How to Make Complete Organic Fertilizer

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Cover Courtesy New Society Publishers
"The Intelligent Gardener: Growing Nutrient Dense Food" by Steve Solomon is a practical, step-by-step guide to growing produce of the highest nutritional quality.

Centuries of agriculture have depleted our soils causing the nutrient-density of fruits, grains and vegetables to decline dramatically, but the process of returning soil to true fertility is widely misunderstood. In this excerpt from The Intelligent Gardener (New Society Publishers, 2012), Steve Solomon gives us his all-purpose complete organic fertilizer recipe for re-mineralizing your garden soil.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store:The Intelligent Gardener: Growing Nutrient Dense Food.

Using Complete Organic Fertilizer Now

If your intention is to produce nutrient-dense food on a scale that means a great deal to the family economy, do a soil test, and amend the soil in the direction that maximizes nutritional outcomes. That’s the best way. Thinking just in terms of money, if you’re growing a large enough garden that its output makes a financial difference, and if its fertilization requires the purchase of anything at all, why not add another $20 to your annual cost and do a soil test first? Then you can buy only what the garden really needs. The test could save you more than its cost. And if you think of it in terms of your family’s health, there is no choice at all.

But if yours is a small garden that doesn’t seem to justify the cost or effort, if your food garden is not a discrete area but just a few vegetables interplanted amongst flowers and other ornamentals, or if it is in small, irregularly sized beds, each with highly different natures, soils, histories of being amended, and so forth, or for whatever reason being guided by a soil test seems undoable, then your problem can be solved by fertilizing with a fairly complete and balanced organic fertilizer recipe.

The major concern when designing a complete organic fertilizer is achieving as much balance as possible without creating excesses. Deficiencies are easy to remedy; excesses…well, as Hugh Lovel once joked, “it’s easy enough to resolve soil nutrient excesses, no more difficult than getting too much salt out of the soup.” My complete organic fertilizer recipe is designed to, above all, avoid creating excess; therefore, it cannot completely ensure there are no minor nutrient or trace element deficiencies. There is no way out of this problem except to custom-design a new complete organic fertilizer every year or two from soil test results.

Making complete organic fertilizer yourself requires that you first obtain up to ten ingredients. (To source them all might take a bit of clever shopping because garden center merchants as yet don’t expect home gardeners to request some of these substances. I hope that will change.) Making complete organic fertilizer will involve nearly the same effort and expense as would biting the bullet, getting a soil test, and formulating something perfectly suited to your land. And no complete organic fertilizer can possibly grow food to the degree of nutrient- density that can be achieved from re-mineralization according to a soil test result.

Making complete organic fertilizer requires measuring ingredients by volume using ordinary kitchen gear and then thoroughly blending and uniformly distributing the material. I measure out fertilizers with a quart-sized worn out Teflon-coated saucepan and a cheap, plastic half-quart measuring cup. For trace elements, I measure rather more accurately, using a kitchen measuring spoon set. Perfect accuracy is not required; plus or minus ten percent is good enough. I am certain as you read the recipe, you’ll have questions or may not know what some of these substances are. Don’t worry, I’ll give you a lot more information about these materials in later chapters.

Complete Organic Fertilizer Recipe

To make enough complete organic fertilizer to generously cover 100 square feet, mix:

  • 3 quarts oilseed meal such as soybean meal, cottonseed meal or canolaseed meal or else:
  • 1 1/2 quarts feather meal or fishmeal (smelly)

or, the very best combination is probably:

  • 2 quarts oilseed meal, 1 pint feather meal and 1 pint fishmeal plus

  • 1 quart soft or colloidal rock phosphate (the best choice by far) or bone meal

  • 1 quart kelp meal and/or 1 pint Azomite (for trace minerals) and/or apply liquid kelp every 2 weeks as a foliar throughout the season. 

Lime: Choose one of these two options:

  • If you garden where the land originally grew a forest, add these two: 1 pint agricultural limestone, 100# (fine grind) and 1 pint agricultural gypsum
  • If you garden where the land originally grew prairie grass or is a desert add 1 quart agricultural gypsum.
  • If you do not live in Cascadia, add1/3 cup potassium sulfate.

You may consider the following last four items optional:

  • 1 teaspoon laundry borax or a smaller quantity of Solubor (1/2 gm actual boron)

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons zinc sulfate

  • 2 teaspoons manganese sulfate

  • 1 teaspoon copper sulfate

When all ingredients are in the bucket, mix them very thoroughly before spreading. I use either of two mixing methods: 1) Slowly pour the materials from one bucket to the next and then back. Repeat this about six times. Or, 2) stir the contents with my hand. The first method works the best, but can raise a bit of dust and is best done outdoors.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from The Intelligent Gardener: Growing Nutrient Dense Food, published by New Society Publishers, 2012. Buy this book from our store:The Intelligent Gardener.