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Natural Fertilizers

Updated on February 3, 2017
Robie Benve profile image

Robie is a big fan of healthy and frugal living. Sometimes the best solutions are the simple and natural ones that our grandparents used.

Plants Need Nutrients

Plants need certain nutrients to grow healthy and at their full potential. Fertilizers supplement the nutrition elements already present in the soil, creating for plants a comprehensive food resource.

Compost, a Natural Fertilizer

A handful of healthy compost.
A handful of healthy compost. | Source

What Is the Best Fertilizer?

Generally speaking, depending on the soil type that you have to work with, you'll need to have different approaches to soil treatment, and the best fertilizer for one soil may not help another.

With the soil type you must also consider what you are trying to grow: lawns, trees and shrubs, or flowers and vegetables have different needs in terms of soil condition and chemical nutrients.

In the fertilizer family there are two main types: organic (or natural) and inorganic ones.

Inorganic Fertilizers

Inorganic fertilizers, usually available in a granular form, are produced by a chemical process in a factory. These fertilizers quickly release nutrients to the soil, and the amount of the three main nutrients is clearly indicated on the package by three numbers.

The numbers always indicate the chemicals in order: Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium.

For example if the label says 15-5-10, the fertilizer contains 15% Nitrogen, 5% Phosphorus, and 10% Potassium. The remainder 70% is inert filler. There are many combinations of fertilizer to meet specific needs.

Synthetic fertilizers don’t improve the soil life or add any organic matter. Their release of chemicals is pretty fast, and an over-dosage of fertilizer can damage or kill the plants.

As nutrients are readily available to plants, they are also easy to wash out and waste, with a big rain or excessive watering.

A tomato’s nutrient requirements change as the plant grows.
A tomato’s nutrient requirements change as the plant grows. | Source

Organic Fertilizers

In nature, plants don’t need fertilizing because they get their nutrition from decaying dead plants and animals, eroding rocks, and other naturally occurring processes that release the needed chemicals in the soil, becoming available to the roots as food.

Organic fertilizers rely on the same natural principles, and use organic matter to produce plant nutrients, rather that utilizing synthetic sources. They can be of animal, vegetal, or mineral nature and, depending on the type, they’ll provide different chemicals and nutrients.

There is some confusion on the word organic, due to the fact that organic is used in different way and meanings. For the purpose of this article, Organic and Natural are used as synonyms, to indicate fertilizers derived from organic and natural matter, such as leaves, bone, or manure.

Advantages of Using Natural Fertilizers

  • Natural, or organic, fertilizers, release their chemicals slowly, so the plant can take advantage of the nutrients for a longer time.
  • The nutrients are in complex molecules, and they can resist rain, without being washed away.
  • They are beneficial to the soil microbes and earth worms that contribute making nutrients available to plants, hence enhancing the soil health.
  • It is difficult to over-feed your plants, since only what is broken down by the soil life will be available to the plants.
  • They enhance the structure of the soil, adding organic matter and humus that also help retain soil moisture.

Fertilizer does no good in a heap, but a little spread around works miracles all over.

— Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Using Compost as Fertilizer

One of the easier natural fertilizers for anyone to produce at home is compost.

Compost can be used in many ways by a gardener, but the main way is usually to be dug into the soil in order to improve texture and fertility.

Unless you create compost from high-nutrient matter, such as manure, the chemical nutrients present in compost are not enough to provide a good fertilization of your soil. The main purpose of compost is to improve the structure, aeration, and nutrient holding capacity of the soil.

Compost can also be spread on the lawn as top dressing, or around flowers, shrubs, and vegetables to stimulate growth.

All You Need to Know About Building a Compost Pile

How Do You Compost at Home?

Pretty much any organic material can go into the compost pile or bin, as long as it's shredded small enough to process. Avoid meat scraps because they attract animal pests.

Other than that you can throw in: weeds, grass clippings, leaves, table scraps, wood shavings, sawdust, animal manures, peat moss, and even commercial fertilizers. Fall is a great supplier for the compost pile, with all the lawn and yard waste.

A good compost pile will get quite hot in the center, with all the chemical reaction breaking down the organic matter. After a few weeks turn it over, working the outer layers into the center, so that the all thing gets processed.

Manure

Horse Manure
Horse Manure | Source

Animal Manure as Fertilizer

Animal manure is a great provider of nutrients for the soil.

You can use manure from all kinds of animals: chickens, rabbits, cows, horses, etc. Avoid using manures from cats, dogs, and pigs, because they may contain pathogens that can survive composting and remain infectious for people.

Before manure can be used as fertilizer, it needs to fully compost. Raw manure can damage roots, burn plants, increase the acidity of the soil, pollute ground water, and contaminate edibles.

Guano, a very efficient fertilizer, is also a kind of manure; in fact it is made with the droppings of sea birds, bats, and seals.

Bone Meal as Fertilizer

Bone meal is made from ground bones, and it’s a rich fertilizer, that provides all three the main nutrients N, P, and K, with about 12% of Phosphorus. It works well for acid soil, and it releases its nutrients slowly, but when finely ground the release is faster.

About the different “meals”. Bone meal and blood meal are made from slaughterhouse leftovers. Seed meals are taken from what's left after cotton is harvested or certain oil seeds are processed.

Roles of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium in Fertilizers

Chemical
Uses
Nitrogen (N)
Stimulates plant growth, and a deeper green color.
Phosphorus (P)
Helps root development and prevents stunted growth.
Potassium (K)
Helps the plants to produce sugar and starches, that are used by the plant as energy food, and helps also disease resistance.

Grade of Fertilizer and Suggested Lawn Uses

GRADE
WHEN TO USE
5-20-10
For lawns testing low in Phosphorus
5-10-10
For lawns not regularly fertilized, or for a new lawn's seedbed
10-10-10
For lawns in need of extra Phosphorus and Potassium, but not impoverished
15-10-10
For lawns fertilized regularly but in need of more Phosphorus
20-10-5
Lawn stimulation; too little Potassium for regular use, too high Nitrogen to be healty used regularly.
Some fertilizer grades and suggestions for what uses they could have on the lawn.

© 2012 Robie Benve

Comments

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    • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

      Robie Benve 

      3 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks for you nice comment Kirsteen. I have not published new hubs about Italy for a while, I was just thinking that I should work on new ones, your words are inspiring. Ciao!

    • Kirsteen Niven profile image

      Kirsteen Niven 

      3 years ago from Bonnie Scotland

      Thanks for posting this. You have lots of nice hubs ! I shall potter along another time to read some of your Italian ones.. They'll fill me with nostalgia for La Bella Italia. Grazie!

    • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

      Robie Benve 

      5 years ago from Ohio

      Hi jackinabox, I always think "we are what we eat", and while we can't much control what we buy, it is a great thing to feel safe from artificial chemicals at least for the things we grow. Thanks a lot for your comment. :)

    • jackinabox profile image

      jackinabox 

      5 years ago

      Thanks for a great hub. I am definitely in favour of using organic fertilizer.

    • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

      Robie Benve 

      5 years ago from Ohio

      adjkp25, Organic is the best way to go, kudos to you for carrying that through. The chemicals would all end up in the chickens and their eggs, not to mention water.

      Sinea Pies, that's too funny that the dog likes manure. It made me wonder if that's true for every dog, I guess I don't know because I don't have a dog, and when I had one in Italy, he would not go where the garden was because of the fence.

      Thanks a lot both of you! :)

    • Sinea Pies profile image

      Sinea Pies 

      6 years ago from Northeastern United States

      Excellent hub! I think manure is a great source of nutrition for the soil but, OMG, my dog loves it too! It actually was funny to see. I had purchased some topsoil to add to a flower garden. It had manure in it, unbeknownst to me. Didn't take long to figure it out, though. Lexi was going crazy digging and eating my soil. We had to hold her back a few days until the scent subsided and she let my garden alone. :)

      Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • adjkp25 profile image

      David 

      6 years ago from Northern California

      Great breakdown on the natural options available to fertilize with. We use the manure from our horses and our chickens in our garden and around our trees. We stay natural and organic because we don't want our chickens pecking up some chemical fertilizer, it can be fatal for them.

      Voted up and useful.

    • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

      Robie Benve 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      Hello rajan jolly, thanks a lot for taking the time to read and leave a very informative feedback. Happy natural farming! :)

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      6 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Robie, this is very interesting and useful information. You have explained it all in very simple language.

      We use cow dung as a fertiliser for our garden plants. I've also used poultry manure but it is very strong and much hotter than cow dung, so plants need it to be watered a lot if one is using chicken droppings.

      Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

      Robie Benve 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks a lot everyone, I'm happy you found it informative, and grateful for the wonderful feedback. I am all about natural and organic gardening as much as possible and it's great to see other people with the same philosophy. :)

    • kittyjj profile image

      Ann Leung 

      6 years ago from San Jose, California

      I am new to gardening. This hub provides the basic info that I need. Thank you for sharing! Voted up and useful!

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      6 years ago from Arizona

      You know I love your artsy hubs but this is information many should take advantage of. we would have healthier people with this alone. Vote UP and share.

    • 2besure profile image

      Pamela Lipscomb 

      6 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      This is great information on something many of us take for granted. What it takes to produce a healthy crop. I think organic fertilizers are best! Composting is a good way of recycling waste.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      This is one of the best hubs I have read about natural and/or organic fertilizers. When I had a huge garden in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin many years ago...that is all I used and had great results. I also planted marigolds to repel certain insects and zinnias which were a target plant for others. That way my veggies did well. We have a small compost bin in our backyard and put all of our coffee grounds, eggshells, vegetable waste, etc. in it and use it for our small garden. Up, useful and interesting votes and will share.

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