Archive for the ‘organic fertilizers’ Category

The federal vegetable patch

Friday, March 20th, 2009

With the days getting a little bit warmer and fewer reminders of winter out there, my mind has been going round and round about what to plant this spring in my vegetable garden. Apparently this condition is not unique to me. It seems also the case in Washington. I just found out that the First Lady, Michelle Obama, is also planning a vegetable garden on the south lawn of the White House where she intends to grow healthy, organically grown foods. Sure sounds to me like the petitions many of us signed had an effect.


Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Just think of all the waste that is generated in a household on any given day. A large part of this waste can be turned into humus, a nutrient rich addition to your garden. By composting not only do you wind up with fabulously rich soil with an improved texture, you also make a contribution to our environment. During the composting phase organic material decays and produces organic fertilizer. And that is good stuff for your plants!

What materials can you recycle?

Garden or kitchen refuse, such as grass clippings, branches, flowers, plant cuttings, weeds (it is best to avoid weeds that have gone to seed or are pervasive), fruit, vegetables, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags; small amounts of paper products can also be composted (e.g. paper towels, black and white newsprint, cardboard if broken into small pieces, paper products should be thoroughly soaked before you add them to your compost), hair or nail clippings, and I am sure you can come up with many more items.

Materials you want to avoid:

anything treated with pesticides or chemical fertilizers, deceased plant materials, dog or cat feces, dairy products, meat, bones, oil, fats, vinegar, household cleaners, and  of course any toxic materials.

Now to the How-To:

if you have the space in your garden you can build a nice compost heap. Any shady, well drained spot will do, but since you will add to the compost heap on a regular basis you may consider the location for ease of access. While a remote corner of your garden may seem an ideal place, you might not be so eager to trudge out there on a rainy day or in mid winter.

Place the materials on the pile in loose layers, the layers allow the air to circulate and thus stimulate the process of decay. Start with a base layer of woodsy material, then try to alternate a layer of kitchen refuse or green garden clippings with the woodsy stuff. A chipper does an excellent job of breaking down the tougher cuttings or branches. Sprinkle some water on each layer (rain water is ideal for this), and continue until your mulch pile is about 1 meter (3 feet or so) high. Sprinkle some humus or garden soil over each layer. You may also want to spread a little compost starter (commercially available in most garden centers) on each layer as you build your compost heap to start things going.  Make the final layer out of grass clippings, this acts as insulation to keep the generated heat in and cold air out. You might want to gently poke into the pile with a pitch fork once in a while to make sure air can circulate, some people also turn the entire pile periodically. I tend to build up the compost heap and other than sprinkling it with water in very hot weather to ensure it doesn’t dry out I leave it to do its magic by its own.

No room in the garden for a compost heap? If you have a black trash bag and a sunny spot you are in business. Simply place the composting materials in the bag, add some soil, tie the bag and place it in the sun. You should have good humus in a short time because the black bag retains heat well.

Then spread the humus around your plants to give them that extra boost.

Organic fertilizers

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

Once in a while even the sturdiest of plants in the garden appreciate a little boost. Liquid fertilizers are a lot of fun to make, they are just about free, fruit and vegetable trimmings are recycled, and I find the results amazing.

Stinging Nettle brew

My very favorite fertilizer is a brew made with stinging nettles. It is really easy to prepare, all you need is

  • a plastic or wooden container (because metal has a tendency to react during the fermentation process),
  • a bunch of nettles, try to harvest them before they have gone to seed,
  • rain water if available, or tap water drawn the day before,
  • plastic gloves to remove the ouch factor when you touch the nettles

cut the nettles into pieces, fill the bucket with water but make sure to leave some room on top because the liquid will foam as it starts to ferment. Place the container in a sunny location, then all you have to do is wait until the color of the brew is a nice dark brown and you notice its ‘fragrance’ as you walk by. Stir the mix a couple of times during the day to let air circulate.  I use a long wooden stick for that because you really don’t want to get the mix on your hands (see comment above  about its ‘fragrance’). The time it takes until your fertilizer is ready to use depends on the temperature, but a good guideline is a dark color of the liquid and no more foam. I find that when the days are warm and sunny the mix can be used in about 1 week.

Before applying this nourishing soup to your plants you will want to dilute it until the color is no darker than weak tea.  It is better to work with a weaker solution and repeat the application after a few days than to harm your plants. I never pour any of this on the leaves so as not to burn them but apply it to the soil around the plants. Tomatoes, cucumbers, squash all groove on this fertilizer, but some plants (garlic, onions, beans and peas for instance) are not happy with the nettle fertilizer. For those you can prepare a fertilizer from a mix of herbs.

A word of caution: pumpkins seem to respond overly enthusiastic to the nettle fertilizer. My 3 plants are threatening to take over not only the vegetable garden but have already sent out their feelers underneath the fence and are now headed into the street.

Liquid herbal manure

can be prepared in a similar fashion, but instead of nettles use whatever herbs are available. Lately I have also experimented with a mix of raw fruit and vegetable trimmings. Works just as well, right now I have a bucket filled with onion and garlic peels,  trimmings from leeks, carrots, lettuce, parsely, red beet skins etc. It is quite aromatic already, the bigger pieces have dissolved, and it should be ready to dilute and use in a day or so.