If you aren’t blessed with naturally fertile soil, you may have asked yourself what the best ways to fertilize your garden might be.
Even if you are lucky enough to have nutrient-dense ground, it can be difficult to maintain the appropriate levels of nutrients in your soil to encourage healthy crop production.
Rather than spend a fortune on expensive, dangerous chemical fertilizers, why not use a more natural solution? These are some of the best low-cost (often free!) options to support your garden health – without introducing chemicals.
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1. Save Your Banana Peels
Banana peels are high in potassium – good for you, as you know, but also good for your plants. You can either add the peels to your compost or you can toss them right in the planting hole when you plant. Your plants will get an excellent dose of potassium as the plants degrade – you won’t need to lift a finger.
2. Add Coffee Grounds
You can toss some spent coffee grounds and filters into your compost, or, as with the banana peels, you can put them back into your planting hole. Coffee is high in nitrogen, but it releases slowly, so you don’t have to worry about it burning your plants. It also has magnesium, phosphorous, and copper -everything your plants need to be healthy.
3. Save the Fish Tank Water
If you have a pet fish, you probably know that you need to replace a percentage of the water each week to keep your fish healthy. But did you know that you can save this water and reuse it on your garden? A lot of commercial fertilizers use fish emulsion as a nutrient-base, so if you have a fish tank that requires regular cleaning, the spent water will serve as a great way to fertilize your garden and water your plants at the same time.
This same theory applies for cooking water, too!
4. Recycle Some Molasses
If you have some molasses hanging around the house, you might tn to consider adding it to your worm tea. Interestingly, molasses adds sugars that provide beneficial bacteria and microbes essential feed.
5. Add Limestone
If you have acidic soil, you might want to add limestone. It can balance pH and it also adds calcium. Just make sure you test your soil before adding limestone to avoid swinging things too much in one direction.
6. Get Corny
Both corn gluten meal and regular cornmeal can help fertilize the ground. Cornmeal, in particular, helps to present fungal diseases and it can prevent things like damping off and leaf spot. You’ll want to go for whole-ground organic cornmeal to be effective.
7. Rotate Your Livestock
There are some types of animal manure that can be added directly to the garden – such as rabbit pellets. However, others burn hot and will need to be composted. You can safely add livestock manure like sheep and rabbit pellets to your garden pretty much immediately but you should wait to add chicken or horse manure until they’ve broken down more.
Otherwise, you can also house your birds or other livestock uphill from the garden. As long as you don’t have manure overload (which you can ensure by maintaining proper stocking densities), you should be fine allowing the manure to trickle slowly downhill into your garden.
You can also house your chickens in the garden over the winter, allowing them to till and fertilize the garden for you. The upside to this is that it will also give your birds plenty of forage during the springtime, helping to reduce your springtime chores.
8. Use Blood and Bone Meal
If you do your own on-farm slaughtering you might want to save the blood and bones to make your own fertilizers. You can also purchase these at the store, but making your own will definitely save you some money.
9. Save Your Fireplace Ash
Small amounts of ash can boost the alkalinity of the soil if you find that you are having problems with too much acidity. Ash also supplies valuable amounts of potassium and calcium.
10. Recycle Your Egg Shells
Have your chickens been laying a ton of eggs lately? If so, save their eggs. You can grind them up and add them directly to the compost, or even add them to the planting hole when you transplant your seedlings. Eggshells have a ton of caliche as well as limited amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen.
11. Sea Things Differently…
…by adding some kelp! Kelp has a ton of potassium and some nitrogen. It can stimulate soil development, increasing your overall yield. Interestingly, kelp also has the unique ability to improve temperature tolerance in certain crops. You can buy kelp in the form of an organic fertilizer, but if you live near the sea, you might as well just gather some and compost it yourself.
If you really want to be one with the ocean, consider purchasing or making fish meal to use on your plants. This can be stinky, but you can purchase fish emulsion, too.
12. Use Alfalfa Meal
Alfalla is another plant-based fertilizer that contains a high amount of nitrogen as well as phosphorus and potassium. It can improve soil quality and allow plants to synthesize nutrients more easily. Although it will help most plants thrive, it seems to work best on roses.
13. Find Bat Guano
You might not have access to this fertilizer at home, but you can purchase it relatively inexpensively at many nurseries. This all-purpose organic fertilizer has a ton of nitrogen and a lot of beneficial trace elements. Plus, there’s very little chance that it will be contaminated with pesticides.
14. Reuse Your Gelatin
If you have a ton of gelatin hanging around the pantry, you might want to add it to your garden. Gelatin is an excellent source of nitrogen. You can dissolve a package into a cup of hot water and then add three additional cups of cold water to help treat your plants.
15. Add Powdered Milk
Powdered Milk is a great way to add calcium to the soil without attracting animals or worrying about an unpleasant smell.
16. Feather Meal
As with bone and blood meal, feather meal can help fertilize your soil, too. It’s a byproduct of processing chickens on the farm, so if you have a lot to cut up, consider saving the feathers. It does take a long time -up to four months – to take effect, however.
17. Use Gypsum
Gypsum is a natural amendment material, also known as calcium sulfate, that is nearly a quarter calcium and 17% sulfate. It helps to neutralize toxins in the oil and improves soil structure.
18. Light it Up
Okay, don’t set things on fire. But if you’re trying to find natural sources of magnesium for the soil, consider tossing a soaked match into a planting hole. The magnesium will dissolve and fertilize your soil.
19. Put Your Weeds to Work
If you have a ton of weeds that need to be pulled, you can compost them and let them degrade. They’ll contribute a ton of nitrogen to the compost, which can then be used to fertilize your garden. Just make sure you get the compost hot enough to kill any weed seeds!
This same theory applies for grass clippings – if you’re trying to figure out ways to fertilize your lawn, just leave the grass clippings there. About half an inch of grass will serve as excellent weed-blocking mulch, and it will also fertilize the soil. And if you have fallen leaves in the autumn, you can safely leave them there, too.
20. Compost Expired Feed
If you have animals and find that your feed has gone bad, you can add it to your compost bin. Alfalfa pellets along with chicken and horse feed are chock-full of protein – good for your animals, and good for your plants. Just keep in mind that you will want to keep your compost covered to avoid attracting pests and potential predators.
21. Get Creative
Still searching for potential additions to your compost bin? Here are some ingredients that would make an excellent addition to your compost:
- Beer grains
- Crustacean shells
- Epsom salts
- Nut shells
- Pine needles
- Rock Dust
- Worm Castings
22. DIY Fertilizer Mixes
Here are some simple recipes you can follow to improve the nutritional content and soil structure of your garden.
Worm Tea Fertilizer – Recipe here
Seaweed Fertilizer –Recipe here
Fish Emulsion Fertilizer – Recipe here
23. Best Storebought Organic Fertilizers
Not into DIY? Here are some of the best storebought organic fertilizers you can buy…
Do you know of any other awesome fertilizers I’ve missed? Be sure to let me know in the comments!
If you’re looking for more ideas, be sure to check out these gardening posts below:
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