Sustainable Gardening Methods: How to Make Your Own Fertilizer
We have shared before some things you can do at home to re-use things around the house to “hack” your gardening experience and implement sustainable gardening methods. Now, we want to share some ideas on how to make a season’s worth of fertilizer over the Winter months and into Spring. We will also share any cautions we have experienced or come across. All of these are easy – but they require a bit of thought as well.
Fertilizer Tea: This is the easiest to do but does require a bit of engagement on your part. The key is to find healthy greens – easier to do in the early Spring than in the Fall or Winter. We have used suckers from trees but have also used healthy plants from our garden (like spent arugula) to get the rest of the nutrients out of the plants. Simply soak these greens in water for a couple of weeks, remove the organic material and you are done – a completely natural fertilizer made up of nutrients from discarded plants. Mix this “tea” about 50/50 with water and you have an application for the garden. Use as often as you feel necessary – works better when the weather is drier. The biggest downside to this product is using non-healthy plants or plants that have been sprayed with some sort of weed killer or pesticide. Make sure your greens are healthy and free from bad things – and you should be good to go!
Egg Shells: a relatively easy way to replenish calcium in the soil. After cooking your eggs, rinse the shells and dry them. You can store them for several weeks until you get enough to grind. Yes, this works best if you grind the shells into a powder. This is a perfect Winter project for the entire family to save and watch the quantity grow. When ground, simply spread the powder on the soil and then mix in. Even better, if you do this over the Summer, you can put a layer of the powder on or under your newspaper (see below) to help the soil get stronger. The biggest downside to eggshells is not grinding them – as whole pieces, they take some time to break down and get into the soil.
Coffee Grounds: perhaps the easiest thing to prepare (if you are a coffee drinker) and sometimes available in bulk if you happen to know a restaurant owner or any place that makes a lot of coffee. Make sure you dry the grounds to prevent mold (we learned this the hard way). Spread the grounds liberally on the top of the soil to provide a nitrogen boost (over time) to plants and provide food for the microbiome. This can be very helpful for things like peppers which tend to be nitrogen hogs and may need more of this nutrient than surrounding plants. The grounds will break down like compost – be aware that too many applications of coffee grounds can increase soil acidity and may throw your pH off. To avoid this, you can rinse your coffee grounds – but that seems like too much work, especially if you focus on plants that may need a bit higher soil acidity.
Banana Peels: This is a new one for us – but it sounds pretty cool. Bananas are rich in potassium and also contain nitrogen, magnesium and phosphorous. You can save your peels and bury them next to plants to give an all-around nutrient boost. If you have an over-ripe banana, you can freeze them and pull them out when it is time to fertilize – just bury the entire banana! You can also soak the peels in water and then use the emulsion as a spray for seedlings and young plants. We recommend not using banana peels on the surface of your garden as they can attract unwanted pests and can make bees aggressive as they release a scent similar to a defense hormone for bees – so make sure they are buried!
Vinegar: By mixing a tablespoon of white vinegar (apple cider vinegar does not have the same properties) in a gallon of water, you can introduce acetic acid into the soil which can both help you rebalance the soil if it becomes to0 alkaline but also boost growth of certain plants. Be cautious in raised garden beds that do not have separate soil compartments as you do not want to use this as a broad fertilizer – but can use it as a broad tool against alkaline soil.
Newspaper: Newsprint is not a fertilizer per se but it will help you develop a strong microbiome as the cellulose is a wonderful food source for worms and other creatures in your soil. Their waste stream becomes the fertilizer – and newspaper can become a very effective way to build a great environment for friendly pests. Tear the newspaper into strips (top to bottom – the paper tears more easily in this direction). For an Eco Garden (or other raised garden beds), we recommend moving/removing about half the soil and laying down a lattice of these strips and then replacing the soil (this would be a good time to add things like bone meal, blood meal and perlite on top of the lattice before replacing the soil) to both help break up any compaction but also create deep soil health. This “deep health” can be important in elevated beds as rain tends to wash nutrients through the soil and there is a tendency towards soil compaction. You may even want to put any old branches you have been saving – this will help improve the total soil health, water retention and aeration. Watch this YouTube video on hacking with newspaper for instructions!
So, that is a partial list of things that can be done. What ideas have you tried that have been successful?