When you think about a thriving ecosystem, it’s easy to see the symbiotic relationship between plants and animals. Plants feed animals and, in return, animals fertilize plants through scat and decomposition. For the home gardener, you can replicate that benefit to plants by applying fertilizer to grass, vegetables, flowers, houseplants, trees and shrubs.
While you can buy fertilizer, once you know what’s in them, you can easily duplicate the process with items that are easy to find. In addition, most fertilizer ingredients are waste products themselves, so you get to put them to a new use.
Benefits of making your own fertilizer
It may just be more convenient to make your own fertilizer. After all, it saves a trip to town. Making your own fertilizer is also an environmentally-friendly choice. It eliminates the bags and plastic buckets used in commercial products. Plus, if you make it yourself, you know what’s in it. This is especially important if you’re using it in your garden where it comes into contact with the food you eat. There are a variety of ingredients you can use in fertilizer. When creating your recipe for success, it’s best to understand what each ingredient contributes and how your plants benefit.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous fertilizer comes from manure, which makes sense because it’s high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. If you have a farm, you’ll have a large amount of usable manure. Make use of it by recycling it into fertilizer.
To make manure fertilizer, start by composting the manure along with any straw and hay bedding. Allow the manure pile to grow large. Test the contents occasionally to make sure they stay moist. If they begin to dry out, add some water to the pile.
The goal is to get the pile steaming hot — at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Once it has, move the pile to another area where it can cool and continue to break down. Leave the compost for two to six months while it breaks down. With two piles, you’ll be able to continuously produce fertilizers on an ongoing basis. When ready, apply it to the garden in thin layers, no thicker than one-half inch deep.
Manure can result in water pollution. Avoid this by keeping your piles away from water sources. Also cover the pile during heavy rains to avoid runoff.
Adding leaves and other natural materials to your manure is a form of composting. However, if you maintain a compost pile that includes grass clippings, food waste and paper products, you can turn that into a useful fertilizer too. In addition to mixing compost into your planting soil, make a liquid version you can use throughout the season. This is easily done with an old shirt and a bucket of water.
Start by wrapping the shirt (or other fabric) around a ball of compost. Secure it into place around the compost and place the entire ball into the bucket of water. Allow the mixture to steep for three or four days and then remove the fabric ball. The leftover water is now called compost tea and you can use it to spray leaves or water plants at the root level.
Plants love coffee as much as you do. Make use of spent grounds by sprinkling them around your plants. Keep it light. If you use a coffee filter, tie the filter closed at the top and place the entire thing into a gallon of water to steep. Use the resulting coffee water on your plants. They’ll love the nitrogen, magnesium and potassium. This is particularly good for soil that needs a boost of acidity or plants that prefer high acid levels.
If you have a wood stove or fireplace, apply the cooled ashes to your garden soil before planting. Layer it a few inches deep and rake into the soil. Ash fertilizer is rich in potassium and calcium carbonate and will help balance pH levels in acidic soil.
Who doesn’t enjoy an epsom salt bath? To make epsom salt fertilizer, simply add one tablespoon of salt to one gallon of water and shake to dissolve. Apply the mixture about once each month during the growing season. This mixture is great for indoor plants and those in the garden.
Most gardeners have heard eggshells are good for plants. Yet, when distributed whole, even in the compost pile, they just never seem to break down. To take advantage of the calcium and phosphorus in eggshells, wash out any egg remnants. Then place the shells in the microwave for one minute. This will dehydrate the shells. A few pulses in a food processor will turn them into a powder you can then use around plants. Use eggshell fertilizer in place of lime.
Prepare banana peel fertilizer much in the same way as the eggshell fertilizer. Dehydrate your peel in the microwave until they snap when you bend them. Then send them through the food processor or blender to turn them into powder.
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