When people think of organic gardening, the first thing many of them tend to think about is pest and disease control, and the fact that organic gardeners are devoted to finding healthier, more natural ways to deal with these problems. However, another important part of organic gardening is making sure that you're taking care of the soil. For many of us, caring for the soil is the most important part of all. The soil is the basis for everything we grow. Healthy soil equals healthier plants equals fewer pests and problems to deal with.
And healthy soil doesn't come from quick-release chemical fertilizers. These fertilizers are essentially junk food for plants. They give a quick burst of nutrients, and the plants need repeated applications to stay healthy. In the meantime, the salts in many of these fertilizers deplete the soil, and your plants need more fertilizer to stay healthy. It's a vicious, pointless cycle.
So organic gardeners work on making healthy soil, and we use natural fertilizers when they are required. Here are some of the most popular ones:
Natural Fertilizers for Your Garden
If there was one, single thing I wish I could convince every gardener to do, it would be to make and use compost in your garden. A lot of it! Making your own compost is a great way to reduce your waste while making something useful. And when you add compost to your garden, either by working it into the soil or top-dressing your garden beds, you increase the nutrient levels, moisture retentions, and beneficial microbes in your soil. And all of that, over time, gives your soil that beautiful, crumbly texture that every gardener dreams of.
Manure is a great source of nitrogen for your garden, but there are some precautions you need to take. Most importantly, manure needs to be composted before you add it to your garden. Fresh manure can burn your plants because of its high nitrogen content. Your best option is to try to find a source of local manure, preferably from an organic farm.
Manure from chickens, horses, cows, and sheep are all great for the garden. In general, chicken manure has a higher nutrient level than cow and horse manure (another reason to keep chickens, perhaps?)
Fish emulsion is liquified waste from the fish process industry. It is a good source of nitrogen, with an N-P-K ratio of about 5-3-3. It is purchased as a concentrate; you dilute it according to the package instructions and apply it either as a foliar feed or directly to the soil, or both.
Compost tea is made by steeping finished compost in water for a few days. The resulting "tea" is a wonderful, gently all-purpose fertlizer that can be applied weekly to keep plants growing strong.
Manure tea follows basically the same concept as compost tea: you steep manure in water, and apply the resulting liquid to your plants. It has a higher nitrogen content than compost tea does, so it's great for getting plants off to a healthy start in the spring.
With the above natural fertilizers in your arsenal, you don't need to buy "nutrition in a bottle." Gentle, soil-building nutrition is the best thing for your garden. Compost and manure, and their teas, provide nutrients for your plants while adding beneficial microbes to your soil -- an all-around win for your garden.