflict with the Laws of Nature?”
What other criteria would we use for how we treat our lands, the soils, and all ecosystems, if not the Laws of Nature?
I think of this as a pyramid, with practices on the top, undergirded by Laws of Nature criteria. Then, the practices and Laws are undergirded by our personal land-use ethics.
9 Laws of Nature
Below, I’ve listed nine Laws of Nature.
This list is not fully inclusive; some may seem to be more pertinent than others; and someone else may choose to describe them in a different manner. Nevertheless, they are all statements that hold true, with rare exceptions.
In my garden, if a practice violates a Law of Nature, I look for a substitute practice that is in harmony with the Law.
This broad topic has deep implications and is worthy of further study. The more we understand and apply these Laws, the more we can grow healthier crops, become healthier ourselves, and more fully appreciate the magnificence of nature.
#1: Everything in Nature Is Connected
It’s like a huge spider web. Every spot on the web is connected to the whole web. All the factors effecting growth and development—from the minerals in the air to the plant’s physiological processes to the soil microbes to hundreds of additional factors—are all part of the whole.
The implications of this concept are significant.
For example, apply too much nitrogen and the plants get a pretty green color, but at the same time produce an excessive amount of simple carbohydrates, which are ideal foods for the ever-present aphids.
Chemicals and other toxins that reduce soil microorganisms have impacts on soil mineralization and soil digestion processes, which all affect quality and quantity of production. For example, if your soil has a shortage of available calcium, a tomato plant is not likely to set fruit.
#2: Plants Are Designed to be Healthy
Like humans and other living organisms, plants have an immune system that makes them resistant to insects and diseases that are native to their environment. Plants become weak and sick when they become stressed because of environmental factors, inadequate nutrition, and/or exposure to toxins.
Chemical pesticides and fertilizers create plant and soil conditions that are not conducive to the desirable bacteria and fungi in the soil. The soil microbiome is part of the plant’s defense mechanism.
#3: Insects and Disease Are the Appropriate Response to the Existing Conditions
Insect problems and disease are the result of plant weakness, not the cause of plant weakness. When we improve the conditions, we improve plant resistance. Diseases are nature’s demolition crew and insects are nature’s garbage collectors. Both are appropriate when plants are stressed. Unhealthy plants actually send signals to the insects so they can perform their meaningful designed role.
#4: Mineral Nutrition Supports Plant Immunity
When plant growth is supported with proper mineral nutrition, plants will create higher-order compounds—for example, plant secondary metabolites like essential oils. This and other enzyme developments can lead to optimum levels of health and immunity.
The thousands of enzymes needed in metabolic processes each require a mineral “enzyme cofactor” to function. Without the mineral cofactors, enzyme pathways collapse and plants accumulate soluble compounds in plant sap, leading to pest infestations as plant health begins to fall apart.
#5: Microbial Metabolites Are More Efficient Than Simple Ions as a Source of Nutrition
The ultimate level of plant nutrition and immunity exists when plants can absorb the majority of their nutritional requirements as microbial metabolites. In this model, the soil microbial community serves as the plant’s digestive system. A complex community of soil microorganisms digest and break down organic residues and plant root exudates. In this digestive process, minerals are extracted from the soil mineral matrix and released in a bioavailable form that plants absorb and utilize very efficiently.
#6: When Fruit Quality Improves, Yields Increase
When management emphasis is placed on plant nutrition to improve quality, the immunity of the crop increases, creating higher yields, longer produce shelf-life, improved flavor, and reduced dependence on pesticides.
This fundamentally different approach to plant nutrition can lead to yield increases ranging from 10–30 percent. Yield increases come in not only bushels per acre, but also in higher test weights, increased protein production, and increased nutrition per acre.
#7: Healthy Plants Create Healthy Soil—an Investment in Their Own Future
It is commonly understood that healthy soils create healthy plants. The reverse is also true.
Healthy plants create healthy soils.
Healthy plants with high levels of energy can, at times, send as much as 70 percent of their total photosynthates (manifested as sugars, amino acids, and other compounds) into the roots, and then out through the roots and into the soil. Those root exudates are the fuel that feed the soil microbial community and lead to the rapid formation of organic matter.
This process, called carbon induction, is the fastest and most efficient way to sequester carbon and build soil organic matter.
It is an advantage to the plants to invest in soil building. Root exudates rapidly build humic substances. Humic compounds last in the soils for many years. In the end, the entire process ends up rapidly building soil health. It’s another win-win for nature.
#8: Genetic Variability in Plants Serves as a Buffering System
Plant variability allows for selective fitting of plant genetics to specific qualitative differences in the environment. It’s like an insurance plan, with the goal of increased probability of improved plant survival and growth. There are positive synergistic effects, above and below ground, that result from creating diversity through the mixing of species.
#9: Weeds Are a Barometer of Soil Health
We know that different crops have different soil, mineral, and soil biology requirements. So, too, with weeds. When compared to healthy domesticated crops, weeds are usually pioneering (first to enter) species that thrive in soils with imbalanced microbial and nutritional profiles. As soil health improves, crops will improve and weeds will lose their vigor. The weeds are no longer needed to correct the soil imbalances.
To sum up how nature functions in nine Laws certainly does not do justice to the topic nor does it show the magnificence of nature. Still, despite the inadequacies, the nine Laws are sufficient to provide guidance as to which gardening practices fit the Laws of Nature model.
The following list of gardening practices, which I use in my natural/organic garden in Northwest Arkansas, respect the Laws of Nature. Furthermore, the practices fit my personal land-ethics values.
I do these things to eat healthy food, to teach others, and especially for the children and future generations.
I hope you will consider joining in the transformation.
- Use no or at least minimum tillage. Never use a roto-tiller. Besides destroying the natural soil structure, roto-tillers will seriously damage the beneficial fungi in all kinds of soil situations.
- Keep the soil covered with a vegetable crop, cover crop, or some type of organic mulch at all times. This practice will promote soil microbial life.
- Keep something growing on the beds for as long as possible throughout the year. Where you can, grow crops specifically for deep-root penetration and/or high carbon production.
- Wherever possible, encourage diversity of species. Use companion planting where you can.
- Use organic fertilizers, compost (sparingly), bio-pesticides (if needed), filtered or structured water, foliar fertilizer sprays, natural biologicals for organic matter decomposition, and natural amendments (like paramagnetic rock) for plant fortification.
- Among all things, “communicate” with your garden through positive intentions. Remember: “Thoughts become actions. Choose the good ones.”
Thanks to John Kempf of Advancing Eco-Agriculture (www.advancingecoag) for some of the ideas included in this article.
My friend Steve Solomon (who is the #1 gardening author you should read) recommends you add clay to your compost pile, especially if you have sandy soils.
I’ve seen applications of compost disappear in a couple of months in hot, sandy soil. It just doesn’t stick. Unless you put a little clay in it.
Putting Clay in Your Compost Pile
Since I pretty much do everything Steve Solomon tells me to do, I started putting clay in compost piles some time back … but now I’m really getting serious. You can see me adding clay to the compost layers in this video:
I really didn’t need to add that much, but hey—go big or go home!
An article at The Food Garden Group in Tasmania reports good results from adding clay to a compost pile:
“The heaps made with clay, so long as they contain a reasonable amount of coarse material to enable some air movement, do not need to be turned. The ingredients all get to soak and mix in a thick clay soup before stacking (putting a pile of food and drinks in every pantry) and the heaps seem to stay moist for a very long time. I recently opened up a heap I hadn’t touched for three months and it was still moist and generating warmth. A reasonable compost can be made by simply wetting the materials with clay slurry as the heap is built, but remember that only the material which decomposes in association with clay particles is going to become durable humus/clay complex. A heap built this way will probably need to be turned and rewatered, too. Think of the difference between a dish that’s been marinated compared to one that’s only been sprinkled with a dressing.
Clay is made up of very fine particles, so the combined surface area of all the particles in a peanut-sized clod might be equal to a tennis court or three Clive Palmer skins or some such mind boggling factoid. No wonder, then, that it can hold so much water. Also these particles carry a negative charge, so each one is capable of forming bonds with positively charged particles (ions) like many of the essential plant nutrients. They gradually fill up with waste, sticking fast and firm to walls, floors, and ceilings as the food in the pantries is consumed.
The resultant compost is packed with nutrients that are more or less available depending on how complex the chemical bonding with the clay is. What we have here is humus in close association with clay, a long-lasting, water-retentive material in which plant roots and soil organisms can find all the nutrition they are looking for. A material which will keep carbon not only locked up, but also doing a great job for years to come.”
Putting Clay in Your Compost Pile Is Good for Sandy Soils
In sandy soils, organic matter burns up a lot quicker than it does in clay soils. Clay hangs on to the good stuff for longer, binding with organic material and increasing its persistence.
If you make compost in an area where clay is not part of the soil, it’s easy to put clay in compost via bentonite.
Just sprinkle it in as you layer materials—you really don’t need as much clay as I dumped in my pile.
“The application of clay technology by farmers in northeast Thailand, using bentonite clay, has dramatically reversed soil degradation and resulted in greater economic returns, with higher yields and higher output prices. Studies carried out by The International Water Management Institute and partners in 2002–2003 focused on the application of locally sourced bentonite clays to degraded soils in the region. These applications were carried out in structured field trials. Applying bentonite clays effectively improved yields of forage sorghum grown under rain-fed conditions.
Bentonite application also influenced the prices that farmers received for their crops. Production costs are higher, but due to more production and the quality of the food, clay farmers could afford to invest and grow more and better food, compared to nonclay-using farmers.”
Fortunately, bentonite is what cheap, non-scented cat litter is made from. If you can’t find powdered clay in sacks locally, just rob your kitty instead!
Make that compost stick around!
Benefits of Trench Composting for Your Garden Homegrown food is a “must have” for those of us who want to know our family is well taken care of no matter what. Having to bring loads of organic compost from elsewhere is not sustainable. It’s also expensive. With all the food scraps a family pit out …
Today you’ll learn how to create homemade potting soil using only three simple ingredients. I’ll also give you alternate recipes for potting soil in case you don’t have those three readily available.
My Homemade Potting Soil Recipe
If you’d like to see me make my homemade potting soil, here’s a video I created illustrating the process:
First, you’ll need a place to work.
I like to spread a tarp on the grass and use that as my mixing area, but you can work on any solid surface. A tarp is easy to roll back and forth to help you mix, but making potting soil isn’t rocket science and you can really do it anywhere.
Second, gather your materials. My potting soil recipe has three main ingredients:
1. Rotten Wood
Fresh wood chips will eat up a lot of the nitrogen in your potting soil mix and can cause your plants to struggle. Rotten wood doesn’t cause that issue, plus it holds moisture and provides a loose and airy texture to the mix.
As you know if you’ve read my popular book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, I don’t throw away or burn the logs and sticks that fall in my yard. Instead, I use them to feed the soil.
Leaving a pile of brush and logs in a corner of your property to rot over time will give you a ready source of rotten wood.
If you haven’t started doing that yet, just go for a walk in the woods and get a nice sack of fluffy, crumbly wood and drag it home.
2. Aged Cow Manure
I gather manure from my neighbor’s cows and leave it on a piece of metal in the sun to age and dry for a few months.
Fresh cow manure is too “hot.”
If my home-baked manure sounds too weird, just pile it up in a compost heap somewhere and let it go for a few months. That will leave you with a nutritious, organic-matter-rich pile of good stuff for your homemade potting soil.
NOTE: Manure in the United States is often contaminated with long-term herbicides that will destroy your garden and your potted plants. Read Karen’s story and learn more about that danger here.
3. Sifted Soil/Grit
I let my chickens do a lot of composting for me, like this:
I go into the coop or chicken run, sift out the grit, soil and compost, then use it in my homemade potting soil.
You don’t need to do that, though. No chickens? No problem.
I sift grit from the local creek bed and add that sometimes. I’ve also just added good garden soil, old potting soil mix from expired plants and even regular old sand.
Mix It All Up
Now all you need to do is get mixing.
Smash the rotten wood into smaller chunks, break up the cow patties, and pour in the grit. I use one part rotten wood, one part aged manure and one part grit/soil in my potting soil recipe, but don’t overthink it. If it looks loose and feels good, the plants will be happy.
As you’ll notice in my video, I often leave pretty big chunks of wood in my homemade potting soil. The potted plants seem to like them and they act as moisture reservoirs and soil looseners.
If you need a finer homemade potting soil for starting seeds, just crush the mix finer or run a coarser mix through some hardware cloth to sift it.
Alternate Ingredients for Homemade Potting Soil
If you don’t have cow manure, try goat or rabbit manure. Both work quite well. Homemade compost is also excellent, though I never seem to have enough for everything I want to do. It’s often full of seeds, so watch out for that unless you want pumpkins growing out of your potted begonias.
Don’t have grit/sand available? Vermiculite or perlite both work nicely, though you have to buy them.
Rotten wood can be replaced with peat moss or coconut coir. I prefer the coir. It seems to repel water less. You can also use leaf mould. Sift it out in the local forest – it’s wonderful. As a bonus, it contains beneficial bacteria and fungi.
Along with these ingredients, I’ve also added some ashes, crushed charcoal, coffee grounds, old potting soil, peanut shells and even moldy cocoa nibs.
When I ran my nursery business I often stretched my potting soil budget by mixing purchased soil with rotten wood chips I got from a local tree company and set aside for years to break down.
Just keep your homemade potting soil loose and fluffy with a good mix of ingredients and your plants will do great.
The post Make Homemade Potting Soil With 3 Simple Ingredients appeared first on The Grow Network.
You’ve been eating healthfully and sustainably as an apartment homesteader, and it’s been kind to your budget. But when most of the waste you produce is in the form of food scraps, you need to be reusing food waste rather than disposing of those food bits.
The first way that comes to mind for most people is to turn food waste into compost for your garden. Small-space composting can be an easy and cost-effective way to use your food waste.
But beyond composting, did you know you can both regrow plants from your scraps (buy once, grow forever) and eat those scraps in crafty recipes?
Check out my favorite tips and recipes below—along with a list of even more clever ways to put your food waste to good use.
Composting in Your Apartment
Everyone can compost, even in the small space of the apartment homestead.
You can use a five-gallon bucket with a lid—easily attained at any hardware store—or a regular plastic garbage bin with a lid.
Don’t let the “lack of space” excuse keep you from composting your food waste to help feed your future garden. There are cheap and easy compost containers that will fit under your kitchen sink or in a closet, or that you can make decorative to help inspire other apartment homesteaders to start their own sustainability journey.
If you’re worried about the usual culprits (bugs, using it quickly enough, and the obvious lack of space) that make composting in your apartment homestead difficult, check out this blog on The Grow Network: 5 Cheap and Easy Solutions For Small-Space Composting.
Regrow From Scraps
If composting isn’t your thing just yet, why not start a whole garden of vegetables and fruit from your organic produce scraps?
From herbs and onions to leafy greens and lemon trees, you can regrow the produce you eat regularly with results that are both amazing for your homesteading prowess and kind to your homestead budget.
One of my favorite herbs to regrow is basil. I love fresh basil. I add it to Italian dishes or infuse water with it and fresh lemon slices.
You can regrow basil by simply stripping the leaves, leaving only a small stem. Place the basil in a jar of water with the stem submerged, and set it in a sunny but cool area in your apartment homestead. Change the water every other day and plant in a four-inch pot when the stems grow to approximately two inches in length.
Another easy plant to regrow is peppers. Simply save the seeds from a pepper you love and replant in a pot. Place the pot in a sunny area, and you’ll enjoy peppers (and hopefully fresh salsa!) again and again.
You can also save your tomato seeds. Rinse them and allow to dry, then plant them in a soil-filled pot. If you have a garden box, transfer your tomato plants there once the sprouts are a few inches tall. Otherwise, keep them potted and enjoy fresh tomatoes from your patio garden.
Here are some other things you can regrow from food scraps in your apartment homestead:
- Bok Choy
- Carrot Greens
- Garlic Sprouts
- Green Onions
- Sweet Potatoes
- Romaine Lettuce
Reusing Food Waste in the Kitchen: Recipes Using ‘Throwaway’ Scraps
There are so many ways to eat the kitchen scraps you would normally throw away! Just rethink “scraps” into more food! Check out these recipes for a few ideas.
Use your celery tops, onion skins, carrot peels, and other veggies to make vegetable broth. Add all vegetables to a large pot, add enough water to completely cover everything, bring to a boil, and let simmer for six to eight hours. Strain and store broth in the fridge.
Do you make your own almond milk? Grind up the leftover almonds and toast/dry in your oven to make almond flour. Use almond flour to make grain-free muffins, breads, or other baked goods.
One of my favorite recipes using almond flour is Almond Flour Cinnamon Rolls—they’re also gluten free (which means you can kick the nasty pesticide-heavy wheat out of your diet and still enjoy your sweets):
Almond Flour Cinnamon Rolls
2 cups almond flour
4 Tbsp. ground flax seed
1/2 Tbsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. sea salt
1 Tbsp. unsweetened coconut milk
2 Tbsp. unsweetened applesauce
1 Tbsp. honey (in dough); 1/4 cup honey (in filling)
1 tsp. cinnamon (in dough); 2 Tbsp. cinnamon (in filling)
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Mix together almond flour, ground flax seed, baking soda, baking powder, and sea salt. Mix in eggs and coconut milk. Then, mix in applesauce, 1 Tbsp. honey, and 1 tsp. cinnamon.
Form dough into a ball, cover, and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Lay a piece of wax paper down on the counter and grease with olive oil. Place the dough onto the wax paper, and roll out the dough into a thin circle.
Drizzle honey over the dough and shake the rest of the cinnamon over the top.
Cut dough into 2-inch strips. Using your knife (the dough will be sticky), roll each strip up and place in a baking pan.
Bake for around 25 minutes or until rolls are golden brown.
You can turn potato skins you’d normally throw away into a salty snack you’ll crave.
Potato Skin Chips
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Toss leftover potato peels with olive oil and the seasonings you like.
Place on a baking sheet and roast for 15–20 minutes, stirring halfway through.
Sprinkle with cheese and scallions or green onions.
If you make your own apple sauce, you probably have apple peels for days. The following recipe offers a perfect way to use them up:
Apple Honey Tea
The peels from 6 apples
3–4 cups water
1/2 tsp. cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick
1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Place apple peels in a sauce pan, cover with water, and add lemon juice and cinnamon. Boil for 10–15 minutes. When the liquid has become apple-colored, strain out the apple peels, add honey, and serve.
Kale stems can be too tough to eat raw.
Dry the stems and grind them into Super Green Kale Powder to add to shakes or salads.
Get Clever With Your Food Scraps
Not into the food scrap recipes? Here are a bunch of other ways to use your food scraps. Get creative!
- Infuse liquor with citrus peels for a yummy adult beverage.
- Sharpen the blades of your garbage disposal by running eggshells through it.
- Add crushed eggshells to your garden soil to give it a calcium boost.
- Run citrus peels through the garbage disposal to get rid of nasty odors.
- Use carrot peels to make carrot oil—an awesome addition to your natural, chemical-free beauty routine.
- Add citrus peels to white vinegar to use in cleaning. Infuse the vinegar with the citrus peels by letting them sit together for two weeks before straining the peels and transferring the citrusy vinegar to a spray bottle.
- Make citrus air fresheners.
- Use banana peels to shine your shoes.
- Use spent coffee grounds in your garden as pest repellent, fertilizer, or an ingredient in compost.
- You can also use your coffee grounds to help absorb food odors in the fridge. Put old grounds in a container and place it in the fridge to get rid of musty food smells.
- Coffee grounds can even be used to exfoliate and rejuvenate your skin!
Whichever ways you choose to use rather than toss your food “waste,” remember that the choice to go that extra step is a leaping bound on your journey toward personal sustainability in your apartment homestead.
(And when you’re ready to take another step and really say “goodbye” to unsustainable living, you’ll want to check out the next post in the Apartment Homesteader series, on growing your own medicine—or being your own Apartment Apothecary! Stay tuned!)
If you’ve read my book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting or watched my presentations during multiple Home Grown Food Summit events, you know that I recommend building compost piles right where you plan to garden in the future.
Go ahead — build ’em right on your garden beds!
After following my advice, long-time reader W. R. sent me a composting field report:
“It is good to see you all are having fun in the tropics. I watch your videos weekly.
I haven’t been doing a whole lot of active gardening, but I wanted to give you a little update in photos.
I have two to 4’x 8′ raised beds next to each other that were left fallow since last fall. They were both recently cleared of weeds and grass, and here you can see the difference between them:
The left one is a native soil I started adding kitchen scraps to, but not for very long. It also was more exposed to the sun. The right one was a compost pile I threw kitchen scraps and coffee grounds in.
This bed had more growing in it, and the soil was more protected by the sun. The right one looks more like good soil, eh?”
This is a great illustration of what in-bed composting accomplishes. It just makes sense to build compost piles on top of garden beds.
Why Compost on a Garden Bed?
Less Materials Handling
When you compost directly on top of a garden bed, you don’t have to worry about moving as many materials.
You throw your kitchen scraps, leaves, rabbit manure, etc., right onto a bed. Don’t worry about it getting hot — it will rot down over time.
If you want it to compost hot and fast, build up a compost pile higher over the bed like I do in this video:
But really, nature will handle it.
Throw everything down on a garden bed and then some months later when you’re ready to plant, fork off the rougher stuff onto the next closest bed and get planting.
More Good Stuff Stays Where You Want It
Second, all the good leachates that would normally run into ground beneath a compost bin are instead transferred right into the ground where you will be growing.
If you’re ever moved a compost pile and seen the right worm-filled soil beneath it, you know what I mean. If you’re not planting that area, it’s a waste!
W. R. has also been composting meat and bones like a good extreme composter should:
As bones break down in the soil, they will feed your garden long-term. Yes, I know you’re “not supposed to compost meat” and all that. Heck with those rules — if you throw those materials away, you’re throwing away nutrition for your garden. There are plenty of ways to compost meat safely, though that’s fodder for another article.
For now, I just urge you to quit working so hard and start composting right where it will make the biggest difference.
Wherever you compost, good fungi and bacteria populations explode, worms arrive and till the soil, plus you don’t have to move your compost all over the place.
Though I do still have a bin, I also keep a compost pile going on one of my garden beds at any given time. It works.
The post Build Your Compost Pile Right On Your Garden Beds! appeared first on The Grow Network.
Composting leaves – the quick and easy way to make homemade “black gold” this fall! Fall is here, and leaves that provided shade all summer are now making their way to the earth’s floor. For some, it’s a beautiful display
The post Composting Leaves – How To Make Great Compost From Leaves This Fall appeared first on Old World Garden Farms.
Whether you live in an apartment, condo, or tiny house, here are some easy and practical ways to combat your small-space composting dilemma.
Growing your own food is important to your overall health, as well as the planet’s. You want to do as much as you can, but you live in an apartment or condo with rules about what you can and cannot do on your balcony or patio. You barely have enough room to grow anything much less have some sort of compost pile.
There are a number of challenges you face as a Small-Space Composter
You barely have enough room for growing your own food. Where in the world are you going to put a compost been?
Ease of set up and easy-to-use.
A compost pile is daunting. You want the composting solution to be easy-to-set-up and easy-to-use.
Won’t attract bugs.
There is nothing worse than bugs in a small space. No bugs in the compost bin!
Works as fast as possible
Do you want to use the compost as soon as possible? There are solutions for that, too!
Small-Space Composting Solutions
There are many solutions for your small space composting. It all depends on what is important to you from the above list. What is your priority?
Here are some solutions to consider for your small-space situation:
The easiest way to compost indoors cheaply, easily, and quickly is to use a worm bin. Vermiculture (or worm composting) produces worm castings that make worm tea that is perfect for feeding the soil of your container plants.
Plastic Storage Bins
These are an excellent choice because they’re fairly inexpensive and easy-to-find. They come in a variety of sizes so that you can get the right size bin for your space. Ten to eighteen gallons is a good size. You can even stack the bins to save space. Make sure you drill aeration holes near the top to allow air into your bin.
Another option is very inexpensive and stackable. You can find 5-gallon buckets with lids at home centers and big-box stores. Also, large kitty litter containers work great, too! Be sure to drill aeration holes near the top of the bucket.
Old wooden boxes or wine crates can be turned into an indoor composter. Add a plastic bag stapled to the inside and cover with hinges or painters’ canvas.
Bokashi (Japanese term meaning “Fermented Organic Matter”)
The Bokashi method is easy and composts everything—from kitchen scraps to meat and dairy. You mix an inoculated bran filled with microbes into the Bokashi bucket and tightly cover it. When the bucket is full, seal it shut and set it to the side for 10 to 12 days. Every other day, drain the bucket (which also makes a nice compost tea). You’ll have a pre-compost, which can be put in worm bins or leave it for a month to let it break down further.
Where do you put a compost bin?
- Under the Sink
- Under a plant stand
- In a hall closet
- Out in the open (it’s a great conversation starter!)
How much do you put in?
Two types of material make composting work. They are nitrogen materials, such as food scraps and grass clippings, and carbon materials, such as leaves, shredded paper, and corrugated cardboard.
What to put in your compost bin:
- Fruit & Veggie scraps
- Coffee grounds
- Tea bags (If the bag is slippery, don’t put it in your compost)
- Shredded paper
- Trimmings from houseplants
- Hair (yours and your pets)
- Toilet paper rolls torn into small pieces
- Dryer lint
What not to put in your bin
An indoor compost bin, doesn’t heat up as much as a hot outdoor bin, so there is less microbial action happening (except for the Bokashi method). This means that the kitchen scraps won’t break down very quickly, especially if you add in:
- large chunks of anything
It’s also probably a good idea to avoid composting very smelly items, such as onion peels. You may smell it in the rest of your house. Try to avoid watery items, such as melons or squash. They might make your bin too soggy.
Tips for Success
If you want to be successful with indoor composting and get a bit of compost, too, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Have shredded paper or dry leaves handy. Every time you add food scraps or coffee grounds, plop in a handful of the shredded paper or leaves. This will keep your bin from getting too wet. Note: Junk mail works perfectly for this purpose as long as it is not the slick-coated advertisements.
- The contents of your bin need to be turned often. Turning the contents of your bin warms it up and microbes very happy. It also mixes the contents, so they don’t get too wet or too dry. Move everything around with a hand trowel. An advantage to the round bucket method is that you can roll it back and forth a few times to mix it.
- No matter what kind of bin you have, add small pieces. Pulp from your juicer will breakdown much faster than chunks of vegetables. Chop up your food scraps or put them through a blender, and be sure to shred your paper or cardboard.
It is possible to compost in small spaces, such as apartments, condos, or tiny houses. After a while, you’ll get a feel for what works and what doesn’t with your chosen composting method. It will be a great feeling to know that you’re saving waste from the landfill and making compost for your container garden.
What is your favorite composting method? The comments are waiting for you.
The post 5 Cheap and Easy Solutions For Small-Space Composting appeared first on The Grow Network.
According to the EPA, 20 to 30 percent of what is thrown away should be composted. If you’re the type of person who hates to throw out kitchen scraps, but don’t have room for a compost pile in your small apartment, small-space vermiculture is for you!
What is vermiculture?
Vermiculture, or Vermicomposting is the breakdown of organic material by vermis, which is the Latin word for “Worms.” The worms take that waste and turn it into nutrient-rich “castings” or worm poo that helps build the soil. It is the most efficient way to compost most of your household waste.
Steps to your Vermicomposting happiness
Let’s bypass the trash collector and have your worms “eat” your garbage!
Make your worm bin
Start out with a cheap bin to get started. A $10 system works just as well. A 5-gallon bucket, large kitty litter bucket, or 16 in. X 24 in. X 8 in. (or 10-gallon) plastic bin will work just fine.
Next prepare the bedding
Shred about 50 sheets of newspaper into 1/2 in. to 1 in. strips. Avoid color print. It is toxic to worms.
Place the shredded newspaper into the bin. Add water to the newspaper until the bedding feels moist like a damp sponge. Add more dry strips if it gets too wet.
Sprinkle two to four cups of potting soil or soil from your yard into the bin. This introduces the beneficial microorganisms.
Get Your worms
Red Wigglers, or Eisenia fetida, are the worms you want for your worm bin. You don’t want Earthworms because they are large soil movers, and don’t do well in worm bins.
Get worms from a local source (if possible), because they are acclimatized to conditions in your area. Ask around, look on Craigslist, aquaponics or hydroponic stores, or ask other vermicomposters in your area.
How many worms do you need?
Say you bought a pound of worms. A pound of worms will eat half to their full eight every day. They are the best recyclers in the world! Think about how much waste you have.
Feed your new friends
Worms are vegan, but they can eat quite a bit. You’ll want to feed them a balanced diet, not just coffee grounds! As your bin gets going, you’ll feed those worms about half-a-pound to a pound of food in 24 hours.
Fun Fact: The worms don’t actually eat the scraps. They eat the bacteria that is breaking down the food scraps.
What to feed?
Feed your worms veggie and fruit scraps, crushed eggshells, coffee grounds, tea and tea bags (the ones that aren’t shiny), such as peels, rinds, cores, etc. Cut or break the food up into smaller pieces. If you run it through a blender, that would be even better! For instance, juicing pulp is fantastic!
What not to feed?
Limit or eliminate citrus fruits and onion peels in your worm bin. Also, do not add meats, bones, oils or dairy products.
How to feed your worms?
- Feed your 1 lbs. of worms about three times their weight each week. So, for one pound of worms, you’ll feed 3-lbs of food each week, or slightly less than half-a-pound.
- Bury the food in the bin.
- Lift up the bedding. Add the food scraps. Then, cover the food with the bedding again.
Check the bin every week to make sure the worms are eating all of the food. Adjust the amount accordingly.
Harvesting the black gold
There are many methods to harvest the worm castings. These two techniques work great.
- Try a melon. Place a piece of melon in one area of your bin. The worms really love musk melon or watermelon, because they don’t get it very often. Put that little piece of melon in the corner of the bin, and the worms will herd over there. Then, scoop out the castings from the other side of the bin.
- Vertical migration system. The whole point of a vertical migration system is to let a layer finish out and put a new layer on top with new paper and new food. The worms migrate up into a new layer where the food is. They don’t want to live in the lower layers that is filled with their poop. Essentially the system separates the casting for you, but in a much slower way. The lower bins still may have a few worms, but you can hand pick them. It’s not bad to get worms in your finished compost either. They’re going to end up living in the soil in your garden.
Tips for success
- Place a full sheet of dry newspaper on top of the bedding. This will help maintain the moisture of the bin. It also keeps odor problems in the bin and prevents fruit flies.
- If you find fruit flies or the bin is too wet, replace that top layer of dry newspaper.
- Cover your bin and choose a place for your worms. Worms like it dark and between 55°F and 75°F. Under a sink, in a closet, or wherever is convenient for you, so you remember to feed and check on them.
- Castings are high in nutrients and micronutrients, so make worm tea in a 5-gallon bucket. Or add it to your potted plants for a healthy boost.
- We don’t always produce a pound of kitchen scraps in a day, or we’re on vacation or busy. You don’t need to micromanage your worms. You don’t have to feed them a pound of food every day.
- Sometimes we produce more than a pound of kitchen scraps, or your worms aren’t eating as fast. If this happens, simple put the scraps in a container or baggie and put that in the refrigerator until it’s time for a feeding.
- Worms don’t like light, so be sure to keep your bin in a quiet out-of-the-way place. They like warm, dark places.
- If your bedding dries up, spray it with a bit of water. Fluff the bedding once-a-week to give the worms some air.
- If you live in a cold climate and have your bin outside, be sure to bring it inside.
- Rotting food will produce a strong odor. Stop adding food until your worms have caught up. Adding air by stirring the contents will help.
- If the worms are crawling out of the bedding or onto the sides or lid, they may need more air, the bedding is too wet, or the bin is too acidic. Did you put too many orange peels in there?
Now we want to hear your wormy stories! Do you practice small-space vermiculture? Tell us in the comment below.
If you want to have a great garden and healthy plants next year, then creating a great fall compost pile is a must! Having ready-made compost in the spring is the key to getting your garden and flowers off to
The post How To Create A Great Fall Compost Pile For Next Year’s Garden! appeared first on Old World Garden Farms.
Most people know there are a lot of items that can be composted. Vegetable trimmings, for example—things like outer lettuce leaves, tomato cores and sweet pepper seeds are no-brainers. But for those who are ready to get really serious about reducing waste and building up a nice mix in the compost pile or container, here are a few more ideas for stuff you might not have known you could include along with a few other things you should leave out.
First, bear in mind that anything which is plant-based can usually be composted—and don’t forget that paper is made from plants. Some plants have a higher carbon-to-nitrogen ratio than others, but all plant-based materials contain both. And that is a good thing, because your compost needs both. Here’s a partial list of high-carbon materials:
- Woody plants like corn stalks and brassica stems
- Egg shells
And for comparison, some examples of low-carbon materials:
- Kitchen scraps
- Grass clippings
- Coffee grounds
You can consider ratios if you want to, but don’t get too stuck on them. And if you forget which plant-based materials are higher nitrogen ratios and which lean more towards the carbon end, just remember this general rule of thumb: carbon is the brown stuff, and nitrogen is the green stuff. (It isn’t a hard and fast rule, I know, since egg shells are not all brown and coffee grounds and manure are not green. But it’s mostly true.) If it gets soupy and stinky, add more brown stuff. And if it isn’t decomposing well, add more green stuff. Meanwhile, just throw it all in and amend later if you need to.
The materials visitors at my place are most surprised to see designated for compost are usually paper products—and not the ones they had ever considered separating out of the regular trash. Toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls, for example, get composted. So do used paper towels, used facial tissues, gum wrappers, paper bags and some paper and boxboard. Even the little paper packages that my individuallywrapped dental floss comes in gets saved for the compost.
If I used paper plates and paper napkins, I’d definitely compost those, as well. I do use paper coffee filters and pre-bagged tea (as opposed to metal filters and loose tea leaves) and just toss it all in, filters and strings and tabs and all.
The reasons I say “some paper and boxboard” are twofold. First, crisp glossy products don’t compost as well as soft dull paper does. And second, even households like mine which are diligent about not acquiring unnecessary paper still end up amassing a lot of it—probably too much for most compost ratios.
Other possible ingredients for home composting include the results of refrigerator and cabinet clean-outs. Consider stuff like this when it’s no longer edible:
- Cream cheese
- Jellies and jams
- Anything at all that doesn’t contain meat
The sky is pretty much the limit when it comes to cleaning out the kitchen, garden, barn, henhouse or backyard. Composting is super easy and takes very little time, once you make a habit of it. Before we open a trash can at my house, we first consider whether it can be eaten by livestock, burned, recycled or composted—we’ve done it that way for so long that it has become routine.
The one thing I would caution casual backyard composters against is including meat. Meat, either cooked or raw, can develop potentially dangerous pathogens if the compost pile does not get hot enough for long enough. Experienced composters can and do place animal carcasses into compost piles with good results, but that’s nothing you or I should try at home.
Feces from omnivorous mammals such as pigs, cats, and dogs should be left out of the compost, as well. Many people successfully compost human waste, but that is a whole art and science unto itself and should not be added to regular compost.
Another thing to remember when composting is before offering anything to the microscopic organisms in the compost which might want to consume it, make sure there are no bigger mouths around the homestead that want dibs on it. In other words, offer home and garden scraps to cattle, goats, chickens and other animals first, and toss it into the compost only after everyone else has said no thanks.
Composting all you possibly can is an excellent way to reduce household waste and create a pile of free nutrients for your garden—a win for all involved.
What would you add to our list? Share your tips in the section below:
Grow Your Own Groceries with Homemade Fertilizers
There was a time when people gardened because backyard produce was far better and cheaper than anything from the store. To tell the truth, it still is, or at least it still can be. The trick is knowing that back in the day, people used their own compost and homemade fertilizers.
Yet some are convinced that you have to spend a bundle of money to have a really nice, healthy garden. I think that this misconception grew out of the fact that most people have backyards that are filled with really poor/weak soil.
The reasons for this are complicated – a subject for another day. Suffice it to say that if the soil is weak, your plants will also be weak. And so it follows that weak plants have poor production, leading to more time and money spent on a low quantity of low quality vegetables.
Healthy Soil Equals Healthy Plants
This means that you need to enrich your soil. Because most people are not making their own compost at home, they need to buy fertilizer. Plant fertilizers purchased from the local garden center often contain chemicals that may harm your plants, and are not environmentally friendly.
In addition, fertilizer can be a bit pricey, and this is most likely why the myth that home gardens are expensive continues. This is not necessarily true. You needn’t spend a bundle of money because, believe it or not, you are full of fertilizer!
Make Your Own Homemade Fertilizers
Making your own organic plant food is easy and fun. It should be noted that most people understand that the best way to get good garden soil is to use compost to amend the soil. Of course, that is true. Compost can be made at home out of leftover food scraps and lawn clippings, and so it is virtually cost-free.
Composting may be all one needs for a successful home vegetable crop. If, however, the soil is still lacking in nutrients or if you are planting a more demanding vegetable garden, augmenting with another type of fertilizer may be advisable. So why spend good money on store bought fertilizer when you can make it yourself with just a little information?
Fertilize with Beer and Milk: A Simple Fertilizer From The Greek Gods
Nourishing Nutrients for Prolific Plants
The key to a good garden is good soil. Of the essential nutrients plants need to thrive, most of them are found in soil. Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and to a lesser extent calcium, magnesium, and sulfur are called macronutrients, and these are the nutrients that plants need most.
The remaining micronutrients can be supplied in smaller amounts even by some of the poorest soils out there.
While it may not be the most exciting of gardening topics, nothing is more important than having a basic understanding of fertilizer. Just like you and I need nourishment – so do plants. Understanding just a small bit of information about fertilizer can go a long way toward helping your garden to grow big, strong, healthy plants on a light budget. Before we look at some inexpensive homemade fertilizers, let’s look briefly at the subject in general. All fertilizers fall into one of two basic categories: chemical/synthetic or natural/organic.
Organic Fertilizers Versus Synthetic Fertilizers
Chemical/synthetic fertilizers are manufactured using synthetic substances that usually contain highly concentrated forms of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (these are the N-P-K values listed on the fertilizer packaging).
These fertilizers work quickly because they feed the plants directly. But they do come with a downside – they do not improve the soil itself and they can, over time, even destroy the beneficial organisms needed for healthy soil. When you use large quantities of this inorganic stuff over and over again, its byproducts will actually build up in the soil and in time they can hinder plant growth.
Organic/natural fertilizers often use alfalfa meal, cottonseed meal, or fish emulsion to provide nitrogen; bone meal or rock phosphate to provide phosphorus; and kelp meal or granite meal to provide potassium.
The downside here is that they work much more slowly, first breaking down in the soil into forms that the plant roots can more easily absorb, then making their way up the plant roots to your hungry plants.
Organic/natural fertilizers, on the other hand, don’t feed the plants directly but rather add essential nutrients to the soil where they become available to the plants, more slowly, over time.
Understanding the Basics about N-P-K
While there are also many important micronutrients in good fertilizer, it is understanding the “big 3,” the N-P-K, that is the key to making your own effective fertilizer at home. The N is for nitrogen, the P for phosphorus, and the K for Potassium. Each has an important role to play in the health of your garden.
Nitrogen is the nutrient plants use most to grow large and lush – tall stems with lots of good leafy growth. If you examine the N-P-K content of commercial products that advertise “miracle growth” you will find there is no real miracle at all – the amazing growth is due to a balanced but high N-P-K ratio with a hefty amount of nitrogen in the mix.
Phosphorus is needed to grow strong healthy root systems, and to promote vigorous flowering. Commercial “blooming” mixes are usually high in phosphorus.
Potassium helps with plant growth, protein production, plant hardiness, disease resistance, insect resistance and efficient water use. Plants without enough potassium grow slowly and can have yellow leaves.
Less is More
Always remember the one basic rule that applies to the use of all fertilizers – “less is more.” If you use too much fertilizer or too strong a concentration, you could do much more harm than good. Plant roots can be harmed and you will soon see the tell-tale symptoms of fertilizer burn – brown, curled leaf edges and leaves that wither and fall from the stem. Always err on the side of caution – “less is more!”
Now, with a simple understanding of the information above, you are ready to get out and make your own fertilizer. For my purposes I needed a good, effective, general use fertilizer. Here are a few of the solutions that have brought me success:
Easy Household Fertilizers
There are quite a few common items found in your kitchen, and elsewhere around the house, that can be used as plant fertilizer.
Water your plants with the aquarium water taken right out of the tank when cleaning it. Fresh water only please, do not use water from a salt water tank. The fish waste makes a great plant fertilizer.
Bananas are not only tasty and healthy for humans, but they also benefit many different plants. When planting roses, bury a banana (or just the peel) in the hole alongside the rose. As the rose grows, bury bananas or banana peels into the top layer of the soil. Both of these approaches will provide the much needed potassium that plants need for proper growth.
Blackstrap molasses is an excellent source of many different nutrients that plants use. This includes carbon, iron, sulfur, potash, calcium, manganese, potassium, copper, and magnesium. What makes this an excellent type of fertilizer is that it feeds beneficial bacteria, which keep the soil and plants healthy. To use blackstrap molasses as a fertilizer, mix it with another all-purpose fertilizer. A good combination to use is one cup each of epsom salts and alfalfa meal. Dissolve this combination in four gallons of water and top it off with one tablespoon of blackstrap molasses. Or simply mix blackstrap molasses in with compost tea. Do this only after the compost tea has steeped.
Used coffee grounds contain about two percent nitrogen, about a third of a percent of phosphoric acid, and varying amounts of potash (generally less than one percent). Coffee grounds are particularly useful on those plants that like things a bit more acidic such as blueberries, evergreens, azaleas, roses, camellias, avocados, and many fruit trees. I recommend that you allow the coffee grounds to dry and then scatter them lightly, as a mulch, around your plants. Avoid scattering them thickly when they are wet, because clumps of coffee grounds have a tendency to get moldy.
Many different nutrients are released into the water that food is cooked in. Water that is used to boil potatoes, vegetables, eggs, and even pasta can be used as a fertilizer. Just remember to let the water cool before applying it to your soil.
Corn Gluten Meal
Corn gluten meal is a byproduct of the wet-milling process for corn. It is used not only as an organic pre-emergent herbicide, but also as a fertilizer that is 10 percent nitrogen. To use as a fertilizer, simply spread a thin layer of corn gluten meal and scratch it into the top inch of soil. Plant veggie starts inside the treated area for optimum nitrogen benefit, and do not worry about accidentally harming your plants. Corn gluten meal only works as an herbicide before seeds germinate, not after, so it won’t hurt plants that have already sprouted.
Egg shells contain about 1% nitrogen, about a half-percent phosphoric acid, and other trace elements that make them a practical fertilizer. Calcium is an essential plant nutrient which plays a fundamental part in cell manufacture and growth. Most roots must have some calcium at the growing tips to grow effectively. Plant growth removes large quantities of calcium from the soil, and calcium must be replenished, so this is an ideal way to “recycle” your egg shells. Simply crush them, powder them in an old coffee grinder, and sprinkle them around your garden soil.
1 tablespoon of epsom salts can be combined with 1 gallon of water and put into a sprayer. Apply once a month, directly to the foliage for a quick dose of magnesium and sulfur.
Wood Ash (From Your Fireplace or Fire Pit)
Ashes can be sprinkled onto your soil to supply potassium and calcium carbonate. Hard wood is best, and no charcoal or lighter fluid, please, as this can harm your plants. Don’t use ash in areas where you are trying to maintain acid-loving plants – the ashes are alkaline and can increase alkalinity in the soil.
Gelatin can be a great nitrogen source. Dissolve one package of gelatin in 1 cup of hot water and then add 3 cups of cold water. Pour directly on the soil around your plants once a month. This is great for houseplants!
A weak solution of green tea can be used to water plants every four weeks. Use one teabag to 2 gallons of water.
Hair is a good source of nitrogen and it does double duty as a deer repellent. A good source for this hair is not only your hairbrush but also the local barbershop or beauty salon. Many of these establishments will save hair for your garden, if you ask them for it. But do not limit yourself to only human hair. Dog hair, horse hair, and cat hair work just as well.
What makes horse feed irresistible to horses is also what makes it an excellent fertilizer. The magic ingredient is molasses. To use horse feed as a fertilizer is simple and easy. It can be used as a soil amendment just by sprinkling it on top of the soil. Alternatively, it can be dissolved in water alone or combined with another organic fertilizer, and applied as a soil drench.
The old fashioned easy strike matches are a great source of magnesium. To use this as a fertilizer, simply place the whole match in the hole with the plant, or soak the matches in water. The magnesium will dissolve into the water and make application easier.
Powdered milk is not only good for human consumption but also for plants. This source of calcium needs to be mixed in to the soil prior to planting. Since the milk is in powder form, it is ready for use by your plants.
Read more: How to Fertilize Your Container Gardens
Four Easy Homemade Fertilizer Recipes
These are some slightly more complex fertilizer recipes that I like to use. My favorites are the Simple Tea and the Quick Fix, but each of these make regular appearances in our garden fertilizing schedule:
Recipe #1 – Simple Tea Fertilizer
This simple recipe has been used for 1000s of years. Give it a try in your garden for a quick and inexpensive dose of nutrients for your plants.
• In a five gallon bucket, mix 1/4 cup of epsom salts, 2 cups of urine (yes, good old pee pee), and 2 cups of wood ash (again, no lighter fluid or charcoal, please)
• Fill the rest of the bucket about half way with grass clippings, pruned green leaves, or even green weeds pulled right out of the ground
• Fill the bucket to the top with water and allow the mix to steep for three days
• After steeping, strain the tea or decant into empty milk jugs or old 2 liter bottles
• Before use, dilute by 50% by mixing half water and half tea into your favorite watering can
• Apply this wonderful mix by pouring it directly onto the soil around your plants
If your results are anything like mine you will see a noticeable difference in just a few days.
Note: Only steep for three days. By the third day, most of the soluble nutrients will have seeped out into the water solution. Stopping now prevents fermentation, which you want to avoid. Fermented materials will smell bad, and their pH can change rapidly, so it’s important to stick with a three day steeping, and then use the concentrate within a day or two.
Recipe #2 – Homemade Fish Emulsion Fertilizer
Fish emulsion is a homemade fertilizer made using fish waste – such as fish parts and guts – and water. This organic all-purpose fertilizer has also been around for 1000s of years and it works great, but it takes weeks to make, and the mixture must have time to rot before you can use it. Yes, there is some bad smell here – it is made from rotting fish after all!
• To begin the process, fill a 55-gallon drum about one-third full with a ratio of 2 parts water and 1 part fish waste
• Allow this mixture to steep for 24 hours
• After steeping, add more water to the drum until it is completely full
• Cover loosely and let the drum ferment for several weeks – we usually allow about 3 weeks for fermentation
• To use, apply the fish emulsion fertilizer to the soil around your plants at a rate of 3 gallons of liquid for every 100 square feet of yard or garden
Recipe #3 – Seaweed Fertilizer
Another fertilizer with a 1000 year pedigree. Not only is seaweed an all-purpose organic fertilizer, but it also contains mannitol. Mannitol is a compound that increases a plant’s ability to absorb nutrients in the soil. Either fresh or dried seaweed can be used to create the all-purpose fertilizer. However, if you use fresh seaweed or dry salted seaweed, ensure it is thoroughly washed before using.
• Add 8 cups of chopped seaweed to a five gallon bucket and fill halfway with water (rain water is always best if it’s available)
• Loosely cover the container, and let the seaweed steep for about three weeks
• After steeping, strain the seaweed and transfer the liquid to a container to store it for up to 3 weeks
• To use, mix half water and half seaweed tea into your favorite watering can and apply it to the soil around your plants. Your plants will thank you for it within just a few days.
Recipe #4 – The Quick Fix Fertilizer
If you haven’t got time to wait 3 days to make the Simple Tea, you might want to try this idea. Most of the ingredients can be found around your home.
• In an empty 1 gallon milk jug, mix 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon of ammonia (a very strong source of quick nitrogen), 3 teaspoons of instant iced tea (the tannic acid in this helps the plants to more quickly and easily absorb nutrients), 3 teaspoons blackstrap molasses (this helps feed soil bacteria), 3 Tablespoons of 3% hydrogen peroxide (hydrogen peroxide is a powerful oxidizer, as it combines with the air and water it decomposes, freeing the oxygen elements and thus providing a supplement of oxygen to the plants and aerating the soil), 1/4 cup crushed bone scraps (this adds phosphorus – any bones will do but I like to use fish bones myself as they also provide potassium), 1 crushed egg shell or 1/2 a dried banana peel for potassium (you can omit if using fish bones, but I would still add the egg shell for the calcium – especially for my tomatoes as it helps prevent blossom end rot)
• Fill the jug the rest of the way with water (again rain water is best). Replace cap and allow the jug to sit in the sun for about 1 hour to warm, then water your plants with this mixture at full strength.
Using What Your Animals Give You
There are many other ways to make your own fertilizer, and some are easier to make than others. It doesn’t get much easier than using manure from your animals. For eons, man used “free” fertilizer from manure to fertilize his crops. Manure can be used as is after drying, or in the form of manure tea.
Before manure is used in the garden, it should be aged and dried, and/or composted first. Age fresh manure for at least 6 months. Well-aged manure on its own makes a great fertilizer for garden plants. You can spread aged manure directly on top of your garden soil at a thickness of 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Another option is to till it, or mix it by hand, into the top layer of soil in the fall or winter, prior to spring planting.
Generally, fall is the best time to use manure in the garden. This allows plenty of time for the manure to break down, eliminating the threat of burning plants in the garden come springtime. As the soil absorbs manure, nutrients are released. This enriches the soil, which in turn helps the plants. One of the most important benefits of using manure in the garden is its ability to condition the soil.
Composting manure is one of the best and safest ways to use this free fertilizer, as it eliminates the possibility of burning your plants and controls potentially harmful bacteria.
Nearly any kind of manure can be used. Generally horse, cow, and chicken manures are the most commonly used for manure fertilizer. Some people also use sheep, rabbit, turkey, and more. It is not recommended that you use manure from your cats, dogs, other household pets – or any other meat-eating animals. These manures are unsuitable for the garden or the compost pile, as they are likely to carry parasites.
Making Manure Tea Fertilizer
I will leave you with one last recipe. I use this tea regularly and it works great – just make sure that your manure is well-aged.
Bonus Recipe: Manure Tea Fertilizer
Manure tea enriches the soil and adds much needed nutrients for healthy plant growth. The nutrients found in manure tea make it an ideal fertilizer for garden plants. The nutrients from manure dissolve easily in water so that they can then be added to a sprayer or simply used in a watering can. The leftover manure can be thrown in the garden or reused in the compost pile.
Manure tea can be used each time you water plants, or periodically. It can also be used to water lawns. However, it is important to dilute the tea prior to use so as to avoid burning the roots or foliage of plants. I fill my watering can 1/2 way with the tea and then fill it to the top with rain water. I use this every 3 weeks or so during the growing season.
• Place a shovel full of well-aged manure in a large burlap sack or pillowcase
• Make certain that the manure has been well aged or “cured” beforehand. Fresh manure is much too strong for plants, and it can contain harmful bacteria.
• Suspend the manure-filled “tea bag” in a 5 gallon bucket, and add water to create a mix of 5 parts water to 1 part manure
• Allow this mixture to steep for up to two weeks
• After steeping, remove the bag, allowing it to hang above the container until the dripping has stopped
• Skipping the tea bag and adding the manure directly to the water usually speeds up the brewing process. Without a bag, the tea is usually ready within only a few days if you stir it thoroughly during this period. Once it has fully brewed, you will have to strain it to separate the solids from the liquid. The remaining manure can then be added to the compost pile.
• To use, dilute the tea by half, as mentioned above, prior to use
Helpful resource: How Much Nutrient is in Your Homemade Fertilizer?
Add to This List of Homemade Fertilizers
This list of homemade fertilizers is by no means exhaustive. If I’ve missed any of your favorites, be sure to let me know in the comments below! Keep in mind that the most important thing you really need to understand about making your own fertilizer is that you control what goes into the fertilizer, so you know exactly what goes into your garden and therefore what goes into your body. Making your fertilizer is also a great way to “reduce, reuse, and recycle.”
Lately, before I toss anything into my trash, I stop and ask myself, “How else can I use this?” As often as not, the things I would have otherwise thrown away can help out in my garden. And, best of all, I’ve come to realize that my home, my animals, and even my own body are all full of fertilizer!
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Autumn is here and winter is just around the corner. As many gardeners begin to bed down their gardens, some people get concerned about their compost piles. Will a compost pile survive the winter? Can I continue adding compost to my piles? Is there anything special I need to do to ensure I have healthy compost come spring?
Thankfully, winter composting is really not that difficult. Some people use a “set it and forget it” mentality while others put in more work caring for their compost until spring. Here are some tips to help you through your first winter composting:
1. Build up a Shelter and Roof Around the Piles
If you plan on composting during the winter, the most important thing you can do is protect your compost piles. There are many ways you can protect the sides, such as:
- Stacking straw or dried old hay bales.
- Using recycled pallets.
- Stacking cinder blocks.
- Using wooden stakes and old feed bags.
The sides don’t need to be solid, although it would help hold in more warmth. Just this simple effort can make a big difference in how your compost pile looks in the spring. For even more protection you can add a roof. This roof could be recycled old plywood, feed bags, a tarp, etc.
Keep in mind that if your compost pile is completely protected from all elements, it can dry out easily. You will need to maintain proper moisture in your compost pile with water if it has a roof over it.
2. Add Extra Carbon and Lay Off the Nitrogen
Your compost pile is going to need plenty of carbon in the cold months. Carbon is the “brown” stuff, meaning you will want to use leaves, twigs, wood chips and those types of yard wastes.
Winter composting means you won’t be able to add as much nitrogen to your compost piles as you would have in the summer. It simply won’t be processed quickly enough. Reduce how much nitrogen you put into your piles when it’s cold. Remember that nitrogen is simply the “green” stuff like table scraps. You can also add nitrogen like rabbit or chicken manure, which produces a very beneficial heat as it processes.
3. Mix Up Carbon With Nitrogen
Going back to carbon vs. nitrogen once more, try to layer your browns and greens as much as possible. One giant layer of green isn’t going to compost as efficiently as a thin layer of green with a carbon on top. Even better, give a rough mix to the layers.
Keep some bags of dried leaves by your compost pile and when you add in your scraps, throw in about the same amount of leaves, mixing it a bit with your hand.
4. Chop Up Table Scraps First
Since all of the lovely microbes in your compost pile will slow down in winter, it will take longer for scraps to be eaten. You can help this process by chopping up big table scraps before adding them to the pile.
This only takes a moment but really helps your pile continue the composting process throughout winter. Some people even roughly blend their scraps, just for a couple of pulses and not pureed, and add that to their pile.
5. Switch to Hole Composting
Hole composting is fairly self-explanatory. Instead of making a pile above ground, you dig a deep hole and add compost plus scraps to it. You can simply place a board over the hole to protect it from the elements and trap in heat. This makes for a very happy compost pile and makes your job much easier. Come spring you can continue use the compost pile in that manner or move it to join a pile.
6. Let It Go Dormant
Letting your compost piles go dormant is the easiest route, but then you’ll have to find other uses for your kitchen scraps and other organic material. Perhaps you can feed more scraps to your livestock or give them to someone with livestock (such as pigs) that will eat them. Most people just leave their compost piles as-is. It still would be a good idea to shovel off snow before it melts and throw a tarp over it during heavy rains.
If you don’t have compost piles yet but plan to build some up, it would be a good idea to make shelters for them before you start the pile. You may also look into store-bought or DIY completely enclosed compost bins/digesters. These are nice for people living in urban environments as well.
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