How To Make Your Own Organic Garden Fertilizer

 

Here is guest blogger Kerri with a recipe to make to your own organic garden fertilizer: 

Fertilizer Tea Time

I’m thrifty.  I have a Goodwill frequent shopper card and I most certainly love a good rummage sale.  I’m running my 1997 Subaru into the ground…and proud of it!  So, I don’t know about you, but it pains me to drop $12 or more on a bag of organic fertilizer.   I’m tired of forking over my hard earned cash to Menards!  Take a stand with me and make some fertilizer tea!

Fertilizer Tea 

Yields 3 Gallons 

Ingredients:

4 Cups Seed Meal (I used cottonseed meal)

1 Cup Dolomitic Lime

1/2 Cup Bone Meal

1/2 Cup Kelp Meal

Directions:

Place all ingredients in a double-layer large square of cheesecloth.

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Tie the corners to make a tea bag.  Pour three gallons of water into a large container (I used a 5 gallon pail that I had on hand).  Submerge the tea bag in the water ( I used a length of old pantyhose to secure the tea bag to the handle of the bucket to suspend it in the water).

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Steep for 24 hours.

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Sparingly water your garden plants, near the roots, with your finished tea.  I used a soup-ladle full for each plant.  One batch was enough to fertilize my front and back garden and a few potted annual flowers.

So far my results from application of the fertilizer tea, after one week, have been solid.

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The plants appear strong and vibrant and the eggplants have experienced a bit of a growth spurt.  I would say that the fertilizer tea is on par with any organic ready-made fertilizer you can buy at your local garden center.  Although the original recipe poster noted that this yielded only one batch, I’m steeping the tea bag again and will do a weaker fertilization this week…because I’m thrifty.

If you’re interested in making your own fertilizer tea, your best bet for securing all of your ingredients in one stop is to visit your local Stein’s Garden Center.  I first visited a Farm and Fleet ( or Farm and Barn, as I like to call it) and could find only a couple of the ingredients.  The only organic products they carried were Miracle Gro products (which I try to avoid).   I then ventured over to Stein’s and was delighted to find that not only did they have all of the ingredients I needed but they had three different organic brands! Thrilling!  I think the grand total for all ingredients was around $70.   This may seem like a lot to drop all at one time but, if I’ve done my math right, for a small garden like mine, you could be set for a couple of seasons.  You may have to purchase more seed meal.  I plan to continue to use the fertilizer tea in combination with side dressing with additional composted manure for the rest of the season.

Next time: When to harvest beets and easy ways to prepare them!

And…check out these pics from the garden this week.  A katydid came to visit!

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How to Choose Fertilizer for Organic Gardening

 

 

A guest post from Kerri:

Nitrogen and Phosphorus and Potassium…Oh My!  

So you’ve decided to embark on the grand adventure of backyard (or frontyard) gardening.  You’ve watched Food Inc., you’re a big fan of Will Allen and Growing Power, you’ve read every issue of Mother Earth News.  You want your garden to provide you with a bounty of organic, fresh veggies and fruits…but how do you really know what you’re growing and feeding to your family is “organic”?   You have to consider every component of your fruit and veggie production…seeds and/or seedlings, soil, compost (if purchased), fertilizer.  If you want to know your produce is 100% undeniably organic, you would have to purchase or acquire each of these components from a certified organic manufacturer or certified organic source.  Pretty daunting, huh?  I think so too.  But, hey, let’s not go all “all or nothing” here!  Relax…take a deep breath.  You can tackle all of these things in time and what you grow in your backyard is undoubtedly better than whatever commercially grown, non-organic produce you can buy at your local grocery store, right?

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of research on one of the components noted above, fertilizer.  What’s in it?  What do those numbers on the label mean? What’s the difference between an organic and a non-organic fertilizer?  My dad grew up on the homestead in Fort Atkinson and he knows a thing or two about gardening.  Last year, I was rather disappointed with the yield of the front gardens and this year I decided I would make fertilizing a priority.  (Note: I really should have my soil tested at the UW Extension to identify deficiencies but I opted to push that off to next season.)  As I do with most conundrums about gardening (and other things), I went straight to my dad.  “Is my soil “bad”?”  “What’s going on?!”  He brought over his two gardening staples: composted manure and Miracle Gro.  His method begins right at planting.  Dig your hole, throw in some composted manure, plant your plant, maybe add a little more composted manure then…water.  Try to fertilize once a week.  My dad and I diverge on the choice of fertilizer (Miracle Gro is a product of Scott’s which is tied to Monsanto, the guys behind Round-Up, which contains glyphosate which has been linked to cancer, infertility and Parkinson’s according to a recent study published in the April 2013 edition of the scientific publication Entropy. Yeah…I want none of that) so I’ve been in search of an organic fertilizer that’s safe for my plants and my family.

The three main components of fertilizer are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium and you can find their percentages on the front of the fertilizer package (e.g., 5-3-2 is 5% nitrogen, 3 % phosphorus and 2% potassium).  Fertilizers also contain small amounts of other trace minerals necessary for growth and found in all organic materials (e.g., copper, iron, boron).  A filler rounds out the mixture which provides a buffer so the plants don’t get scorched by direct application of the fertilizer ingredients.   So, at my local Menard’s, I went in search of a fertilizer that provided these basic ingredients and was also organic (i.e., the filler is organic and there are no chemical additives).

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I found Chickity Doo Doo…a chicken manure fertilizer that also contains 9% calcium (the Chickity Doo Doo website states that this helps root and leaf growth and increases overall plant health) and is OMRI approved.  OMRI, or the Organic Materials Review Institute, is a nonprofit that approves products for use in operations that are certified organic by the USDA.  Score!  And into the cart the Chickity Doo Doo went. Then I looked for composted manure.

 

 

There were no OMRI certified dairy cow manure products at Menard’s so I went with the one pictured below.

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I’m not keen on special ordering organic composted dairy cow manure because that would get a little pricey.  I’ll have to do a little more researching to find out if there’s a local organic cattle farm I can strike a deal with.  I’ll let you know what I find out!   Next week: Recipes for Homemade Fertilizer

Also, check out my garden this week!

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A tour of Kerri’s garden!

 

Kerri, Kerri, Quite Contrary…How Does Your Garden Grow? 

 

I can’t remember the rest of this nursery rhyme and I think it involved a girl named Mary, but I can tell you what I’m growing this year and how it’s going!  The first question I asked myself this year when planning my garden was “What does my family eat a lot of that I can grow myself?”  Tomatoes (chili and spaghetti are usually a hit), green beans, beets, Brussels sprouts (great baked with bacon and maple syrup), cabbage (I just can’t get enough coleslaw in the summer and I may attempt again to make my own sauerkraut), hot and bell peppers (both are a good addition to chili and my husband’s Thai dishes), lettuce and sorrel (for salads), eggplant and zucchini (both are so versatile and great for grilling in the summer!), basil (for homemade pesto) and chives.  The second question: “How much sunlight does each of these crops need and what does my garden offer?”  Our backyard faces west and is bathed in sunshine every afternoon.  With enough water, everything thrives (even a grapevine that is somehow growing out of the alley…I think it’s water source is the storm sewer).  Tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini have done quite well in the backyard strip for a few years in a row now so I’ve located them there again this year.  Note: I was worried about the tomatoes depleting the soil and considered doing some crop rotation, but growing in the same location has not yet proved to be an issue, so the tomatoes are staying put.  I’ve also potted some basil and placed it in the back garden, although I may have to move the pots to a more shaded location because the leaves are getting a tad scorched.  Pole beans in pots round out the backyard garden and aren’t too impressive yet since I just started those from seed.

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The front yard garden has always been challenging.  Our two raised beds get spotty morning sun because of a huge, leggy tree that calls our easement home.  The shade that the tree offers, although not great for our garden sometimes, provides great shade for the house!  Luckily, for the garden, the sunshine is a bit more constant come mid-morning until mid-afternoon.  Because of the limited amount of direct sun, I chose to locate the lettuce, sorrel, beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, peppers and another round of pole beans in the front.  The chives are a perennial resident as well as some rogue lemon balm that I just can’t get rid of!  I think some acorn squash seeds have also sprouted from my compost mixture and are taking over a couple corners (I love a good mystery…crop).  Some of these crops could, arguably, do better with more direct sun throughout the day.  Rather than lament the size of my peppers and cabbage, if my yield is not state fair-worthy, I’ve taken to using the prefixes “micro”, “baby” and “fancy” to describe my bounty of tiny veggies!

 

It’s not too late to start your own garden this summer. Growing just a couple of your family’s favorite vegetables could save you some cash and it’s fun!  A lot of the crops I’ve noted can easily be grown in containers if you have an apartment or condo balcony.  To quote one of my favorite t-shirts : “gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes!”

Meet our new guest blogger Kerri and learn about composting!

 

Meet our new guest blogger Kerri and learn all about her compost pile! 

 

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Hi there!  I’m Kerri, an aspiring gardener, mother of one active little 4 year old boy (Aanon), Employee Benefits paralegal at a large Milwaukee law firm, and a woman who always has at least 12 projects going at any given time (I blame Netflix for that last one).  My husband, Nate, Aanon and I live in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Milwaukee and enjoy rummaging, refurbishing (my husband is an expert furniture refinisher and can turn any cast-off into a gem), exploring the outdoors (soon to be even more exciting with the recent addition of a metal detector!), gardening,  living on the cheap (homemade laundry detergent, anyone?), and camping (I’m actually the only one that enjoys camping…oh well).

 

Why the love of gardening? When I was little, I spent a lot of time during the summer at my paternal grandparents farm in Fort Atkinson, WI.  I loved helping with the large garden that my grandmother maintained and enjoyed helping with the variety of other chores that went into running the farm.  It was a wonderful place to explore and far different from my suburban Milwaukee neighborhood.  Although I live in the city now, I’ve tried to turn my city acreage into my own little farm (we don’t have chickens…yet;)).  And gardening is a great experience my son and I can share…from the first sprouting seed of spring to preparing the garden beds for winter.   I hope to share some tips and tricks with you that I’ve learned and continue to learn about gardening and urban homesteading.

 

Compost Can Happen…Even in the Alley

 

Every Friday, my son and I eagerly open our box of fresh fruits and veggies from Brewers Organics.  “What’s this?,” Aanon asks me eagerly. “Kale,” I reply.  The inventory goes on until our box is empty and its colorful contents are packed into every available nook and cranny of the fridge.  As we chop and slice, sauté and roast throughout the week, the peelings, cores and various inedible bits pile up in a small white metal garbage can in our kitchen in preparation for their next life as soil!  Throughout the week, we dump our “dirty food,” as my son calls it, into a larger black bin that we keep tucked away at the end of our dead end alley.  In addition to food scraps, we add coffee grounds, grass clippings and other yard waste (we don’t fertilize or treat our lawn with pesticides) to our compost stew.  We try to stir up the bin contents as often as we remember to which helps aerate the pile and speed decomposition.

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“Don’t raccoons get into your compost? Doesn’t it smell?,” you might ask.  We make sure to securely cover our compost bin to ensure no furry neighborhood scavengers steal some of the less decomposed scraps and take care not to mix in any meat or dairy products, which can become rancid and further attract animals.  “How do you know when the compost is “done”?”  The time it takes to fully cure compost depends on size of your compost pile, temperature, and proper balance of nitrogen rich (food scraps) and carbon based (yard waste) materials.  I mix my compost (usually partially cured) into my garden beds in the fall and heavily mulch the beds with autumn leaves and vines of squash and tomato plants that are done producing for the season.  This method allows for continued decomposition over the winter months and hasn’t, in my experience, attracted any animals over the winter months.  In spring, I’m greeted with great soil that’s packed with worms and ready for planting!

 

Are you ready to start composting?  A quick web search yields many manufactured compost bins for purchase and do-it-yourself plans to make your own compost bin out of wood pallets or other wood scraps.  You can locate your new bin wherever it’s convenient for you.  If you have a large yard, you can place your bin in your yard and the soil beneath it will be enriched…a great place to start a garden the following year.  Move your bin year after year and create more fertile garden space!

 

Composting is a great way to give your Brewers Organics produce scraps a new life and keep the growing cycle going!