Easy-to-Make Organic Fertilizers
Organic Fertilizers You Can Make at Home
Coffee Ground Fertilizer
Coffee grounds contain nitrogen as well as trace amounts of the other two nutrients that are essential to plant health, phosphorus and potassium.
Best of all, you don't have to do anything to coffee grounds before adding them to soil.
Collect coffee grounds from a local cafe or save them up at home and spread them around your plants all at once in a layer of no more than 2 inches.
You could also simply dump your daily grind onto the ground daily.
It's all good.
Even Good Fertilizer Can Be Bad
It's sad but true. Just because fertilizer is organic doesn't mean that it won't adversely affect the environment if you apply too much. Excess fertilizer will leach out of the soil and pollute waterways.
To avoid adding to the world's pollution, get to know your soil. Test it yourself using a soil testing kit. It's sort of fun! Or, take soil samples from your landscape (that's sort of fun, too) and have them tested by a lab through your area cooperative extension office. The cost? Typically anywhere from $8 to $15 dollars.
Maryland's Master Gardener Handbook recommends that home gardeners test their soil at least once every 3 years.
Once you become familiar with your soil's strengths and weaknesses, you can determine what kind of fertilizer it needs as well as how much you should apply.
Adding compost to your soil is probably the best way to feed it.
This recipe for "quick compost" could take 2 weeks or less. How quickly it works depends upon how well your compost pile heats up.
1 part chopped green matter, such as grass clippings, vegetable scraps & weeds
1 part shredded brown (dry) material, such as leaves, straw & paper
Combine equal parts green and brown matter in empty compost bin all at once, completely filling it.
Mix the matter well, and turn it after 3 days. (Steam should be released when you do so. If it doesn't, the pile may need to be moistened.)
Continue turning the organic matter regularly. If the weather is hot and it becomes dry, add water. When it's brown and crumbly, the compost is ready to use (Master Gardener Handbook).
This recipe from Patricia Machalak's guide to growing herbs is a good fertilizer for just about any plant.
1 shovel of compost or farmyard manure
5 gal. water
1. Place compost or manure into a burlap bag. Tie the top securely & place it in water.
2. Let the bag soak until nutrients leach into the water.
3. Before using on seedlings, dilute with additional water until light brown.
Human urine contains the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium plants in a form that's accessible to plants. Unlike solid human waste, it contains few pathogens, and those that are found in it become harmless over time.
Once you get past the gross! factor and decide upon a method for collecting and storing it, pee is an easy-to-use, effective fertilizer. It's also virtually free, and it's readily available.
To make pee tea, all you need is water and urine that's been aged at least a month.
The following is a "recipe" based on advice from Barbara Pleasant, a contributing editor to Mother Earth News.
8 to 20 parts water
1 part aged human urine
Mix the urine and water. Apply at the base of plants once every 2 weeks.
Recipe for All-Purpose Organic Fertilizer
Here's an animal lover's version of an all-purpose organic fertilizer from Annie Spiegelman's awesome little book on organic gardening, Talking Dirt.
If you're not averse to using animal byproducts, you could substitute other organic ingredients.
Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) & potassium (K) are the 3 essential nutrients for plants. Fertilizer, both organic & synthetic, has 3 numbers on its packaging that indicate the percentage of N-P-K it contains.
- 3 parts nitrogen (cottonseed meal)
- 1 part phosphorous (rock phosphate)
- 1/2 part potassium (kelp meal)
- Although the ingredients can be probably be found in some chain superstores, it's least expensive to purchase them in bulk from a feed store or garden supply store.
- Mix together all ingredients in a large container with a tight-fitting lid, such as a metal or plastic garbage can.
- Keep the container in a sheltered area away from water and pests.
- Use as needed on potted plants, flowers, vegetables, shrubs and trees.
Directions for Using All-Purpose Fertlizer
Sprinkle fertilizer at plant drip line once a month. The mix can also be raked into new garden beds.
1 Tbsp. per 6-inch pot
1/4 C. per gallon container
1 C. per large shrub
1-2 C. per tree
Note to Vegetarians & Animal Lovers
If you're a strict vegetarian or an animal rights activist who eschews all animal products, you'll probably want to give bone meal, blood meal, fish emulsion and packaged manures a pass. Bone meal and blood meal are byproducts of the meat industry. Packaged manures are byproducts of the animal production industry.
Some Organic Sources of the 3 Essential Plant Nutrients
variable; check package
fish meal & emulsion
varies by animal
Master Gardener Handbook. University of Maryland College of Agricultural and Natural Resources. 2008. Print.
Michalak, Patricia S. Rodale's Successful Organic Gardening: Herbs. Ennaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1993. Print.
Pleasant, Barbara. "Free, Homemade Liquid Fertilizers." Mother Earth News Feb/March 2011. Web. 27 July 2012.
Spiegelman, Annie. Talking Dirt. New York: Penguin, 2010. Print.
About the Author
The Dirt Farmer has been an active gardener for over 30 years.
She first began gardening as a child alongside her grandfather on her parents' farm.
Today, The Dirt Farmer gardens at home, volunteers at community gardens and continues to learn about gardening through the MD Master Gardener program.