The ecologically minded gardeners ask themselves “What fertilizers are best for the environment?” If, as a child, you watched your grandparents tend their garden and saw them use cow manure or alfalfa meal on their plants, your grandparents already knew the answer to that.
The best fertilizer must provide what the plants need and what the environment needs. Many synthetic products exist that focus only on what the plants need. They attempt to provide a single bag of material that addresses all the needs of the plant.
Plant Needs for Nutrients
A plant’s needs boil down to three substances though, represented in specific percentages. Every plant needs:
Fertilizers made from synthetic ingredients communicate their content using these percentages, such as 10-10-10. That means the fertilizer provides an equal amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Some plants need a greater amount of one of those ingredients or another, so you can find 10-20-10 or 20-10-10.
Typically, synthetic fertilizers don’t provide the best fertilizers for the environment. Most individuals who turn to gardening or farming choose a natural product that provides most of what the plants need, then add to it with standalone ingredients, such as bone meal.
Ingredients that Naturally Provide Nutrients
You don’t need a pre-mixed fertilizer that uses synthetic ingredients to help your plants grow. You will need to know what nutrients each plant needs and in what mixture percentage. You can then purchase naturally sourced products that provide you with a starter base or, in some cases, everything your garden needs.
Substances Natually Rich in Nitrogen
When you read the list of substances naturally rich in nitrogen a few things from mystery novels and thriller movies should suddenly make sense. Dried blood and blood meal top the list of substances with naturally occurring nitrogen. When you read a book or see a movie in which the killer buries a body in the garden plot and later jokes about how well the roses grew, that writer knows their gardening.
Other substances with lots of nitrogen in them include cottonseed meal, fish emulsion, and seaweed extract. If your favorite purveyor of fish sticks also lists on its website that it sells fertilizer products, they’re probably using fish emulsion, also called fish guts, as a way to get more out of the fish they catch and process. This reduces waste products.
Substances Natually Rich in Phosphorus
That friend of yours with the fabulous tomato garden and that odd bag of bone meal in the mud room also knows his stuff. Many meat processing operations separate out the bones, then process them into bone meal to sell as fertilizer. The other common naturally occurring phosphorus-rich substance, rock phosphate, comes as a byproduct of mining operations.
Substances Natually Rich in Potassium
Let’s take the inorganic substance first. Sulfate of potash, also called potassium sulfate or potassium sulphate, doesn’t occur naturally. It gets created during the processing of other substances, such as minerals in Stassfurt salt. It doesn’t contain chloride, which can harm plants. Plants that need this type of fertilizer include tobacco, certain fruits, and some vegetables.
The naturally occurring substance, green sand, also called glauconies, provides potassium in droves. Typically found in Hawaii, this naturally occurring sand with the funny color derives its nutrients from dead marine animals, sediment, and mixed layers of clay minerals, such as smectite and glauconite mica.
Making Natural Fertilizer
If you’d heard or read of someone making their own fertilizer, you might have thought they meant from normal household substances. Not really.
Because of the rarity of the substances, you still have to shop for the ingredients. Bone meal and blood meal come pretty cheap but expect to pay a pretty penny for green sand if you don’t live on the Big Island or anywhere near it. Finding products with sulfate of potash proves much easier and cheaper.
You’ll also need to add other substances besides one of each of the providers of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Most growth soil needs humates to help it along with certain soil needs, including:
- recycling raw materials,
- filtering water,
- providing a foundation for soil infrastructure,
- offering the right foundation for healthy plant growth.
Mixing the made-at-home fertilizer proves pretty simple since you typically use one part of each ingredient to make enough fertilizer to cover your garden. You’ll need to research specific plant needs first so that you don’t dump a fertilizer meant for tobacco onto a tomato plant.
The average garden of flowers though uses an equivalent mix. That means you can use a one-cup measure of each ingredient of the three major nutrient needs, then add humates as directed on the package for the fertilizer you need or your soil type.
How to Mix It
There’s nothing complex about making your own fertilizer blend once you’ve acquired the ingredients. You will need a clean bucket of about 10 gallons, a mixing trowel, and a measuring cup. With respect to the bucket, purchase a new one that hasn’t been used for anything else. They’re cheap and this ensures you don’t accidently add chemicals that remained in the bucket from whatever you last used it.
Simply measure one cup of each of the major nutrients for an equal 10-10-10 mix. If a gardening guide says you need a 10-20-10 mix that means you need an extra measure of phosphorus. The percentages always appear in the same order – nitrogen, phosphorus, then potassium. This makes it easy to mix.
What if you need a tiny amount? You don’t have to mix a big batch at once. If you only need enough to fertilize one plant, then substitute a tablespoon measuring cup for the one-cup measuring cup. This lets you mix one-to-one-to-one ingredients in a small but accurate amount.