An Introduction to Organic Garden Fertilizer and Compost

Learn about organic garden fertilizer and compost, including the benefits and traits of proper soil health including the addition of humus, mulch, potash, bonemeal, manure and more.

| May/June 1970

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    An example of an anaerobic compost method, this type of compost pile should be turned every few weeks.
    Photo by Mother Earth News staff
  • book-cover
    Jeanie Darlington shares tips for making and using organic fertilizer.
    Illustration by Mother Earth News staff

  • compost
  • book-cover

Tangy red tomatoes, butter peas, crisp lettuce, sweet onions, corn on the cob, watermelon that drips off the chin and other succulent goodies ... fresh from your own garden. All pure, natural and organically grown.

It's a great dream — but where do you start? Especially if you were raised on concrete and have no handle on terms like "compost," "rock phosphate" and "ecological balance."

Well, we've all got to begin somewhere and Jeanie Darlington has written a great little book that is titled "Grow Your Own: An Introduction to Organic Gardening." It is just that, and Mother Earth News has collected a few of her chapters regarding organic fertilizer and compost.

Getting Inspired to Start an Organic Garden

I haven't been a mad gardener all my life. In fact, I really only began in the spring of 1968 with a vegetable garden. I had tended a small flower garden behind our flat in London, but this was my first real attempt. And it was the first whole summer Sandy and I had ever been in one place since we'd met six years before.

We moved into a cottage in Albany, Calif., just north of Berkeley, in August the year before. There was a nice size back yard full of dying roses, 3-foot tall grass and 35-year-old fruit trees — apple, pear, apricot and plum. The house was all overgrown with vines and looked straight out of Hansel and Gretel so we left it that way. But we did cut the grass, prune the roses, and spray them and the fruit trees with some poison or other. It seemed like the right thing to do. We didn't do much else until the next spring when I decided I might try planting some tomatoes.

I was working at a nursery at the time, so I had plenty of knowledge about all the super fertilizers and magic bug killers. And I was pretty good at selling these to the customers. One spray company even paid the employees dividends each month according to how much of their product we sold. Naturally, I pushed it. Fortunately, it was the least toxic spray we carried and was safe to be used on vegetables within one day of harvest. But I wondered, "If it kills all the bugs it says it does, how come one day will make it safe for me?"

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