Every farmer and gardener knows that you have to fertilize your soil on order to grow healthy and fruitful plants every year. There are many different types of fertilizers, such as chemical fertilizers, organic fertilizers and natural fertilizers available on the market. You have to know that the type of fertilizer you use has a large impact on the quality of your product. Farmers all over the world still use chemical fertilizers, but many are now shifting to organic fertilizers due to the apparent benefits of the latter. Because of that a fresh crop of organic fertilizers are sprouting on store shelves and many of them are overpriced. The really amazing thing is that most of the best organic fertilizers are easily available to most of us absolutely free! In this article we will explain to you what are organic fertilizers and why you have to use them.
Fertility of the soil
The plants are similar to our bodies and they need nutrients to function and grow. The soil itself, without fertilizing, contains many of the vital nutrients needed, but as plants use them, the soil can become quickly depleted. The most common reason for depletion is sewing the same thing every year. Also the soil can get depleted from erosion by wind and the rain. Fertilizing is a way to replenish the fertility of the soil and the healthier the soil, the healthier the plants will be. There are at least 16 nutrient elements necessary for plant growth and the most important are nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (referred to by the elemental symbols, N, P and K). If you want to be sure that your soil has the right mix and balance of nutrients, you should do a soil test. The soil test can be done by private laboratories or by state cooperative extension services that test garden soil for a nominal fee.
Disadvantages of chemical fertilizers
Chemical fertilizers are primarily made from nonrenewable sources, including fossil fuels and they only grow plants but do nothing to sustain the soil. The fillers do not promote life or soil health, and even packages labeled “complete” do not include the decaying matter necessary to improve soil structure. Chemical fertilizers don’t replace many trace elements that are gradually depleted by repeated crop plantings, resulting in long-term damage to the soil. The nutrients in chemical fertilizers are readily available and there is a huge danger of over fertilization and this will not only kill plants but it will upset the entire ecosystem. If you repeatedly use chemical fertilizers it may result in a toxic buildup of chemicals such as arsenic, cadmium, and uranium in the soil. These toxic chemicals can eventually make their way into your fruits and vegetables. Also, long-term use of chemical fertilizers can change the soil pH, upset beneficial microbial ecosystems, increase pests, and even contribute to the release of greenhouse gases.
What is and what is not organic fertilizer
Organic fertilizer is an organic substance added to soil that contains vital plant nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. When organic fertilizer is added to soil it acts like a miracle food, stimulating plant growth and plants slowly uptake nutrients, incorporating them into their growth and reproduction. Many organic materials serve as both fertilizers and soil conditioner and they feed both soil and the plants. This is one of the most important differences between a chemical approach and an organic approach toward soil care and fertilizing. Inside organic fertilizer are precious nutrients and only decomposers have the key to unlock this treasure. Decomposers slowly break down this organic waste, leaving a trail of nutrient rich soil behind. These nutrients are then available for new plants to grow.
You can make organic fertilizer yourself or you can buy ready organic fertilizer on the market and there are more and more truly organic fertilizers coming on the market. These organic fertilizers are made from natural plant and animal materials or from mined rock minerals. However, the national standards that define and distinguish organic fertilizers from chemical fertilizers are complicated and it’s sometimes hard to be sure that a commercial fertilizer product labeled “organic” truly contains only safe, natural ingredients. If you want to be sure look for products labeled “natural organic,” “slow release” and “low analysis.” Don’t buy products labeled organic that have an NPK (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) ratio that adds up to more than 15 and always ask a reputable garden center owner to recommend fertilizer brands that meet organic standards.
Types of organic fertilizers
We can divide organic fertilizers into four groups: plant-based, animal-based, mineral-based and compost.
Plant-based fertilizers break down quicker than other organics, but they generally offer more in the way of soil conditioning than actual nutrients. Plant-based fertilizers are usually high in nitrogen and sometimes potassium. Some crops are grown specifically to be made into organic fertilizer while others, such as cottonseed meal, are by-products of another industry. These materials also help to add drainage and moisture retention to poor soils. The most common plant-based fertilizers are:
1. Alfalfa Meal is a great natural fertilizing agent for blooming plants. Alfalfa meal fertilizer contains trace elements that help flowering perennials and shrubs to bloom faster and longer during the season. This organic garden booster is a product of fermented alfalfa plant seeds and it’s light and airy looking and has a pleasant, earthy smell. Alfalfa meal generally comes in large quantities, as you use it generously around all your blooming perennials and shrubs. There are many alfalfa meal manufacturers and if you don’t know which one to buy then we recommend Dr. Earth Alfalfa meal.
2. Cottonseed Meal is by-product of cotton manufacturing and cottonseed meal as a fertilizer for the garden is slow release and acidic. The Cottonseed meal varies in formulation slightly, but is generally made up of 7% nitrogen, 3% P2O5 and 2% K2O. Cottonseed meal feeds nitrogen, potash,phosphorus and other minor nutrients over a period of time, eliminating runoff and promoting vigorous growth of vegetables, landscape plants and turf. Not all Cottonseed Meal are good for your soil because you don’t know if the cotton fields from which you get cottonseed were treated with chemicals which can be then found in your fertilizers. The trusted brands for Cottonseed meal are Down to Earth and Dr. Earth.
3. Molasses fertilizer is a great way to grow healthy plants and as an added benefit, using molasses in gardens can help fend off pests. Molasses is the by-product of beating sugarcane,grapes or sugar beets into sugar. That is the dark, rich, and somewhat sweet liquid that is commonly used as a sweetener in baked goods, as a natural remedy for many ailments and even added to animal feed. Even though it is a by-product, molasses is full of vitamins and minerals and it makes a great fertilizer. If you haven’t used Molasses as a fertilizer before, don’t be mistaken, not all Molasses can be directly used for fertilization and we recommend Earth juice Molasses because it has best results as a fertilizer.
4. Legume and Green manure cover crops are essentially plants that are tilled into the ground and they fertilize the soil during decomposing process. Legumes are plants which produce pods with seeds and most common ones are beans, peas and peanuts. Green manure cover crops represent the mixture of plants like clover, winter wheat, annual ryegrass etc. which is also tilled into ground. Both legumes and green manure cover crops are best for nitrogen deficiency in the soil. If you don’t want to collect or seed the plants for Green manure, you can check this Green manure cover crop mixture already prepared for tilling into the soil.
5. Kelp meal is a fertilizer made out of Kelp seaweed which is a type of marine algae, brown in color and with a huge growth size. Kelp is a product of our nutrient-rich oceans and it is often mixed with fish products and used as a fertilizer to encourage healthier plant growth, promote greater fruit and vegetable yields and to overall enhance the general appearance of a garden or plant specimen. Organic kelp fertilizer is valued for its micro-nutrients as well as its macro-nutrients of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. You probably will not be picking kelp yourself from the ocean and therefore we recommend Neptune’s harvest kelp meal which has proven to be of the best quality on the market.
Animal-based fertilizers are by-products from the dairy and meat processing industries. Animal-based fertilizers add lots of nitrogen to the soil and they are great for leafy plants and strong growth in the early weeks of gardening. The most common animal-based fertilizers are:
1. Manure is the most common animal-based fertilizer and it is used as a rich supply of nutrients for the soil for centuries. The most commonly used are horse, cow, chicken, sheep and rabbit manure. We don’t recommend using dog and cat manure though. If you want to maximize the benefits of manure compost in the garden, the proper application is vital. One way is to use manure as plant fertilizer is by mixing it in with compost. Composting manure eliminates the possibility of burning the plants. Easier option is to till it into the soil prior to spring planting, such as during fall or winter but fall is the best time to use manure in the garden. If you till it into the soil in the fall this allows plenty of time for the manure to break down, eliminating the threat of burning plants in the garden. Also, well-aged manure on its own makes a great fertilizer for garden plants. If you have farms nearby or you have your own animals you can get the manure for free, for everyone else manure can be bought in various form and we recommend Hoffman cow manure.
2. Bone meal fertilizer is essentially what the name says it is. It is a meal or powder made from ground up animal bones, most commonly beef bones, but they can be the bones of any animal commonly slaughtered. The bone meal is steamed to increase its availability for plants. Bone meal is a valuable source of phosphorus which can’t be found in high values in plant-based fertilizers. Don’t buy bone meals with high NPK values above 3-15-0 because they are probably fake and we recommend Down to Earth Bone Meal because it has certified organic origin.
3. Blood meal is dried animal blood, typically cow blood, but it can also be the blood of any animal that goes through meat packing plants. That blood is collected after the animals are killed and then dried to make a powder. There is much controversies about using animal blood but not from the agricultural point of view because blood meal is undisputedly excellent fertilizer and a great source of nitrogen. Blood meal is also used as a deterrent for some animals, such as moles, squirrels and deer because the smell of blood meal is not appealing to these animals. Values in blood meal vary and we recommend Miracle-gro organic choice Blood Meal because of the best nitrogen value.
4. Fish emulsion is an organic garden fertilizer that is made from whole fish or parts of fish. Fish emulsion provides an NPK ratio of 4-1-1 to 6-1-1 and is most often used as foliar feed to provide a quick nitrogen boost. You can also made your own fish emulsion with fish, sawdust, molasses and water, if you don’t mind the smell. If you don’t want to bother with making your own emulsion or you don’t have the space for it, then we recommend Healthy plant Fish emulsion concentrate.
Mineral-based fertilizers are made of inorganic substances like salts and rocks and they add nutrients to the soil, as well as raising or lowering the pH level when needed for healthy plant growth. Most common mineral-based fertilizers are:
1. Calcium is most commonly use as calcium foliar spray which lends necessary calcium to the plant, preventing leaf necrosis, short brown roots, fungal issues, weak stems and stunted growth. Using calcium spray for plants will increase cell division which is an important component, especially in those rapid growers such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes and corn. You can make your own calcium foliar spray with milk and egg shells and for those who need it now we recommend Safer Gro Biomin Calcium.
2. Epsom salt helps improve flower blooming and enhances a plant’s green color and it can even help plants grow bushier. Epsom salt is made up of hydrated magnesium sulfate which is important to healthy plant growth. When the soil becomes depleted of magnesium, adding Epsom salt will help and since it poses little danger of overuse like most commercial fertilizers, you can use it safely on nearly all your garden plants. If you don’t know where or what epsom salt to buy, then we recommend Pennington Epsom Salt.
Compost is the last type of organic fertilizers but probably most common one. Compost is a little different than all other fertilizers discussed above because it doesn’t have specific purpose and it doesnt have an immediate effect. It is a way of nurturing the soil year after year. If you want to know more about composting be sure to read our article Composting leads to a healthful ground.
When you summon all that you have learned about organic fertilizers it is clear that there is an organic fertilizer for all your gardening needs and you don’t have to use chemicals in order to grow healthy vegetables or fruit. Also, organic fertilizers are now available in all garden centers and online shops and nobody can use an excuse for not using organic fertilizers!