I once bought a quart of high-quality fish emulsion to try on my strawberries. It cost me $16… and was gone faster than cheese doodles at Marley Fest. Other great fertilizers, like blood or kelp meal, require a generous home equity line to buy in quantity.
I recently wrote a “Chemical vs. Organic Fertilizers” post over at The Prepper Project. One thing I didn’t mention there, however, was how darn cheap chemical fertilizers are compared to their organic counterparts.
Before you send me hate mail: I know they’re not cheap in the long run. Chemical fertilizers can damage soil fertility, wreak havoc on a microscopic level, eat up fossil fuels, put toxic levels of salts in the ground, contribute to the pollution of our waterways and make your hands smell really weird. But – let’s face it – if you want to grow a garden and you don’t have much money, 10-10-10 is pretty affordable.
Most of what I’m going to write today may be old-hat to experience organic gardeners; but there’s always a new generation of experimenters and learners coming up behind us. They’re the ones I hope to reach… encourage… and inspire to grow their gardens both frugally and responsibly. Are you a cheapskate… and an organic gardener? Keep reading.
Cheap Option #1: Manure
Poultry, goat, sheep, rabbit, horse, cow… whatever the farm animal, manure is the classic soil amendment. Problem: much of it is contaminated or at risk of contamination by herbicides. That means we organic gardeners are in a real bind. Can you track down every shipment of hay that’s been fed to the animals producing your manure? Are you sure your local dairy farmer didn’t spray “Grazon” on his fields to control pigweed at some point? Manure may be the best… and hurray if you can get safe stuff… but it’s playing Russian Roulette until we get these nasty persistent herbicides BANNED.
Cheap Option #2: Seaweed
No – I’m not talking about buying seaweed fertilizer. That’s great stuff… but it’s expensive! I’m talking about picking up seaweed on the closest beach, rinsing the salt off it, then letting it rot in a bucket. It smells incredibly bad but is a great source of micronutrients. Strain and water away.
Cheap Option #3: Urine
That’s right. Homemade fertilizer! Thin with about 6 parts water to 1 part urine, then water away. Note: you can use urine in higher concentrations on some plants, particularly if you don’t have a high-salt diet. This stuff works like a charm. I saw a garden in South Florida sand that was green, lush, highly productive… and fed only on diluted urine. It’s completely safe since the human kidneys don’t allow bacteria to pass through, making urine sterile (unless you have a urinary tract infection – then all bets are off, and you probably won’t feel like gardening anyhow).
Cheap Option #4: Worm Tea
This is a great way to add microbes to your soil while feeding your plants. I use it as a drench and a foliar spray. If you keep a bin of worms, “worm tea” is the liquid that sits in the bottom. I’ve got a bin to catch the “tea” that drips from the old dishwasher I converted into a worm farm. I take that precious liquid, mix it with a generous amount of water and pour it around my tropical trees and potted plants as a special boost.
Cheap Option #5: Compost or Manure Tea
There are a lot of ways to make this stuff. Some people will tell you to put an air hose from an aquarium pump into the bottom of a barrel of water with a few scoops of compost or manure in it, then let it bubble for a day or two. Other folks simply let a barrel of compost/manure and water sit in the sun for a few weeks. Yet other gardeners will add molasses, Epsom salts, comfrey, yogurt and all kinds of fun stuff to the mix. Whatever way you do it, once you pour that stuff on plants, they are very, very happy. And it allows you to stretch your manure/compost supply a long, long way.
A Special Recipe for Awesome Growth … and Stinkiness
“Dad! Please don’t spray that stuff anymore! PLEASE!”
That’s what I hear when I use Dave’s Amazing Unbelievable Super Fertilizer™ in my heavy-duty 4-gallon backpack pump sprayer. To get a wide range of nutrients and lots of microbial action, I add (roughly):
1/2 cup unsulphured molasses (to feed microbes)
1 gallon of urine (for nitrogen and micronutrients)
1/2 cup of fish emulsion (adds more nitrogen and other nutrients)
1 cup of liquid seaweed (for trace minerals and even more micronutrients)
A bit of homemade liquid soap (to break surface tension)
A tablespoon of Epsom salts (for magnesium)
A few cups of worm tea (for micronutrients and added microbes)
I top that combination up with water and sometimes let it sit for a day or two before application. It smells horrifying but the plants absolutely love it. The smell will go away in a day or so, so apply at least two days before having a barbecue. Unless you want to turn all your guests vegetarian for life.
This tank mix adds microbes to the ground, feeds the soil web, provides micronutrients, foliar feeds the leaves and makes solicitors stay far, far away from your house.
Whatever method you use to feed your plants organically… keep experimenting! This is a journey we’re all on together. Share your thoughts and your recipes with others (so long as they don’t cost $16 a quart). If you do, we’ll all be a little richer… and our gardens will be a lot greener.