There are a variety of elements that are essential to healthy garden plants, but the three that are most limited in our natural environment are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – commonly referred to by their chemical symbols N, P and K.
Most gardeners know which aisle of the major department store to find bags of fertilizer that neatly contain about 10 percent of each of these critical elements, but few know how to make your own organic fertilizer at home. The following six garden changes can be made by almost anyone with basic equipment, and they will allow you to bring your vegetable garden to life and put many items that you currently consider waste to good use.
The most common homemade organic fertilizer is animal manure. Manure from chickens, cows, and horses is full of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, but their ammonia levels can be so high that they actually “burn” your plants.
To avoid burning your plants or potentially spreading animal pathogens in your garden, you should first compost and age your manure in a hot compost pile before applying it to your garden beds. Rabbit manure is relatively low in ammonia, so it can be applied directly to plants without burning them.
Bone meal is another great garden supplement that many people are familiar with but few know how to prepare at home. Bone meal contains a lot of phosphorus, calcium and also some nitrogen.
Preparing it at home is as easy as pressure-cooking bones of wild or farm-raised animals until you can remove any meat or gristle entirely. They then dry the bones completely and mash them into a meal. This is a great thing to do with spent bones after making broth. Just make sure you rinse off any salt or oil that may have built up on it during the cooking process.
Blood meal is a high-quality additive made from dehydrated animal blood. It contains some phosphorus and potassium, but its main strength is nitrogen.
To make it, you need to collect a decent amount of animal blood from butchering or slaughtering animals, and then boiling it down until it’s the consistency of a sludge. Then you can pour it onto baking sheets or dehydrating dishes and dry until it has dried out and cracked, at which point you can grind it into a powder and apply it to your garden beds.
Fermented Plant Juice
For any vegan who reads an article on TheMeatEater.com and made it through the last two paragraphs, I recommend fermented plant juice. By fermenting green weeds and spent garden plants, you can extract many valuable minerals and nutrients in a quick homemade fertilizer.
This process uses the natural Lactobacillus bacteria found on plants combined with a ratio of one part plant matter to half part sugar or honey and enough water to coat them. Let the mixture ferment for a week, then you can dilute it and apply it directly to your plants.
Okay, back to the carnage.
Fish emulsion is an excellent broad spectrum fertilizer and a great way to use up leftover fish that didn’t make it onto your plate. To do this, simply layer fish trimmings and brown yard debris, like dead leaves or straw, in a 5-gallon bucket, then cover with water. Stir this every few days for three weeks and the liquid mud at the bottom of the bucket can be diluted and applied to your garden.
Your neighbors won’t score you points, but they’ll forgive you if you share some giant tomatoes with them later in the season. Remember that any heavy metals or toxins present in your fishery end up in your garden beds, so only use fish waste that you would be happy to eat yourself.
I said at the beginning of the article that few gardeners know how to make organic fertilizer at home, but that’s not entirely true. Most of us do it every day and have been for our entire lives. Human urine is an excellent fertilizer and many studies around the world have found great results comparing human urine to expensive conventional fertilizers.
If you’re a bit squeamish about this, you can indirectly fertilize your garden with urine by adding it to your compost pile and helping the decomposition process and increasing the nutrient content. For more information on its effectiveness and health effects, you can read a publicly available study by the Stockholm Environment Institute on the subject.
It is no coincidence that most of the fertilizers mentioned above are of animal origin. Animals and plants are inextricably dependent on each other to thrive and are linked in a complementary cycle of give and take. Our vegetable gardens bring us close to and learn about the true source of our food plant food is one step closer.