Supercharge Your Garden! 4 Steps to Vibrant Soil Using Compost and Crop Rotation

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Pest management and pathogen control are great reasons to use crop rotation. For me, though, nutrient management is my most important reason.

Our soil was devoid of organic matter when we moved to our homestead. I sheet-mulched, piled my beds with fresh compost, cover-cropped, chopped and dropped, trench-composted, and spread worm castings like I was icing a cake.

In short order, we had incredible yields. I thought I was a gardening genius…

Parsnip - Crop Rotation

The first clue that I’d run up against diminishing returns on compost applications was my parsnips. The tuber-tops peaking from the soil were 5 inches wide. The greens were shrubs. I expected a lifetime supply of parsnips. Then I harvested. My parsnips were only 2-3 inches long and looked like parsnip pancakes.

That’s when I learned about nitrogen overload from compost. I yanked my disappointing parsnips and planted corn. My corn was supposed to grow 6 feet tall and have 1 large ear and 1-2 small ears. I got 3 full-sized ears on 10-foot stalks.

With the magic of crop rotation revealed to me in that experience, I studied it and experimented extensively to create optimal crop rotations. Here’s what I learned.

1. Start with a Soil Test

If you haven’t had a comprehensive, professional soil test recently, get one. You’ll be surprised by how much they can tell you about your soil and gardening practices.

Mineral Content

Soil tests include listings of mineral content. If you have deficiencies, they will include application rates for minerals to bring your soil up to par.

They’ll include the phosphorous and potassium (the PK in NPK) content. If you are a regular compost user, it’s easy to overload soil with phosphorous and potassium. This test can let you know if your compost habits put you at risk for excesses.

Soil pH

Soil tests divulge soil pH. Unless your pH is right for what you plan to grow, you might as well be planting on the moon. Most vegetables like a pH around 6.5.

You may have to add lime to make soil alkaline (e.g. raise the pH). Alternately, you may have to add sulfur to acidify soil (lower the pH). A soil test should include recommendations for this, too.

Organic Matter Content

Tests also tell you how much organic matter is in your soil. Less than 3% and you need to add a ton (or tons) of organic matter to get your soil into shape for growing healthy vegetables.

Nitrogen

Nitrogen level is the one thing a good soil test will not tell you. Or, it should warn you that nitrogen results are unreliable. Nitrogen, in the soil, is inherently volatile.

Nitrogen changes based on what you plant (or your weeds), tilling and harvesting practices, amendments used, weather (e.g., lightning adds nitrogen), and water sources. Heavy rain can leach nitrogen, while acid rain adds it.

This volatility is why nitrogen is one of the most difficult forces to manage in a vegetable garden. It’s also why professional growers tend to use slow-release fertilizers, or multiple applications.

If you are like me, though, you want to use stuff you can produce at home without spending a fortune. In that case, consider rotation plans that include rotating your food crops, cover crops, and homemade amendments for nutrient management.

Start by making the adjustments determined by your soil test. When you have a good soil-health baseline, start using crop rotation for long-term nutrient management and soil improvement.

2. Rotate Food Crops by Nitrogen Needs

Nitrogen is like candy to plants. They love it. Some plants can eat all the nitrogen they want and grow better. Others eat too much and end up sick. And just like people sometimes do with candy, plants are prone to eat too much nitrogen when it’s available—even when it’s not good for them.

Plants do need some quantity of nitrogen to grow. The right quantity is good for them (I can’t say the same about candy for people). Still, this analogy offers an easy framework for understanding nitrogen and its use in crop rotations.

To manage plant consumption of nitrogen, the first thing you do is load up the nitrogen in your soil. Then start the rotation party!

  1. Start with plants that thrive on nitrogen—a.k.a. heavy feeders.
  2. After the heavy feeders, bring in plants that benefit from moderate nitrogen. These are your medium feeders.
  3. When the nitrogen is nearly depleted, bring in the candy addicts. These plants can’t handle much nitrogen, but they love it so much they’ll suck every speck of it out of your beds. We call these light feeders, but they are really more like the cleanup crew.
  4. Once your bowl is empty, refill it and start the progression again. Grow nitrogen-fixing plants or add nitrogen-heavy amendments like fresh compost. Or do both.

Real Garden Crop Rotation

In a real garden scenario, this would look like adding a whole bunch of compost and fertilizer to your beds. Then, plant corn, followed by cucumbers, and finally turnips. Next, add more fertilizer and/or bring on the beans (or peas, or clover…).

If you spread this cycle over a four-year period, you have also created a rotation schedule that works for pathogen management by using four different families of plants.

Identify Heavy, Medium, and Light Feeders

When I tried to find a good list of plants by feeding type, I found a lot of discrepancies. I recommend you make your own lists based on what you actually plan to grow and on your own experience in your garden.

Whether you like big agribusiness or not, they sure know how to manage nitrogen for optimal production. Checking nitrogen application rates for commercial fertilizers is a great way to identify your feeder type (even if you won’t be using their products).

Here’s the list I used to glean this information. It’s geared for Wisconsin, but the general reference tables have universal utility.

Page 43 starts a table of nitrogen application rates for many common crops. Those rates change based on the amount of organic matter in soil. Compost-rich beds need less nitrogen than tilled dirt because the biological life in the soil continues to make nitrogen if soil is kept moist.

A table on page 30 tells you how much potassium and phosphorous plants need—as well as which plants will remove it from the soil—which conveniently brings us to our next topic!

Cover Crop - Crop Rotation

3. Rotate Cover Crops for Healthy Soil

In addition to rotating food crops, rotating cover crops is important for nutrient management. Different cover crops serve different functions.

Cover Crop to Remove Excess Potassium and Phosphorous

Compost adds humus and fertility to your garden. However, without good crop rotation, compost can overload soil with phosphorous and potassium in the long run. To prevent this, you need to rotate in plants that are effective at extracting those nutrients.

Alfalfa and red clover are exceptional at extracting potassium and good at extracting phosphorous. Hairy vetch and field peas are excellent for removing excess phosphorous. These plants are also potential nitrogen fixers.

For phosphorous and potassium removal, harvest the above-ground greens to feed your greens-eating livestock or add them to your compost pile for later application. Do not use them as chop-and-drop, or they will just end up right back in the soil. Always leave the roots in the ground, though, for nitrogen-fixing benefits.

Cover Crop to Add Nitrogen

Nitrogen fixers are plants that pull nitrogen from the air and store it in nodes on their roots. When the plants die, the nitrogen nodes decompose and release that stored nitrogen into the soil. Nitrogen fixers add more nitrogen when they are killed before they flower. If they set fruit (e.g., peas or beans), they are more like “nitrogen neutral.”

Nitrogen fixers work best when inoculated with a beneficial bacteria that encourages them to store more nitrogen. Planting rates are different for nitrogen fixing than for food production. To kill plants being used as nitrogen fixers, scythe or mow them to the ground. Leave roots in the ground and greens on the beds.

Cover Crop With a Biofumigant

Mustard is a beneficial biofumigant to break up soil pathogens and pest problems. Mustard also scavenges minerals in deeper soil and makes them available to plants that don’t root as deeply.

When using mustard as a biofumigant and mineral source, you need to purchase cover-crop mustard seeds (not edibles). Before the plants flower, cut them to the ground and gently turn them into your soil.

Cover Crop to Preserve Nitrogen

Grasses like wheat and annual rye are used as cover crops because of their ability to protect soil and scavenge nitrogen. While they don’t technically fix nitrogen like legumes, the biological organisms in your soil will quickly decompose those grasses if they are cut while green and allowed to decompose in the beds they were grown in. As the grass decomposes, it releases nitrogen into the soil at the surface, making it more readily available to next-round crops.

Choosing Your Cover Crop

Cover crops work best when selected based on either what you plan to grow next or on what you harvested, to correct for deficiencies. For example, corn is a heavy feeder. It sucks up nitrogen like a vacuum—as in, everything easily in reach.

After corn, wheat would be a good option. Wheat will pull nitrogen from all the areas the corn missed. If chopped and left on the bed, it decomposes and disperses that nitrogen more uniformly for the next planting (e.g., cucumbers).

Alternately, if nitrogen depletion is suspected, Austrian peas or clover used as a nitrogen fixer would work better than wheat. Rather than having a set schedule for cover crop rotation, make decisions based on the needs of your beds. There are fewer pests and pathogens in cooler weather, so strict rotations are not as necessary with winter cover crops.

Compost - Crop Rotation

4. Rotate Your Homemade Amendments by Crop Needs

If your main amendments are of the homemade variety, you also want to consider rotating the kinds of amendments you put on your beds along with your crops.

4 Types of Compost and Their Uses

Humus Compost

Humus compost is the stuff made by layering browns and greens at a ratio of 25 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen, making a large pile that heats to at least 130°F, turning it a few times, and then allowing it to age for 2 years. Humus increases the air- and water-holding capacity of soil and allows biological life to thrive. This kind of humus compost doesn’t have a lot of nitrogen.

Fresh Compost

The biological life that makes compost also creates nitrogen through their digestive processes. The longer a pile ages, the more nitrogen and other nutrients leach out by way of rain, air, etc. Fresh compost is made by the same process as humus compost. It’s just been aged less than six months and so has more nitrogen.

Composted Manure

Composted manure—i.e., a pile of manure mixed with fallen feed and bedding materials not necessarily at a rate of 25:1—can radically vary in nitrogen and nutrient content. Store-bought chicken manure has a 3-2-3 rating for NPK. Meanwhile, uncomposted chicken manure could have an NPK rating of 40-60-40, 55-55-47, or other variations.

Personally, I use a mix of chicken and goat manure that’s been aged for 3-6 months as a nitrogen source. I don’t know the exact nitrogen content, but it doesn’t burn my plants and it grows huge corn and cabbage.

Mystery Compost

Mystery compost happens when you throw a bunch of stuff together and wait. The nitrogen content will vary by what’s in the pile and what decomposed it. You could just throw it on your beds fairly fresh and hope you get lucky! Or, you could age it and use it for humus.

With these compost definitions out of the way, on to when to use them for nutrient management crop rotation.

Rotating Compost Applications for Nutrient Management

Here’s what my amendment rotations generally look like:

Year 1: Apply 4 inches of fresh or manure compost.

The risks from E. coli and other bad bacteria are minimized if your compost materials are 6 months old when your food is harvested. If you are growing lettuce, aim for 6-month-old compost to start. If you are growing vegetables like winter squash, aim for 3-month-old compost, because it will be over 6 months old by the time you harvest.

Year 2: Apply 2-4 inches of humus compost

Humus compost will still provide some nitrogen and other nutrients. Mainly though, it will help preserve any leftover nitrogen from the fresh compost in year 1 and replace the organic matter you harvested.

Year 3: Apply 2 inches of mulch to preserve moisture.

By year 3 in this plan, you are organic-matter heavy. You may also have extra potassium and phosphorous. For light feeders, just use mulch to protect your soil and preserve moisture rather than piling on compost.

Mulch is essentially browns with no greens. Straw, leaves, or wood chips work well. Mulch will eventually decompose and add nutrients, but not within the planting period that you apply it.

Year 4: Add nitrogen; remove phosphorous and potassium.

This is when you want to plant your nitrogen-fixing, phosphorous- and potassium-extracting cover crops.

Personally, I like to eat some peas and beans, too. I plant peas and beans to eat in early spring through mid-summer. I cover-crop from late summer through winter. I mulch the plants I grow for me and leave them on the beds. I remove the greens and leave the roots from my cover crops.

Year 5: Soil test and repeat.

Start the cycle again. But first, get another soil test and make adjustments as necessary. That second soil test is like a report card on how you are doing with your crop rotations for nutrient management.

Be Flexible in Your Use of Amendments

Just like with cover-crop rotations, if your beds seem depleted, then you may need to add fresh compost rather than humus compost. You may want to add humus compost rather than mulch if your beds feel dirt heavy and humus short. You may also need to up your game at times and apply worm castings or other stronger amendments. Use the health of your crops as your guide.

Crop-Rotation Conversation—What Do You Think?

To do crop rotation really well, you need to make it specific to your soil, pests, pathogen risks, crops, and amendments. There’s no canned crop-rotation plan that is going to work well for every garden.

Personally, I love the challenge of figuring out effective crop rotations. Gardening could get boring really fast if you weren’t taking your skills to the next level, paying attention to your plants, and improving your processes.

My intent with this series has been to inspire you with some of my crop-rotation concepts. Now, I’d like to hear from you!

What kind of rotations are you thinking of, what are you using now, and what is your intuition telling you? What works? What doesn’t?

(Also, include your growing region and soil type (loam, sand, clay) if possible so others can decide whether your ideas will work for them. I started with clay, but now have what I call clay-loam.)

Please join the conversation on crop rotation and share your comments below!

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Aerobic Compost Tea, Worm Tea, and Leachate—A Clarification

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In the course of preparing for our Texas Master Gardener Worm Bin Workshop, I came across a lot of inconsistent information. Among the most confusing issues was that many sources both online and in print seem to confuse the terms referring to leachate and worm tea. The same sources also seem to blow it again when talking about worm tea versus aerobic compost tea. It’s easy to find yourself hopelessly confused!

In this article, I hope to demystify the subject a bit and provide clarity on a confusing topic.

 

Myh Worm bin

 

Let’s start with leachate, the liquid that comes off the worm bin.

What is Leachate?

One of the most contentious issues in worm composting is what to do with the leachate. The most common definition of leachate is any liquid that, in the course of passing through matter, extracts soluble or suspended solids, or any other component of the material through which it has passed.

Leachate is a widely used term in the environmental sciences industries, where it has the specific negative meaning of a liquid that has dissolved environmentally harmful substances that may come to enter the environment. But for the purposes of this article, we are defining leachate as the raw liquid runoff (or seepage) that settles in or below the vermicompost or worm castings in a worm bin.

The controversy stems, in large part, from the debate over aerated compost tea versus non-aerated compost tea. Fans of aerated compost tea do not like the fact that worm bin leachate is anaerobic, which they believe encourages the growth of microorganisms unfavorable to plants. They like to point out that worm bin leachate is not aerated compost tea.

This is completely true, but I am not so convinced that this is a big problem. Those critical of using this “worm juice” do make valid points, and I, too, recommend using leachate with care, but I did find two peer-reviewed studies showing the benefits of unaerated worm compost leachate: “Vermicomposting Leachate (Worm Tea) as Liquid Fertilizer for Maize” and “Vermicompost Leachate Alleviates Deficiency of Phosphorus and Potassium in Tomato Seedlings.” I also found several Extension Service publications that tout the use of worm bin leachate.

It is not at all unusual for folks to be a little hazy on what to do with their “worm juice.” One lady I spoke with the other day said, “We just changed our bins to add a drainage system. I just pulled the cork out and got nearly two cups of worm juice. My husband is trying to convince me that I should go ahead and feed it to my house plants, but I’m worried that adding this cocktail to my basically inert potting soil might stir up problems. Is it safe to use this stuff as a fertilizer?”

Another person said, “I get this dark liquid from my worm bins. I’m thinking most of the juice came from the castings and might have some great stuff in it, and not a lot of rotten stuff, and that’s why I kind of want to give it to the plants. Is that a bad idea? I just want to know what the heck to do with it. It’s winter here, so I can’t put it on my garden beds outside. I really don’t want to waste it, though! What do people do with it? Do you put it on your house plants, and have you gotten a good reaction from it?”

These are excellent questions. I’ve talked and written about this topic a number of times, but it’s definitely one that continues to confuse people and deserves to be revisited from time to time.

Unfortunately, there seems to be misleading information provided by some worm bin manufacturers (and website owners). The terms “worm tea,” “worm compost tea,” “castings tea,” or “vermicompost tea” should actually refer to the liquid fertilizer created by steeping (soaking) quality castings/compost in water (often aerated) for a period of time.

The problem is that many people refer to the liquid that drains out from a worm bin as “worm tea.” This is incorrect. The proper term for this is actually “leachate.”

Obviously, we’re only talking about semantics here, so it may seem that I’m splitting hairs, but keeping the distinction between these terms is actually quite important.

While leachate can certainly have value as a liquid fertilizer (especially when drained from a mature worm bin and diluted), it should be treated with a lot more caution than good-quality worm tea.

As water passes down through a worm bin, it can pick up all sorts of unstable metabolites (various products/intermediates of the decomposition process). If, for example, you have some fairly anaerobic zones in your worm bin, you can end up with various phytotoxins (toxins that can harm plants and humans). Some of these toxins are created by bacteria.

Every worm bin has good and bad microbes. This is perfectly fine and is even expected—provided, of course, that the good ones outnumber the bad ones.

Some leachate can contain harmful pathogens because it has not been processed through the worms’ intestinal tracts. It is often recommended that it should not be used on garden plants you plan to serve to your friends and family.

During decomposition, waste releases liquid from its cell structures as it breaks down. This leachate seeps down through the worm composter into the collection area. The leachate should be drained regularly, and if you are getting more than 2-4 ounces of liquid in a week, the worm composter is probably too wet!

If your composter has a spigot attached, I would recommend leaving the spigot open with a container underneath to catch the leachate. This will prevent it from building up in your system. Just keep an eye on it to make sure your container doesn’t overflow!

If, like me, you have a homemade worm bin, you can keep a drip pan underneath to catch the leachate.

 

worm castings

 

Finished composts are much better to use for brewing worm tea because they are much more uniform in composition, and the vast majority (if not all) the potentially harmful compounds have been converted into something more stabilized.

The microbial community present in these materials tends to be more beneficial, as well.

I’m not trying to scare you here, and I am not implying that leachate is “poison” and should never be used. I’m simply saying that while leachate can have value as a liquid fertilizer, it should be treated with caution. For every story extolling the benefits of using leachate, there is one lamenting problems from having used it.

If you decide you want to use leachate, I recommend taking some extra steps:

1. Do not use it if it smells bad! It should smell like earth (and not gross) when it comes out of the worm composter. If it smells bad, pour it out on an area like a roadway or driveway where it cannot harm living plants or animals.
2. Dilute it at a ratio of 10 parts water to 1 part leachate (10:1).
3. Aerate it with an air pump if available.
4. Use it outdoors on shrubs, ornamentals, or flowering plants only. Do not use on plants you intend to eat.

What Is Worm Tea?

Now let’s move on to the next confusing liquid: worm tea. Worm tea is about what it sounds like—worm castings steeped in water for a certain amount of time.

“Fresh earthworm castings contain more organic material—nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium—than soil itself,” according to Texas Agrilife Extension Service. Worm castings and the tea you make from them also ward off root-knot nematodes—a parasitic creature that causes deformed roots and drains nutrients out of plants. Plants like strawberries that tend to attract fungal spores will also benefit. Castings contain anti-fungal chemicals that help kill the spores of black spot and powdery mildew.

 

Worm tea

 

Making simple worm tea is really nothing more than steeping—much like making any other tea you would drink yourself. It is very easy, and it is good for your plants, too.

In the process of steeping, water is added to the earthworm castings to simply extract the microbes from the castings into the water. The resulting liquid solution is then applied to plants or soil in various ways.

Many bottled teas you see on the shelf use this method.

To make your own, just take a bunch of worm castings and put them in the bottom third of a bucket. Fill the rest of the bucket with rainwater or non-chlorinated water (or tap water left out in the sunlight for 24 hours if you must). Let the mixture steep for 24 hours. Strain out the solids, dilute with water at a 1:1 ratio, and apply directly to your plants or soil.

What is Aerobic Compost Tea?

 

aerobic worm tea

 

Aerobic compost tea is also known as aerobic worm tea, and it is known mostly for its ability to boost microbiological activity in soil by adding beneficial bacteria, fungi, acinomycetes, and protozoa to the soil. It is brewed either by soaking a porous bag full of worm castings in water or by simply dumping the castings into a container of clean, chemical-free water. Molasses, corn syrup, or another microbial food source is then added to the water as a catalyst to stimulate growth of the microbes. And finally, an air-pumping system is installed to create an aerobic (or oxygenated) environment for the multiplying microorganisms.

Aerobic compost tea is beneficial in many ways. The microbes delivered in aerobic compost tea help plants by out-competing anaerobic and other pathogenic organisms within the soil. These beneficial microorganisms can also move in to occupy infected sites on plants’ root and leaf surfaces. Brewing aerobic compost tea speeds up the growth rate of microbes such as bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes, and multiplies their numbers exponentially. As a result, this method populates your garden with beneficial microbes more rapidly than applying worm castings alone.

When you spray or pour the tea on the soil, you are not only feeding the plant, but also increasing the number of beneficial microbes in the soil, thus crowding out the bad ones. It has been proven that the tea, along with the castings, can significantly increase plant growth, as well as crop yields, in the short term (a season) and especially in the long term over a period of several seasons.

Along with these great benefits come a boost in the plant’s own immune system, enabling it to resist parasites like the infamous aphid, tomato cyst eelworms, and root-knot nematodes. Plants produce certain hormones that insects find distasteful, so they are repelled. Aerobic compost tea also helps a plant to resist diseases such as Pythium and Rhizoctonia.

When either worm tea or the more effective aerobic compost tea is sprayed on leaves and foliage, detrimental and disease-causing microbes are again outnumbered and cannot grow their numbers to dominate any single plant. The teas also aid the plant in creating the “cuticle,” a waxy layer on top of the epidermis, or plant skin. This waxy surface protects the leaves from severe elements and reduces attacks by certain harmful microorganisms and insects.

Making Your Own Compost Tea

Making any type of organic compost tea involves a few key steps:

  1. Choosing the right compost
  2. Choosing the right nutrients
  3. Brewing and applying the tea correctly

Please note that the instructions below are only meant to give you some background about tea making, not a step-by-step guide on how to make the teas. We provide information on that elsewhere on the site, such as in this article by David the Good:

Read More: “Compost Tea: An Easy Way to Stretch Compost”

The compost used in making tea is like the starter you use in making yogurt. The compost inoculates the tea with organisms. Thus, you want the compost you begin with to have a good diversity of beneficial organisms. Worm castings are super for this purpose!

Keep in mind that different plants differ in their soil preferences. Some need a bacteria-dominated soil, others want a fungi-dominated soil, and still others like a soil that’s somewhere in between.

When making an organic compost with more fungi, mix in larger amounts of cardboard, paper, sawdust, wood shavings, and heavy stalk plant material as you prepare the compost. For bacterial dominance, use food waste and green plant waste. Whatever compost you use, be sure it is finished, well-stabilized compost, and that it’s fairly fresh. Again, worm castings are ideal for this.

As I mentioned above, I really like to use rainwater whenever I can, but you can always use dechlorinated water. One old-timer I talked to said he only ever uses pond water to make his compost teas. I have seen his garden, and I can tell you it looks to me like using pond water is a good way to go!

The nutrients you introduce while brewing also influence the finished tea.

To encourage the development of fungi in the tea, you can mix two parts humic acid; two parts yucca, saponin, or aloe vera; and one part fish hydrolyzate or other proteins into the water.

For bacterial dominance, you can feed one liquid ounce blackstrap molasses per gallon of tea and and an equal amount of cold-water kelp. For the molasses, you can also substitute brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup if you like.

 

Raised bed results

 

Go to the library or search online for information on leachate, worm tea, and aerobic compost tea and you will find many sources of conflicting information, mainly over the terminology involved in determining what is actually leachate and what is a worm tea (be it aerobic or simple tea). The main thing to remember is that while any form of worm tea may not sound too appetizing to you and me, our plants will really love it.

Worm tea lets you fertilize without adding bulk to your soil, and water your garden with something really healthy for your plants. Trust me here, your garden will practically jump up and shout “Hallelujah!” when fertilized with either worm tea or aerobic compost tea, and you will be amazed at the growth, flowering, and fruiting that results.

Spray your plants liberally on the leaves, stems, and surrounding soil. Use teas on clay soil to begin its transformation to humus. Use them on your flowers indoors and out, and on your other house plants to feed and nourish both the plants and the soil.

Read More: “Fertilizing Container Gardens: A Beginner’s Guide”

Use teas on your compost pile to introduce the microbial activity and hasten the compost pile’s beneficial breaking-down process. Inoculate the ground surrounding your fruit trees. Use them on manure piles that stink and marvel at how fast the stink and flies go away! A properly brewed worm tea is child, pet, and wildlife friendly.

A few things to keep in mind:

Foliar Spray/Wash: It’s best to spray all surfaces of your plants in the early morning or late afternoon when the suns angle is low and less intense. When possible, do your foliar spraying on clear days, since rain may wash away some of the microbial activity.
Soil Inoculant/Drenching: Always apply teas out of direct, intense sunlight. Use them pure or dilute them (10:1 is a suggested maximum dilution rate). Dilution ratios vary for different application techniques and equipment. An ideal time to apply is during periods of mist or fog, but not heavy rain. Alternately, irrigate a little before your application to ensure the microbes will survive and can travel more quickly and safely to their new job locations. Always use nonchlorinated water.
Smell: If a tea stinks, do not use it on your vegetables, as it is demonstrating anaerobic properties and may contain pathogens. Some suggest you use this stinky mix on an undesirable weed bed!

In Summary

Leachate–The correct word for the dark liquid that comes out of the bottom of your worm bin. If your bin is maintained correctly, you should have very little leachate and what you do have can be used safely (in 1:10 diluted form) on your ornamental plants. Sometimes leachate is incorrectly referred to as “worm tea.” Some sites refer to it as “worm wee,” but even that is technically incorrect.

Simple Worm Tea–A mix of worm castings and water. Useful if you don’t have an air pump but still want some liquid fertilizer from your worm bin.

Aerobic Compost Tea–An aerated mixture of worm castings, nonchlorinated water, and molasses or another microbial food source. It contains an active culture of microorganisms and should be used immediately, otherwise the benefit of aeration is all but lost.

I really hope that this article helps clear things up. I know that many of you may not agree with the terminology I have used in this article, but I think that using the above will help to demystify an area of gardening that can be of great benefit to all of us!

(This article was originally published October 2, 2015.)

 

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Compost Tea: An Easy Way to Stretch Your Compost

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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.)

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‘7 Ways to Feed Your Garden for Free’

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Last year, David the Good filmed a fun (and funny) presentation for The Grow Network’s Home Grown Food Summit on how you can keep your garden fed and maximize the nutrition in your food without spending a dime.

Well, we’re a Community of sustainability-minded DIYers who like to find ways to turn trash into garden treasure, so is it any wonder that David’s video on “7 Ways to Feed Your Garden for Free” ended up being one of the event’s most popular presentations? (Plus, you know, David is just a likeable, funny guy, so that probably helped, too. 🙂 )

Read More: “Homemade Fertilizers—15 Simple and Inexpensive Options”

Anyway, David posted this video on YouTube on February 4, aaaaaand it’s already got more than 10,000 views. Translation? You should watch it now, too! 🙂

Here it is:

As David says, “The presentation clocks in at about 45 minutes long and should be a great inspiration for your spring gardening plans.”

Amen to that!

Then, let your TGN Community know in the comments: What are some other ways you like to feed your garden for free?

 

The post ‘7 Ways to Feed Your Garden for Free’ appeared first on The Grow Network.

The Laws of Nature: A Touchstone for Gardening

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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.

Calvin Bey - Harmony Gardens

#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.

Laws of Nature - Mile-High Corn - Calvin Bey

#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.

Laws of Nature - Strawberry Harvest - Calvin Bey

#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.

Laws of Nature - Harvest Basket - Calvin Bey

Take-Home Lessons

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Wherever possible, encourage diversity of species. Use companion planting where you can.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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Fertilizing Container Gardens: A Beginner’s Guide

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When you’re new to growing vegetables and herbs in pots, figuring out the how, when, and what of fertilizing container gardens can feel overwhelming. This article is the second in a three-part series that offers a beginner-friendly guide to feeding your potted edibles.

In part 1 of the series, I talk about fertilizing basics, including the special challenges plants face when growing in containers and why feeding them is essential to their health.

This article, part 2 of the series, provides my four-part recommendation for fertilizing and offers three sample schedules you can follow depending on the plants you’re growing and your gardening goals.

Part 3 of the series is designed to give you in-depth information about the four types of fertilizers and supplements: liquid fertilizers, liquid supplements, granular fertilizers, and granular supplements.

A 4-Part Recommendation for Fertilizing Container-Grown Vegetables and Herbs

All of the following recommendations can easily be classified into one of four main categories:

  1. Liquid fertilization
  2. Liquid supplements
  3. Granular fertilization
  4. Granular supplements

For a basic beginner’s approach, you can get by doing only the first one, liquid fertilization. I think this is the bare minimum if you want to grow healthy food in a pot.

If you’re overwhelmed by this information, or if you’re just too busy to fuss with it, simply pick up a bottle of liquid organic fertilizer and start there.

That alone will probably take care of most of your problems, and greatly improve the quantity and quality of the food you grow.

An ideal fertilization regimen for container plants would include all four of these categories. If you have a special baby in a container, do all four. Your plant will thank you for it.

I do all four of these for some edibles that I grow in pots—especially fruit-intensive plants like tomatoes.

There are a few key exceptions that I’ll talk about below.

As you learn more, you’ll figure out which bits and pieces are most important for different plants, for different problems, and for different uses.

  • When I first noticed the visual difference in my aloe plants after they got a handful of mineral sand, something clicked, and I haven’t planted aloes without trace minerals since.
  • When I saw how much resin accumulated on a calendula plant that grew in a tomato pot with regular high-potassium fertilizer, something clicked, and now I always use high-potassium fertilizer on calendula.
  • When I first saw the visual difference in my strawberries after they were treated with liquid seaweed, something clicked again. I don’t grow strawberries anymore, but if I see someone else’s strawberries suffering, I know that a little liquid seaweed will probably fix them right up.

This is the learning curve, and with each new experiment, you’ll add another piece to the puzzle.

Schedules for Container Plant Fertilization

As I said above, I think the best basic, beginner’s plan for fertilizing container plants is to use a simple, well-balanced, organic liquid fertilizer. There is more information on specific fertilizers below.

The Basic Schedule

Regarding the schedule for using fertilizers, I generally would recommend one application every two weeks.

So, a basic schedule would look like this:

  • Week 1: Liquid fertilizer
  • Week 2: Skip
  • Week 3: Liquid fertilizer
  • Week 4: Skip
  • Repeat indefinitely

An Intermediate Schedule for Certain Situations

If I notice that the soil smells off in a certain pot, I will often apply aerobic compost tea to restore healthy microbial life to the container. I apply this on the off weeks when I am not giving liquid fertilizer.

If I am growing a crop that specifically appreciates some liquid seaweed, like strawberries, or leafy spring greens that have survived into the heat of summer, I will also apply the seaweed on the off weeks.

So, an intermediate schedule might look like this:

  • Week 1: Liquid fertilizer
  • Week 2: Liquid supplement
  • Week 3: Liquid fertilizer
  • Week 4: Liquid supplement
  • Repeat indefinitely

An Advanced Schedule for Special Plants

If I am growing tomatoes in a pot, I go all out. I use all four categories, and I give the plants everything in my arsenal to ensure a healthy life and a good yield.

An advanced schedule for special plants would look something like this:

  • At planting: Granular fertilizer and granular supplements
  • Week 1 after planting: Skip
  • Week 2 after planting: Liquid supplements
  • Week 3 after planting: Liquid fertilizer
  • Continue to alternate a week of liquid supplements and a week of liquid fertilizer until fruit set, then:
  • At fruit set: Granular fertilizer and granular supplements
  • Week 1 after fruit set: Skip
  • Week 2 after fruit set: Liquid supplements
  • Week 3 after fruit set: Liquid fertilizer and liquid supplements
  • Continue applying liquid fertilizer and liquid supplements each week until the end of the growing season.

Any time I’m applying a lot of fertilizer and supplements, as in the example above, I cut back on the dilution strength of the liquids and the volume of the granular. The general idea is to give less, more often.

A Few Key Exceptions

I distinguish between leafy annuals and woody perennials in my fertilization schedules.

Some woody perennial plants don’t appreciate the extra nutrients, and you can cause more harm than good by overdoing it with regular fertilization.

Woody herbs like rosemary and lavender are especially sensitive to this. I fertilize rosemary about half as often as I fertilize other plants, and I fertilize lavender rarely if ever.

Blueberries benefit from special treatment in a container. They love seaweed, iron, and acidity. Watering with vinegar is beneficial here. Give your potted blueberries some extra love and they will pay you back with plenty of tasty berries.

When I’m growing tomatoes in a pot, as I said above, I go all out. I use everything in my arsenal to get the plant as productive as possible. I normally don’t worry about burning plants with too much fertilizer, because I only use mild organic fertilizers and I dilute them well. In this case, however, I always keep a close eye on the leaf margins to make sure that I am not overdoing it with the tomatoes.

 

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(This is an updated version of a post that was originally published in October 2015.)

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Small-Space Vermiculture, Step-by-Step

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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?

  1. 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.
  2. Bury the food in the bin.
  3. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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?

Need other ways to compost in a small space? Check out this article!

Now we want to hear your wormy stories! Do you practice small-space vermiculture? Tell us in the comment below.

Resources:

EPA. Composting At Home.

 

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Homemade Fertilizers – 15 Simple and Inexpensive Options

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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.

Homemade fertilizers include fresh bananas

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.

Read more: How to Measure Your Favorite Organic Fertilizers

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.

Aquarium Water

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

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

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.

Coffee Grounds

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.

Cooking Water

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

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.

Epsom Salts

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

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!

Green Tea

A weak solution of green tea can be used to water plants every four weeks.  Use one teabag to 2 gallons of water.

Hair

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.

Horse Feed

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.

Matches

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

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.

Instructions

• 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!

Instructions

• 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

Homemade fish emulsion fertilizers

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.

Instructions

• 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.

Instructions

• 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.

Homemade manure tea fertilizer

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.

Instructions

• 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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The post Homemade Fertilizers – 15 Simple and Inexpensive Options appeared first on The Grow Network.

35 Cheap Organic Fertilizers to Power UP Your Garden

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Home gardeners spend millions each year on fertilizer for their gardens and houseplants. WOW! While many scientists agree that chemical fertilizer is harming the environment, organic fertilizer is draining our wallets. The good news is that you can easily make your own fertilizers from organic waste material and other things that you have around the house.

3 Reasons You Need Organic Fertilizer

Your plants need organic fertilizer because:

  1. Most soil does not provide the essential nutrients that are required for the best plant growth and production.
  2. Even if you are super lucky to have rich loamy soil that all of us crave, as your plants grow they absorb those nutrients and leave the soil less fertile.
  3. All of those beautiful flowers, fruits, and veggies that you grew last year took the nutrients that were in the soil. This year, your garden needs another boost of nutrients for this year’s plants.

Why It’s Important To Know Your Soil

While it’s important to fertilize your plants and the soil, it’s also important to know what your soil needs. That’s where a soil test comes in. Get one from your local county extension office. When you send in your sample, you’ll get the report. It tells you what your soil has in abundance and what you really need to add for best plant growth.

Also, soils vary in their ability to hold nutrients and make them available to plants. Sandy soils do not hold nutrients well, clay soils do. However, clay soils do not like to give up the water they hold, so it is more difficult for plants to take up the nutrients that are available.

Which Do I Need A Soil Amendment Or Organic Fertilizer?

Soil amendments are mixed with soil to improve the physical properties or increase microbial action. It makes a plant’s roots happy and healthy. Amendments improve the soil’s water retention, permeability, drainage, air holding capacity, and structure.

Fertilizers are soil amendments that are applied to promote plant growth not change the soils characteristics.

The short answer is you need both. Okay, so what’s the difference? Soil Amendments are added to…well…the soil!  You can add them before, during, or after planting. However, the nutrients are not readily available for the plants to take up. Microorganisms in the soil need to break them down further so the plants can use the nutrients in the amendment. Fertilizers are pretty close to being available for the plants to get their nutrients pretty quickly. Think of soil amendments like eating your favorite veggie. The nutrients in that veggie aren’t readily available for your body to use right away. Your body has to digest it for the nutrients to be available for your body to use.

Organic vs. Inorganic Manufactured Fertilizer

Organic fertilizer comes from the remains of or are because of different types of organisms. Microorganisms found in the soil breakdown the organic material, making its nutrients readily available to the plants.

Inorganic fertilizers completely or partially contain man-made materials. Manufacturers combine these in different ways and amounts to get a super-growth fertilizer that may or may not be organic. Many inorganic fertilizers are manufactured using fossil fuels, too.

TIP: Over use of inorganic fertilizers or adding a fertilizer that your soil or plants don’t need can lead to a buildup of salts and other minerals in the soil causing damage to your plants. It can also be a waste of money. More is not better when it comes to any kind of fertilizer!

Organic Fertilizer

Organic fertilizer releases nutrients slowly and decreases the risk of over-fertilization. The slow release of nutrients also means they are available for a longer period of time. Many organic fertilizers improve your soil, by increasing your soil’s ability to hold water and nutrients. They will also help decrease erosion and hard, packed soil due to wind and rain. Organic fertilizer adds natural nutrients, feeds important microbes, and improves the soil structure.

On the downside, organic fertilizer is released slowly so your plants will be nutrient deficient until the decomposing process is completed, and some organic fertilizers contain lower percentages of the three key nutrients: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (N-P-K). Timing is everything with any fertilizer. The best time is to add them when your soil is waiting to be planted.

TIP: There are fast-acting organic fertilizers, too. Bat guano, fish meal, and worm casting all have nutrients readily available for plants.

 

You’ve probably already read about
15 of the best fertilizers here.

Here are 35 more great fertilizers to consider:

  1. Worm castings
 – Worm castings are soil superfood! They provide nitrogen and make soil absorbent. A huge number of beneficial microbes and bacteria are introduced to the soil, too.
  2. Beer
 – The jury is out on this one. Many tests have shown that beer doesn’t add anything, but some people swear by it. Beer is a simple sugar and plants need complex sugars. Scientifically speaking, it probably doesn’t work. However, it does work to get rid of slugs and is a great cool down on a hot gardening day! Also, if you brew your own beer or live near a microbrewery, you might want to use “Beer Mash” (the grains leftover from making beer). It’s a great soil amendment.
  3. Ammonia
 – Ammonia naturally occurs in the soil. There are microbes in the soil that pull nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil in the form of ammonia. The amount is what is important here. Use 1 or 2 ounces per gallon of water mixed with molasses. Microbes love this stuff. If you’re uncomfortable using man-made ammonia, you can always slide down the list and use urine instead.
  4. Liquid Dish Soap
 – This is another one that is up for debate. There are a lot of studies that show that dish detergent (made with a lot of chemicals) is harmful to plants. However, there are some organic dish soaps that will help your “supertonic” to penetrate the soil. You only need a couple of drops in 32 oz. of water to get the job done. Remember, more is not better!
  5. Dog and Cat Food
 – Make sure that it is an organic pet food. Sprinkle the dry pet food on the bed or container. Turn the soil or water it in. It provides protein to feed the fungi and bacteria, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium, plus other minerals. To discourage vertebrae pests, be sure to cover this fertilizer with cardboard.
  6. Tea
 – Tea and tea bags are excellent for your garden. As the bag and tea decompose, they release nitrogen. First, make sure your tea bag is compostable. You don’t want the ones made of polypropylene. If the bag is slippery, don’t use it in the garden. Tea also makes a great brew for acid-loving plants like azaleas and blueberries. Tea also helps deter some root maggots.
  7. Bone Meal
 – Alright so this is a stretch for just having some lying around the house. However, bone meal is a really good source of phosphorus and protein. It is coarsely ground animal bones and waste products. Make sure you need phosphorus in your soil before adding it. A soil test is your best friend in the garden. However, if you want to make your own bone meal, here’s what you do: 1. Collect bones by storing them in the freezer. 2. Clean them by making a bone broth. 3. Once they are clean, sterilize them. Place them on a baking sheet under the broiler for 10-15 minutes. 4. Dry the bones by placing the cooking sheet on the counter for about three to four weeks. They need to be completely dry. 5. Crush them into a fine powder with a food processor. If you use a mortar and pestle, be sure to wear a mask over your nose and mouth. 6. It is now ready to use.
  8. Antacid Tablets
 – If your soil is low in calcium, this should be a go-to. It helps prevent blossom end rot in your tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Push one tablet into the soil by the plant’s roots. Voila! Instant calcium boost.
  9. Coconut Coir
 – Coconut coir has become the replacement for the non-renewable Peat Moss. This soil amendment adds air and space to assist with water retention and nutrient uptake. It makes a great seedling starter!
  10. Humanure – (To prevent pathogens and disease, only use for fruit and nut tree, not vegetables)
 Okay, I hear you with your “Ewww’s,” but hear me out. This organic material is a valuable resource rich in soil nutrients. In the U.S., each of us wastes more than a thousand pounds of humanure each year. Composting is key! It takes a year to fully compost human feces and breakdown the pathogens. For more information, check out The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins.
  11. Newspaper
 – Makes a great mulch and soil amendment. The added bonus is that the soil-based ink kills diseases in the soil. It can be shredded or laid in a thick layer on your beds. It is best to wet the newspaper before applying.
  12. Comfrey
 – This deep-rooted herb was once a traditional remedy to help heal broken bones. Its vast root system acts as an accumulator by extracting a wide range of nutrients from deep in your soil. These nutrients naturally accumulate in its fast-growing leaves. Cut 4 to 5 pounds (1.8 to 2.27 kg) of leaves from each plant. It is super-rich in nitrogen and potassium. Some research has shown that comfrey leaves have 2 to 3 times more potassium than farmyard manures!
  13. Urine
 – Yes, you read that right! Human urine is an excellent source of nitrogen. It is great to add to compost tea or your compost pile as an activator. Pathogens, disease, and toxins are quickly killed within 24 hours of leaving your body. Dilute the urine with water in a ratio 1::2 and water your plants.
  14. Citrus rinds – 
Stir those rinds right into the soil. As they break down, they’ll release sulfur, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and more nutrients. You can also dry the peels and grind them into a fine powder that can be added to the soil.
  15. Kelp meal or seaweed
 – Kelp contains small amounts of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, but it’s very high in trace elements, too. Typically, you’ll mix this liquid fertilizer with water. Use it as a foliar spray or pour it onto the soil around plants.
  16. Granite dust – 
Granite is made of volcanic rock. It is filled with more than 60 different elements, including potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Trace elements in granite make the soil nutrient dense. Be sure to read the label!
  17. Green manures
 – This is a favorite! Green manures are a fall cover crop that is grown on beds or pastures before or after crops or flowers to add nutrients back into the soil as they grow. They get turned under after their season. Some green manures include clovers, vetch, rye, and mustards.
  18. White Vinegar
 – There is a lot of chatter on the Internet about white vinegar changing the pH level of your soil. Tests have shown that it may have a temporary effect, but it is nearly impossible to change the pH of your soil, except over the very long-term. However, feed your container plants with a mixture of 1 Tablespoon of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of sugar in 8 ounces of water. Bring the mix to a slow boil until the sugar dissolves. Then, let it cool and feed those hungry plants.
  19. Grass clippings and Weeds – These are an excellent source of nitrogen and potassium for your fertilizer teas. Put the clippings in a 5-gallon bucket filled with water. Cover and let marinate for 3 to 4 weeks. You’ll have a lovely batch of “green” fertilizer tea.
  20. Mushrooms
 – The part of the mushroom that you see is actually the fruiting body. In the soil is where the real magic happens. Fungi are part of the soil web that helps bring nutrients to your plants.
  21. Borax
 – Some plants of the Brassica Family, like broccoli and cauliflower need boron (found in borax). Be sure to do a soil test to see if your soil needs boron. If it does, sprinkle 1 Tablespoon over 100 linear feet.
  22. Bat guano
 – Whether fresh or dry, bat poo adds a heavy dose of nitrogen to the soil. It acts fast and has very little odor. It also helps enrich the soil and help with drainage and texture. Add it directly to the soil or make a bat guano tea!
  23. Rabbit droppings
 – Bunny poo has a high concentration of nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as other trace minerals. It can be added directly into the soil or added to your compost pile. Bunny Poo Tea can be made using a 5-gallon bucket, a shovel full of rabbit pellets, add water, and let steep for two days. Water the soil when it’s ready!
  24. Chicken feathers – Feathers from your backyard chickens add nitrogen to your compost pile, and eventually, the garden. First, put them into your compost pile to let them decompose.
  25. Shellfish – 
Lobster, shrimp, and crab shells provide nutrients, including phosphorus. However, the bacteria that breaks them down is even more important! Simmer the shells for 20 to 30 minutes in boiling water. Drain well. Put them in a food dehydrator or oven until dry. Crush the shells with a mortar and pestle. Add to your compost pile or directly into the soil.
  26. Baking Soda – 
In order to sweeten tomatoes and discourage pests, lightly sprinkle baking soda on the soil.
  27. Compost
 – Compost is a great soil amendment and provides nutrients and micro-organisms to your soil. The microorganisms make the nutrients available for the plants to take up. However, some research is showing that compost teas are ineffective. Basically, it is watering down the nutrients in the compost, and doesn’t make it any more available to the plants to take up. Click here to read more about boosting your compost pile.
  28. Alfalfa
 – Alfalfa is commonly used as part of livestock feed. However, alfalfa meal is simply ground up so that it breaks down faster. This particular fertilizer has low amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. As a result, alfalfa meal works fairly slow. The best use for this fertilizer is as a soil amendment in the early spring prior to planting crops.
  29. Nettles
 – The stinging hairs of the nettle plant may deter you from using this bad boy, but if you can stand it, put your harvest into a 5-gallon bucket, and cover them with water. In 3 to 4 weeks, you’ll have wonderful plant food for your garden.
  30. Hydrogen Peroxide
 – Your plants’ roots will thank you for a little extra oxygen. Mix 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide with 2 cups of water. Water your plant’s roots with the solution.
  31. Pine needles or Straw
 – Adding pine needles supplies nitrogen to your soil. It also adds bulk that will bring in the beneficial microbes to help break them down.
  32. Blood Meal
 – Add crucial nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen to the soil by using blood meal to promote healthy plant growth. Want to make your own blood meal? You can! Gather the blood. If you’re a woman, use your menstrual blood by collecting it in a menstrual cup. You can gather it from your meals, or from butchering some of your animals, too. Either way, pour the blood onto a baking sheet. Put it into a 375° oven. Keep it in the oven until all the blood is completely dry, about 20 minutes. Let cool. Scrape the dried blood off the baking sheet and into a container. Use a mortar and pestle to ground the blood into a fine powder.
  33. Fish Emulsion
 – Fish emulsion fertilizer is high in nitrogen but pretty stinky! It is also very acidic and should be used lightly to avoid burning plants. Nonetheless, fish emulsion acts immediately once it is applied, which makes it a good treatment for leafy greens that are suffering from low nitrogen levels. Be sure to experiment. Some plants may not tolerate it very well. There is a recipe below!
  34. Ground oyster shells
 – You may or may not have access to oyster shells, but they are a slow-release fertilizer to keep your garden healthy. Crush them into small pieces and bury them in the garden. The calcium carbonate in the shells will make the soil alkaline. Again, make sure you know your soil before adding this amendment.
  35. Nut Shells – 
Pop the nut in your mouth and toss the shell into the garden. It’s a win-win! Nut shells add bulk, which will allow water and nutrients to get to the plant roots. Microbes will be super-happy with your discarded shells.

Five More Easy Homemade Fertilizers

Comfrey Tea

What you’ll need:

  • Brick to hold the comfrey leaves down
  • Big bucket or plastic trash can with a lid
  1. Submerge your leaves for 3 to 5 weeks in a bucket or trash can of water. It depends on the warmth of  your climate.
  2. Mix the comfrey solution with more water to dilute (so it doesn’t damage or burn the root systems of plants), a 1::3 (water) ratio should work.
  3. Store in a cool dark place.

WARNING: Comfrey Tea stinks like crazy, but is OH-so good for your plants!

 

 

For Acid Loving Plants

Mix 1 tablespoon of white vinegar in one gallon of water. Hand water your acid loving plants.

Seed Starter Organic Fertilizer

What you’ll need:

  • 1 drop of organic liquid dish soap
  • 2 drops of ammonia
  • 1 tablespoon of worm castings
  1. Place the above into a one quart misting bottle.
  2. Fill with water.
  3. Shake it gently and mist the surface of the seed container every day until you start to see little sprouts.

Homemade Fish Emulsion

Don’t buy fish emulsion. You can make it with this recipe! Click here to get the homemade recipe.

 

 Apartment (or Condo) Container Garden Smoothie Fertilizer

What you’ll need:

  • Compost bucket
  • Blender
  • Kitchen scraps
    • Egg shells
    • Vegetable scraps
    • Banana peel broken into small pieces
    • Old coffee grounds
    • Used bulk herbs from herbal teas
    • Spent fruit (non-moldy)
    • Stale sea-vegetables
  1. Place all scraps in blender.
  2. Fill blender halfway with water. Don’t add too much water because there is already liquid in your kitchen scraps. (You don’t want your blender to explode compost all over the kitchen!)
  3. Place lid on blender.  Start on a low setting and puree until everything is combined and becomes a liquid.
  4. Feed it to your container soil.

Other Options:

  • Pour it on top of the soil, and let it sit for 24 hours. Then, water it in or turn the soil.
  • Water it in as soon as you put it on the container’s soil.
  • If you already have plants in place, pour the mixture into large bucket and fill with water.  Then pour the water-liquid over soil.

There are a lot of different types of fertilizers for you to try. However, use what you have locally or in your home to save you some money. If you are in the Midwest, there is no point in ordering Oyster Shells. Use what you have! Whether you are a Hobby Farmer or a Container Gardener, here are your first steps in a nutshell (pun intended!)

  1. Start your compost pile. Regardless of what your soil test tells you, a compost pile will be an invaluable source of nutrients that will feed your soil’s microbes and your plants.
  2. Get a soil test to know and understand what your soil needs. More than likely your county extension office will have soil testing kits.
  3. Understand what your plants need at different times of the season. Are they growing, flowering, or needing to add roots? Fertilize at the right time with the right organic fertilizer!
  4. Make up a batch of fertilizer that is just right for your garden. Experiment. Learn. Have fun!
  5. Remember that gardening is an adventure. Try different things and make note of the results. Some things may work better for you than others. You be the judge!

 

What’s your favorite organic fertilizer and how do you use it in your garden? Tell us in the comments below. We’d love to hear about your gardening adventures!

Keep growing!

 

 

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The post 35 Cheap Organic Fertilizers to Power UP Your Garden appeared first on The Grow Network.

Fertilizing Vegetable Gardens Organically – When, How And What To Use!

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When it comes to fertilizing vegetable gardens, nothing can top good old, time-tested organic solutions! Not only are they safe to use on the plants that will feed your family, they are extremely economical. Organic fertilizers, with their natural nutrients,

The post Fertilizing Vegetable Gardens Organically – When, How And What To Use! appeared first on Old World Garden Farms.

Unbelievable Hydrogen Peroxide Uses In Garden You Should Know

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Is it possible? Are there Hydrogen Peroxide Uses in the garden? Well, yes, it can be useful! Read on to find out how.

How & Why Hydrogen Peroxide is So Useful

Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) has an extra oxygen atom than Water (H2O), this extra oxygen atom breaks down and the molecule of water releases from this separately. It is this extra oxygen atom that makes the hydrogen peroxide so useful. The Hydrogen peroxide is used in cleaning, bleaching, sterilizing, as a disinfectant etc. but it can also be used in horticulture. In simple words, Hydrogen Peroxide acts as an oxygen supplement for plants (beneficial if used in low strength). It works by releasing oxygen and also aerates the soil.

Here’s a very helpful article if you like to read.

Hydrogen Peroxide Uses

1. Hydrogen Peroxide Uses Against Root Rot

Overwatering causes the shortage of Oxygen at the root zone. If you overwater the plant, the water fills the air spaces in soil and the plant’s roots suffocate due to the lack of air and they begin to die after 24 hours. To save such a plant from this problem, water it thoroughly with 3% hydrogen peroxide mixed in 1 quart of water. The extra oxygen in the hydrogen peroxide provides the roots their much-needed oxygen to survive. After this, don’t water the plant until top 1 or 2 inches of soil dries out well.

Read more about this here

2. Using Hydrogen for Faster Seed Germination

You can use hydrogen peroxide to help seeds germinate more quickly. Hydrogen peroxide softens the coat of seeds and kills any pathogen present on seed coat thus increase the germination rate and help the seed germinate faster. Soak your seeds in a 3% hydrogen peroxide for 30 minutes. Rinse the seeds several times with water before planting and plant them as usual.

3. Hydrogen Peroxide for Mold and Mildew

Hydrogen peroxide has an oxidizing property that is fatal for mold and mildew. Mix a liter of water with 10 tablespoons of 3 to 6% hydrogen peroxide depending on the level of infection. Spray this solution on plants daily until the fungus disappears.

4. Hydrogen Peroxide as a Fertilizer

Use hydrogen peroxide to help strengthen the root system of your plants. Hydrogen peroxide has one extra oxygen molecule (than water) that helps plant’s roots to absorb nutritions from soil more effectively, you can use this formula occasionally to boost the growth– Mix about 1 teaspoon of 3% Hydrogen peroxide with 1 gallon of water.

*Read more about this on eHow here.

Caveat: Make sure that you do not use more concentrated hydrogen peroxide as it can kill plants. 3% strength is the most familiar concentration and usually recommended.

5. To Keep Pests Away

The hydrogen peroxide can be used as a pesticide. Spraying the plant thoroughly with 3% hydrogen peroxide mixed in the equal amount of water kills the pests and their eggs. The hydrogen peroxide also kills the bacteria that develop on fruits and vegetables.

 

Source : balconygardenweb.com

 

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DIY Dry Banana Peels as Fertilizer

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How to dry banana peels and give a potassium boost to your garden | PreparednessMama

Did you know you can take dry banana peels and turn it into fertilizer for your garden? We eat a lot of bananas at our house so I like the idea that all the peels that we would normally compost can be used to benefit the garden. Homemade potassium fertilizer using banana peels is very […]

The post DIY Dry Banana Peels as Fertilizer appeared first on PreparednessMama.

Worm Farms: The Quick DIY Way To Make Fertilizer, Feed Chickens & Get Rid Of Food Scraps, Too

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Worm Farms: The Quick Way To Make Fertilizer, Feed Chickens & Get Rid Of Food Scraps, Too

Image source: Pixabay.com

Several years ago, Ohio State University researchers reported that there are “more microbes in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on the earth.” These microorganisms, of course, are essential to producing rich soil and strong, hardy plants.

And one big key to healthy soil is worms. Worms help compost your soil and add castings (“worm poop”) for proper soil nutrition. Liquid fertilizer then can be made from the worm castings (a fertilizer called worm “tea”). This worm tea boosts the activity of the microorganisms of the soil by adding things like bacteria and protozoa.

You can dramatically improve your soil’s quality with a worm farm, also known as vermiculture — a process in which worms are utilized to decompose the organic food waste into a material usable by the plants. This can be done at home in a cheap and easy setup, and it doesn’t need to be complicated. All you need is creativity and time!

There really is no end to the uses of your worms and their byproduct. Use them for:

  • Fertilizer.
  • As a way to get rid of rabbit poop.
  • Fishing.
  • As a way to get rid of vegetable scraps and coffee grounds.
  • Chicken feed.

You can get creative with your vermiculture, but there is a general structure that must be followed for success. You’ll need the following components:

  • Something to hold your worms.
  • Some newspaper.
  • Compost or soil.
  • Green waste.
  • Manure.
  • Worms (of course!).

Assembly

Think of a vermiculture setup like a compost bin with worms and a tap. The container can be anything from an old broken fridge to a wood bin. Whatever it is, you want to make sure it has a hole in the bottom for draining. If you use the fridge, lay it on its back, take all the stuff out, and drill a hole in the bottom.

This New All-Natural Fertilizer Doubles Garden Production!

Make sure your worms are kept cool and are not in the sun! Also, avoid areas with vibrations.

Worm Farms: The Quick Way To Make Fertilizer, Feed Chickens & Get Rid Of Food Scraps, Too

A vermiculture training class at a garden center.

Now that you have your container, it’s time to work on the bedding. Start with the newspaper and rip it into little pieces. Don’t rip it all up, though. Keep some whole sheets for later. Soak it in water until mushy, and then mix well with soil. Take a few sheets of wet newspaper and place it at the bottom of the container as a base. Then, place the soil-compost mixture on top. Make sure there are a few inches of soil. (This depends on the bin and how many worms you have.)

Place the worms on top and they will burrow down into the soil. Place the green waste on one side of the worm bin. This is what the worms are going to eat. If you have some manure, great, put it on top. Use farm manure from pigs, rabbits or cattle, but not from house pets. I would not put more food than one-fourth of the soil you have. Believe it or not, they eat half their weight every day!

To finish assembling, put a lid on it and make sure to allow a small amount of light in to keep them in there. If you don’t have a top on your worms, you will have a breeding colony of flies and maggots.

Worms of choice are red wigglers or composting worms. Earthworms just don’t like to eat like the little red wigglers do. Worms are the most expensive part of the worm bin. You buy them by the pound. Start small if you have more time than money, or go big with a few pounds of worms to get castings quickly.

The nice part about worms is they multiply quickly. Adult red wiggler worms (three months old) can produce up to three cocoons per week. Each cocoon has about two to three worms. The cocoons take 11 weeks or so to hatch.

You even could make some income selling worms!

Tip: The main issue with vermiculture is that people often overwater their worm bins. You can drown your worms, so just keep the plant-based scraps and manures we described above as the main source of moisture. Worms love leaves, so put a layer of leaves on top to make them happy. Also, don’t use meat! This will turn your worm bin into a mess — and worms do not like it, either!

How do you use worms on the homestead? Do you have any vermiculture advice? Share your tips in the section below:

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Gardening Wisdom From The Native Americans

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Gardening Wisdom From The Native Americans

Image source: Pixabay.com

 

When we think of the Native Americans of centuries ago, we tend to think of a nomadic warrior people, living in teepees and following the buffalo herds. This image comes mainly from the Plains Indians, who depended on bison for their survival. But not all tribes were the same. Many were quite stable, living in the same place for years and augmenting the game they hunted with crops that they grew.

We need look no further than American history to confirm this. The Pilgrims, arriving at Plymouth, nearly died of starvation their first winter. But although some did die, many more survived. Their prosperity that next year was largely due to the local Native American tribe, which taught them how to successfully farm.

But the farming techniques of Native Americans were different than that of Europeans. They didn’t use draft animals and they didn’t plow the soil. This has led many to believe that their farms were simple slash-and-burn operations, where they cleared an area in the forest by killing off whatever was there and planted crops until their efforts depleted the soil, at which time they would move on to start a similar operation elsewhere.

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Nothing could be farther from the truth. A slash-and-burn operation would go contrary to the Native American’s way of life, which was much more in harmony with nature than Europeans or Anglo-Americans can imagine. To kill plants, merely to plant others, would be beyond their understanding.

Rather, the Indians farmed in harmony with nature, planting in many small beds. Their farms were sustainable as well, mostly depending on perennials that aren’t cultivated today. But by using perennials, they were able keep their gardens going, with less effort and greater yields. In some places, they cultivated over 250 varieties of plants, using the plants for everything from food, to construction, to building canoes and producing dyes and glues.

native americans -- FerdinandDeppe

Artist: Ferdinand Deppe

In fact, the yields of the Native Americans in the Northeast part of what is now the United States were so great that their corn (or maize) production regularly out-produced that of the wheat farmers of England. Part of this was due to the higher yield that corn produces, but part was due to their superior farming techniques — techniques that did not require plowing or draft animals.

So what can we learn from the farming style of Native Americans who lived nearly 400 years ago? Here’s just a few tips:

Start With the Soil

Any gardener knows that the most important part of any garden is the soil. Without good soil, no garden is going to produce well. In this, Native Americans in the past had an advantage, as the soil was deep and rich. In most parts, the soil had a high biomass content, which is essential to replacing the nutrients.

Native Americans also knew how to care for that soil. They didn’t plow the land like European farmers. Recent experimentation is proving that plowing is not healthy for the soil. More than anything, it brings the subterraneous microorganisms to the surface, where they die. By not plowing, you keep the soil healthier by keeping these microorganisms alive.

One of the most important subterraneous organisms in any garden are mycorrhizal fungi. These attach to the roots of plants, forming a symbiotic relationship with them. While the fungi feed off the plant, they also extend the roots system, drawing in water and nutrients for the plant. A garden with a good network of these fungi will grow faster, produce healthier plants, and bring higher yields of produce.

Fertilization

Any soil is going to need added nutrients to replace those used by the plants growing in the garden. Native Americans understood this and were constantly providing nutrition to the soil of their gardens.

Compost

Composting wasn’t a separate activity for Native Americans who farmed. They didn’t have a compost heap or compost bin. Rather, their gardens were their compost heaps. Leftover plant matter was cut up and placed directly in the garden to break down and provide nutrients.

At the same time, adding plant matter to the soil functioned like mulch, covering the soil and preventing weeds from growing. This basically eliminated the need to weed, preventing one more activity which would disturb the soil.

Potash

Potash is essentially wood ash. But the potash used by Native Americans went a bit farther than that. They would throw the bones from their kills in the fire, as well as the shells from bird eggs. This allowed the bones and shells to burn, breaking them down so that they were ready to add to the soil. Ashes were regularly spread on their vegetable gardens, providing valuable nutrients, especially calcium.

Urine

Urine is an almost perfect fertilizer, containing many of the essential nutrients that plants need for growth. However, in its natural state, it is too acidic. So Native Americans would mix urine with water to dilute it. The acid was still there, but it was not concentrated. Added to the garden, the potash, which was alkaline, would counteract the acid in the urine and bring the pH of the soil back into balance.

Urine also served the purpose of “marking” the garden, helping to keep some pests out. Animals regularly mark their territory, warning other animals. While this doesn’t serve as a warning sign to you and I, it does to raccoons and other animals who would love to feast at our gardens.

Fish

Gardening Wisdom From The Native Americans

Three sisters gardening method. Image source: USDA.gov

Another thing we should all remember from our elementary school lessons about the Pilgrims is the use of fish as a fertilizer. Not all tribes used fish, and those that did usually didn’t use the whole fish. Rather, they used the leftover parts from cleaning and eating the fish. Like urine, fish contains all the necessary nutrients for plant growth, making it one of the best fertilizers around.

No Chemicals

With the use of natural fertilizers, one major source of chemicals was eliminated from the Native American garden. Another way that they avoided chemicals is not using chemical pesticides. Granted, they didn’t have modern pesticides, but the point isn’t whether they had them or not, it’s whether they used them or not.

Not using chemicals in their gardens had another advantage. It made the garden a great habitat for toads, turtles, praying mantises and birds, who ate the insects which would otherwise destroy the plants in the garden.

Planting

Almost everyone who has grown a vegetable garden has heard of the “Three Sisters” – corn, beans and squash. This traditional means of planting was common for Native Americans. Each of these three provide benefits for the others, making them an excellent combination to plant together.

But Native Americans didn’t just plant the sisters together. Their gardens were a mixture of many different things. By mixing plant types, rather than making neat rows, they prevented insects from traveling from plant to plant, destroying them.

I mentioned earlier that Native Americans planted for sustainability, using many perennials. They also harvested in a way to prolong the life of the plants. Rather than dig up a plant and take all its fruit, they’d only remove what they needed at the time. With a potato plant, for example, they’d only take a few potatoes, covering the roots back up so that the plant could replace them.

Aquaculture

Although not as commonly thought of as part of gardening, aquaculture is an important aspect of farming. Some tribes depended greatly on freshwater water life as a part of their diet. The salmon in the Northwest, as well as fresh water shellfish, were consumed by various Native American tribes.

While they left these water creatures to thrive in the wild, they did cultivate them. Mostly, this was by improving their environment so that they could grow well. They moved rocks to create the most productive clam beds and transplanted salmon eggs to new stream beds. In this, they increased their yields of these creatures, helping to ensure an abundance of food.

What would you add? Share your thoughts on how Native Americans gardened in the section below:

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Here’s Why Your Should NEVER Rake Your Leaves

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Don’t Rake Your Leaves This Year! (Here’s Why)

Image source: Pixabay.com

In preparation for winter, many homeowners go through the grueling task of raking and bagging leaves. Maybe it isn’t a big deal for those with very small yards in the city, but it can be quite the workout in large yards or around rural homes.

Well, as it turns out, raking your leaves can lead to a more attractive yard but may not be the best idea. Why? Keeping leaves in your yard not only helps the creatures around the tree, but also boosts the health of your lawn, too. Read on to find out how to do it.

Why Leaves Fall

Deciduous trees lose their leaves in autumn as a survival method; no leaves means the tree can conserve water and energy to get it through the winter. As most aspects of nature, a tree losing its leaves doesn’t just help the tree but also assists the environment around it.

The many animals and insects around the tree are looking for shelter to get them through the upcoming winter. In a very wonderful way, the critters are able to use these leaves as a home until spring arrives. As with most things, this system works perfectly well in nature. But it’s a different story when humans begin to disturb this process by raking their yards.

The Problem with Raking

Raking leaves and bagging them destroys the homes these many creatures need. All homeowners should do their best to work with nature and support their local ecosystem. Not only is it part of being a steward of the land, but it also improves the lawn. Homesteaders will benefit from healthier beneficial insect and animal populations come spring, which will improve their gardens, woodlots, ponds, etc.

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This no-rake method has been used for decades by various homeowners but lately has made its way into the mainstream, including a recent USA Today article.

Examples of some critters that call leaf litter home in winter include:

  • Box turtles
  • Salamanders and other amphibians
  • Snakes
  • Spiders and other arachnids
  • Snails and slugs
  • Millipedes and centipedes
  • Beetles and other insects
  • Moth and butterfly pupae
  • Worms and other soil aerators
  • Soil-improving microorganisms
  • Important fungus and healthy bacteria
Don’t Rake Your Leaves This Year! (Here’s Why)

Image source: Pixabay.com

For example, when caterpillars have a safe place to live you will have a much healthier butterfly population in spring and summer — which will in turn help your garden, fruit trees and general vegetation. Healthy insect populations that rely on leaf litter in winter will also feed birds and predatory insects.

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While animals benefit from the no-rake method, so does the ground. It will act as a natural fertilizer, improving your soil and also suppressing weeds. Not to mention, skipping raking completely saves a lot of time and reduces costs from bagging.

What to Do Instead of Raking

So if you don’t rake your leaves, what do you do? There are a few options. Some people don’t rake their leaves at all, or just wait until spring arrives before raking them away to a new location. This is ideal, but it’s understandable if leaves covering the lawn bother you. If that is the case you can instead:

  • Rake up leaves and move to the outskirts of your lawn or just somewhere else on your property where it doesn’t bother you.
  • Rake up leaves and put them over your garden beds for protection.
  • Rake up leaves and leave them around the base of trees in your woodlot as mulch.
  • Mulch the leaves with your mower. Some homeowners use a mulch mower or a special mulch attachment, but neither are necessary. Most mowers will mulch leaves simply by driving over them.

This year, don’t think of fallen leaves as an annoyance, but rather an amazing way nature protects vulnerable critters in winter – and fertilizes your lawn.

Do you have any “leaf advice”? What do you do? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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