the "easy organic"
many people, organic fertilizer means poop. Horse poop, cow poop,
rabbit poop…it’s all guano to them. But aside from all of the
exotic selections of various gourmet garden poop offered today,
there are a great many organic amendments you can put in your soil
that makes that funny blue stuff in the plastic packaging obsolete.
But first let’s get the scoop on poop.
bet you thought manure was manure. Well, you’re wrong. Manure can
be manure, composted manure, guano, or even vermipost (worm poop).
Any of the end products of veggie-eating animals can be used on a
garden without concern for contamination. However, some are better
than others for various applications. Remember, though the big three
nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium) are required for
healthy growth, the trace nutrients, like boron, manganese, zinc,
copper, calcium, etc…can also drastically effect the flavors and
scents of your garden.
Scoop on Poop!
Manure is mostly from large, plant eating animals that leave large clumps
and clods behind them. Horses and cows, pigs, sheep, and buffalo…etc…A
bit messy and usually comes with bedding or bits of pasture mixed in.
Poultry poop is also considered manure. The smell can be a problem if
applied fresh, but can be covered over with sawdust or wood chips to keep it
down. These nutrient rich clods can be a problem since undigested seeds
often crop up, happy and healthy, in the garden where they are applied.
Also, the fresh manure can provide too much nitrogen, burning immature
plants. Manure Composting is suggested.
Pellets: This is the end result of
animals, which process their poop into pill form. Rabbits, alpacas, lamas
tend to poop pellets. The basic difference between pellets and manure is
that the pellets are less offensive to people who have to handle them. They
aren’t as soft and smeary, and can be scooped up easily. They tend to be
less prone to burning and can be sprinkled and spread out whole, like little
garden vitamin pills. Only if you have enough to pile up should they need to
be composted before application.
Guano: This is usually from airborne
birds and bats that tend to flock together and poop all in one place. It is
dropped from a great height. Which apparently increases its effectiveness in
fertilizing the garden, given its popularity and price. This leads one to
wonder if you simply dropped your local manure from a great height if it
would have similar results. Guano is usually pre-packaged and labeled as to
its contents, whether from desert bats, sea birds, or other source. Each
source contains different nutrients, so read carefully before ordering.
Vermipost and frass: These are worm
poop. The vermipost can be from earthworms of several different species…usually
Eisenia Foetida (or red wiggler), or Lumbricus Rubellus. Frass, on the other
hand is produced by a variety of insects. Caterpillar frass, silkworm frass,
these can be used in the garden, but are usually restricted to hobbyists.
Great Soil Additions
Beyond the end product of animals,
however, there are many sources, animal, vegetable, and mineral, which can
help you create your perfect soil.
Peat Moss: A widely misunderstood
substance. Peat moss has no nutritional value to it at all. It is quite
acidic (hovers around 3 or 4 on the ph range), and is hydrophobic when dry.
On the other hand, if you have compacted soil, or sandy, loose soil, it can
be a beneficial additive. If your soil is too alkaline, it can also help.
Just be sure to choose the chunky stuff, instead of the finely milled peat,
or it will soon disappear.
Blood Meal: A fairly expensive and
unstable source of nitrogen. It is made from slaughterhouse wastes. It
leaches quickly, can burn plants unless handled carefully, and can encourage
fungal growths. Best used mixed with more stabile (and less expensive)
Bone Meal: Another expensive but popular
by product of the animal industry. Bone meal is sold as both animal feed and
fertilizer. It contains about 27% phosphate, and that is quickly available,
so it is an effective amendment.
Fish Meal/Emulsions: Fish and fish parts
are used to form a slurry in liquid. High in nitrogen and phosphate, the
main drawback is the smell. There are odorless varieties, but even they can
draw raccoons, bears, cats, dogs, and other animals to dig in a garden where
Shellfish meal: washed crab, shrimp,
oyster, and other shellfish by products are pulverized to make this slow
release but easily available form of nitrogen. Like the fish emulsion, the
odor can be a problem.
Compost: If only there were a unified
standard of compost. But compost varies widely from region to region. Some
includes sewage sludge; some includes yard trimmings from areas that spray
heavily. Even the Organic labeled composts can vary wildly in their
contents. Still, if you are lacking in organic matter…Compost is one of
the best solutions. Best to make your own, so you know what goes into it.
Mushroom Compost: Mushroom growers all
use different forms of growing medium, Horse bedding straw, peat moss,
crushed grape seeds, sawdust…There are as many varieties of mushroom
compost as there are mushroom growers. The resultant spent compost can be
heavy in salts and too high in nutrients for straight applications. They
should be mixed with other, less strong amendments, or composted further
Alfalfa meal: used as compost starter
and straight as a source of nicely balanced fertilizer, alfalfa meal is rich
in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. It also encourages microbial
activity in the soil
Feather Meal: An excellent slow release
form of nitrogen. Feather meal from poultry processing plants break down
very slowly, making them good not only for providing a slow, consistent form
of nitrogen, but a good soil structure as well.
Wood Ashes: Highly alkaline, and can
contain traces of metals and plastics if you don’t know where it came
from. It is still a good soil structure amendment and a good source of
phosphorous and potash.
Green sand: Also known as Glauconite,
greensand can be pricey. Its potash is generally very slowly released, but
its magnesium and other trace nutrients greatly benefit fruiting and
flowering plants. With this and with all rock based amendments, mixing with
semi-composted or fresh manure can make the nutrients more readily available
Rock phosphate: Soft Rock phosphates are
generally used, as Hard Rock phosphate is nearly impossible for the plants
to utilize. Soft rock phosphates are usually from ancient marine deposits.
Rock phosphate is best combined with a livestock or green manure to make it
more available to the plants, and to stabilize the nitrogen. As it is very
slow to release its phosphate, it is an excellent once a year product for
Rock dust: Sometimes referred to as
Glacial Rock Dust, or Granite Dust. This product is best at buffering
variables in the soil. The minerals in this dust are not available until the
various acids and alkali in the soil begin working on them, but their
stabilizing influence makes a noticeable difference.
Canola Meal and Flax seed Meal: A good
Non-animal NPK for those who prefer not to use animal by products. Breaks
down quickly, so should be applied about once a month during growing season.
Also has some trace nutrients.
Gypsum: Fairly inexpensive, easy to
apply source of calcium and sulfur. Gypsum can also help to improve sandy or
clay soils which are plagued with salt residues and buildup.
Lime: Excellent source of calcium, but
also quite alkaline. Often used with peat moss to counteract the acidity.
Sulfur: Usually used to lower the PH
(increase the acidity) of soil. Can burn plants when over applied, but comes
in mixes and stabilized forms with iron, magnesium and phosphorous…such as
Ironite and Sul-Po-Mag which are safe and easy to use.
Kelp meal: Mostly this is for trace
nutrients…though it contains trace amounts of the big three, the real
benefit is in its large amount of trace minerals and its ability to mix with
many other types of fertilizer.
Neem Cake: Residue from neem oil
pressing. Repels nematodes and is a good mild source of NPK. It is slightly
oily so it helps to retain water in sandy soils.
Coir: Coir is a sustainable alternative
to Peat Moss. It is ground coconut shell, and has a neutral ph, breaks down
more slowly than Peat, and has a natural rooting hormone as a benefit. It is
not hydrophobic when dry and isn’t so hard to re-wet.
Leaf mold: The finest source of trace
nutrients is leaves. However, since sources vary in chemical application and
type of leaf…it is wise to be cautious in its application, and expect
public source to be slightly to heavily contaminated. Also keep an eye out
for walnut, black walnut, hickory nut, and butternut juglone contamination.
Use those only on juglone tolerant plantings.
Perlite: While perlite does have trace
amounts of many nutrients, it is best used as a soil lightener. It can take
a bit of rough and tumble and holds moisture while providing good drainage.
Consider it the Popcorn of the rock world
Vermiculite: Like Perlite, Vermiculite
gives up its nutrients grudgingly, so is best used as a soil structure
provider. It is rather like the Puff Pastry of rocks, and though it is
excellent at keeping soil light and fluffy when undisturbed, it can be
squished flat, so is best used for gentle applications, like seed starting
and pot mixes. Some mines have been found to contain trace amounts of
asbestos, so care should be taken not to inhale the dust.
Cottonseed meal: should be an excellent
source of nitrogen. However, a high amount of insecticides are sprayed on
commercial cotton crops, so the cottonseed meal is not approved to be used
on organic crops UNLESS it is from an organic cotton grower. Be cautious.
Soybean meal: Makes an expensive
fertilizer, since most soybean meal is used for animal feed. There are other
options that are just as good and much less pricey.
Kelp Meal: Kelp meal is an excellent
source of trace nutrients that are readily available to the plant, including
natural growth inducers. While it is easy to find in coastal areas, it can
be harder to locate inland.
Langbeinite: An excellent source of
Potassium and magnesium…but little else. It is strong, so should be used
Azomite: A pink powdered rock, which
contains around 70 trace nutrients and seems to be effective at repelling
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