Fertilizer Recipes: How to Make Your Own

Fertilizer RecipeThere’s been a lot of talk this season about using manures in the garden, the probability of hot manures (rich in nitrogen) “burning” seedlings and squelching germination, and the fact that many commercial manures — or ones you might get from your local farmer — contain metals or toxins not suitable for organic gardens.

Your friendly Planet Natural blogger has always liked using compost to keep garden soil healthy and balanced just the way plants like it, which means most of the manure went into the compost heap. And we were happy to use it because it came from an organic goat dairy. But what about those with new gardens or those with gardens that need amending to help keep the soil at its growing best? That’s the time to fertilize.

In fact, the best time to fertilize is ahead of planting. Of course, that makes it imperative that you hold nitrogen levels down to prevent seeds from not germinating. But most good formulas come this way, so you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. You can always beef up the nitrogen (but not too much, keep it in balance and consider the special needs of different types of plants) later in the season.

There are a number of good commercial-grade organic fertilizers available with suitable and often varied NPK ratings. But many people like to mix up a fertilizer recipe themselves from trusted ingredients that answer their soil’s specific needs (soil testing is an important first step). And before the gotcha folks start writing in, let’s state this right up front. Many of the fertilizers you make for yourself contain ingredients that aren’t really fertilizers, such as peat moss (becoming an environmental no-no) vermiculite, and compost. So think of them as recipes for soil amendments… with fertilizer.

Here’s a recipe from Northwest Garden News (follow the link to get application information):

  • 4 measures of canola seed meal or cottonseed meal;
  • 1/2 measure of ordinary agricultural lime;
  • 1/2 measure of dolomite lime;
  • 1 measure of bone meal or rock phosphate or high phosphate guano;
  • 1/2 to 1 measure of kelp meal.

Vegans (and others, including me) don’t like to use bone or blood meal. Here’s another recipe from Frank Tozer’s excellent reference The Organic Gardeners Handbook that’s vegan-appropriate unless some mollusk got caught up in the kelp harvest:

  • 2 parts cottonseed meal
  • 2 parts collodial phosphate
  • 3 parts wood ash, greensand or granite dust
  • 1 part kelp meal

Care must be taken when using wood ash. We’ve thrown wood ashes directly in the garden (in the fall) when we had plenty of them. But then we knew what we were burning: no treated wood or pellets, no coal or charcoal. Now what little wood ash we have goes in the compost heap.

If these recipes aren’t large enough for your garden, check this one out – measured by the wheelbarrow load — for those of you with acreage. Most gardeners I know have come up with their own fertilizer recipes over the years, based on what they have available, what their soil needs, and lots of experimentation. What’s your recipe? Share it, please, with us. And don’t forget the whys and hows of its development. Your curious Planet Natural Blogger is always ready to learn something new.

Best advice? Make compost. And plenty of it.

Messy, fun-time bonus: Here’s an activity you can do with your kids (also good for you teachers) that addresses the components (and difficulties) that go into making soil. And there’s a recipe at the end that’s edible (though barely to those of us concerned about nutrition) even if the result is called “Dirt Cake.”

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