Whether you’re growing fruit, vegetables, or flowers, you want them to perform at their best, yielding an abundance of high-quality produce. However, in a bid to lower your environmental impact, and because you really don’t want you and your family to consume a bunch of harmful chemicals, you really don’t want to use synthetic fertilizer. So what’s the answer? Simple – make your own from a range of common natural items. Sure, some of our suggestions are stinky, but they’re really effective, they contain no chemicals, and these organic fertilizers improve the content and structure of your soil long term, as well as boosting plant growth in the short term. Let’s take a look…
1. Stinging Nettle Stew
If you grow fruit and veg, we’re sure, like us, when trying to keep your beds clear, you consider stinging nettles to be the bane of your life. The good news is that you can actually use these pesky weeds to your advantage. All you need is a large bucket or a barrel with a lid or a cover, some water, and a stick. Simply dump as many nettles as you can find into your bucket and fill with water. Remember to take off the roots and avoid seed tops. The more nettles, the stronger the fertilizer. Keep the barrel covered for two weeks, stirring every other day. Et voila – potent organic liquid plant food. Make sure you dilute the mixture before you apply it. We generally use one part stinging nettle stew to four parts water – but it all depends on the strength of your initial mixture.
You’ve got two options with comfrey – use the same method as for nettle stew. Alternatively, strip the leaves from the plants and dig them right into the soil. Just remember to avoid roots or rhizomes, as you don’t want the plant to regrow.
3. Manure Tea
Sounds gross? Absolutely. Does it work? You bet! Get yourself some livestock manure – you can choose goat, pig, chicken, cow, horse, rabbit, or guinea pig poop. Place it inside a porous bag like a hessian sack. Place this sack in a water butt. Fill said butt with water. Leave for at least a week, then use the water as liquid feed. You can keep topping the butt up for three to six months, after which time you need to renew the manure sack to maintain potency. Why go to this trouble? Unless manure has been left to rot and reach a high temperature, it still contains viable seeds, so you run the risk of adding weed seeds to your beds. But this way, no seeds escape the sack and your crops still get the nutrients. Just remember to dilute it before use to avoid burning delicate plants.
4. Manure-Enriched Compost
Really, really simple. Add manure to your compost heap and let it rot down. Then apply it to your beds as compost.
5. Direct Manure Application
There’s a couple of options here. Manure is an incredibly powerful organic fertilizer – and it’s free. If you want to apply it directly around in-situ plants, you need to rot it down for around a year before you use it because it’s simply too strong and you’ll burn your plants. So, get a big heap of dung, cover it with black plastic, and leave it alone for a year. Alternatively, when your beds are empty in the fall and you’re prepping the soil for winter, dig fresh manure straight in. Over the winter, the nutrients leach into the soil and the hay and other fibrous materials help to improve soil structure and drainage.
6. Green Manure
Green manure consists of small, fast-growing plants. You simply turn the earth and sprinkle over the seeds. Once they grow, you simply turn them back into the soil and they return valuable nutrients back into the earth and improve soil structure. The root systems prevent soil erosion while the leaves smother weeds.
7. Seaweed Fertilizer
If you have access to a beach, organic seaweed fertilizer is free and easy to make. For those of you with kids, making seaweed fertilizer is a great way to get them involved, too. Get to the beach and gather as much seaweed as you can find (hence having fun with the kids). Soak it in fresh water for at least 24 hours and give it a good “swish” under the water. This helps to remove any lingering salt. Then, either dig it right into your soil or follow the directions for nettle stew.
8. Kitchen Scrap Fertilizer
Yes, most of your kitchen scraps go into the compost pile, but if you’re planting something that requires particularly nutrient-rich soil or you just want to give something a boost, there’s a fairly simple method. Dig a trench a few inches deeper than you’d normally plant. Put a layer of crumpled newspaper in the bottom, add a generous layer of vegetable scraps and peelings, and, if you have them, a layer of coffee grinds. Then water, cover with soil, and plant. It rots down quickly, particularly if you use coffee grinds as a catalyst. The newspaper helps retain moisture and improve drainage. Your plants will thrive as they root down into the nutrient-rich fertilizer.
9. Coffee Ground Fertilizer
Make organic fertilizer by mixing wood ash and old coffee grounds. Use a 1:1 ratio. Then you’ve instantly got a rich, organic fertilizer that hasn’t cost you a penny and is brimming with potassium, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorous. If you’re growing acid-loving plants or those that need high levels of nitrogen or potassium, like blueberries and some squashes, you can skip the wood ash and apply the used coffee grounds directly to the base of the plant, mixed in with grass clippings or dead leaves. Check out all the other ways we resuse old coffee grounds, too.
So, as you can see from the list above, you really don’t need nasty, synthesized chemical fertilizers. Nor do you need to spend heaps of cash to fertilize your plants, organically or otherwise. You can make organic fertilizer ridiculously easily, without spending an extra penny. Making your own organic fertilizer lets you stay in control of what you’re eating and helps you maximize your crop yield (or bloom yield, if flowers are more your thing).
Let us know what your favorite organic fertilizers are – and how you make them!
Don’t forget to sign up to our newsletter for tips, posts, and news, right to your inbox – and your free copy of One Week to a Greener You.