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Posts Tagged ‘organic fertilizing’

mustards and kales
With more evidence pointing towards illnesses linked to pesticides, I find it important to teach people how to naturally (preferably organically) take care of their gardens. Instead of a hefty shot of “Wonder Grow” ::cough::, I prefer to use fixes and fertilizers that aren’t so caustic – some that will treat the problem instead of forcing my plants to outgrow diseases and illnesses and therefore leaving the problem in my soil.

Our garden was a “Wonder Grow” garden before we moved in, and the soil showed it. It’s taken me three years to see the results of my amendments, and it’s worth the wait! I can finally say with confidence that I will have product of out my garden instead of just hoping for one or two tomatoes. Plus I know that I’m feeding my family anything better than I can buy because it’s picked fresh and served – nothing but fresh organic goodness.

wasp eggs
The best way to help your plants is to keep all tools and areas clean so as not to spread disease. Tidy up dead foliage and keep weeds trimmed back. Allow an area for overgrowth so that beneficials can make a home nearby. Just remember that if a chemical can harm an insect you deem harmful, that chemical can probably hurt your beneficial insects as well. Keep a toad house and welcome swallows to munch on insects.
moth on mum

My favorite quick fixes and alternatives to boxed fertilizers:

Iron deficiency: make soil more acidic by adding pine needles, coffee grounds, or seaweed extracts. Oak leaves may also be good for increasing acidity.

Nitrogen deficiency: composted manure, blood or alfalfa meal, fish emulsion. Weed and manure teas. Add comfrey as a mulch or compost. Underplant or cover crop the bed with clover or other legumes.

Phosphorus deficiency: compost, leaf mold, bonemeal, colloidal or rock phosphate.

Potassium deficiency: kelp meal, greensand, wood ashes (use only a small amount).

Powdery mildew: spray plants with a mixture of 1 tsp baking soda to 1 qt water.

Blossom end rot: add finely powdered eggshells or oyster shells and lime which can help the uptake of your calcium source. Keep soil evenly moist.

Damping off: keep soil evenly damp. Sprinkle with cinnamon, or use a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water. Be sure seed starting mix and potting supplies are sterile.

Thrips and Aphids: use ladybugs or wipe leaves with a gentle cloth and a combination of 1c alcohol to 1 qt water.

Corn earworms: add a drop of mineral oil to the top of the corn once the silk has wilted.

Slugs and other soft bodied insects: sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the base of the plants and on leaves.

slug
Simple Recipes

Manure tea: fill a bucket or large container 1/8 with manure (composted 8 or more weeks, chicken manure for a year or more) and fill with water. Let steep for about two days before using. This is a concentrate and must be watered down until it is a light red/brown color prior to use.

Compost tea: mix 1/8 bucket of well composted material and water. Let steep for 5-7 days. Strain and dilute before using. Molasses Spray for Leaf Miners: 1 part molasses to 5 parts water

Rodale’s All-Purpose Spray: (discourages leaf-eating pests) 1 garlic bulb, 1 small onion, 1 tsp powdered cayenne pepper 1 qt water 1 Tbsp liquid dish soap. Chop onion and garlick in blender then add pepper and water. Allow to steep for an hour before straining. Add dish soap before spraying. Can be stored in refrigerator for up to a week.

Soap spray: 1 tsp pure bar soap shavings 1/8 cup boiling water, 7/8 cup water. Dissolve soap with boiling water then add remainder of water. Spray insects by getting both top and bottoms of leaves. Best applied in the evening.

References: The Frugal Gardener: How to Have More Garden for Less Money, Erler, Catriona T., 1999. The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control, edited by Ellis, Barbara W. and Bradley, Fern Marshall, 1992

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You can find Jennifer over at Unearthing This Life blarging about her daily activities in rural Tennessee.

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When my kids whine that something is not fair I am quick to point out to the little darlings that life is not fair…get used to it!

Well life was not fair in the pumpkin patch this year either…

have1

Can you guess what one big exuberant pumpkin on the right got that the other puny anemic pumpkin on the left did not?

 

have2

Huge and healthy…

 

have3

Not quite so much…

Those of you that guessed compost give yourselves a pat on the back…yep I ran out on the last pumpkin plant.

Same seed packet, same tender loving care under the grow lights, same fish fertilizer, same plastic cap to protect from early spring cold snaps…the only difference between these two plants is that the big one got a shovel full of compost at planting and the smaller one did not.

 

have5

They both are being faithfully visited by pollinators…

 

have4

Yet the little guy has only 5 pumpkins while the big guy is up to almost 30!

So lesson for me is to make more compost…

Lesson for the little pumpkin plant…

 

Life is not fair…get used to it!

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Getting Some

I once read that if you come out after a rainstorm and noticed that your plants had grown quite a lot that you might have a nitrogen deficiency. Now, I don’t know if that is true but more than once my plants, watered persistently by me, have sat and done nothing. Like school children refusing to obey the teacher. Then, after we finally get a rain storm, the plants grow exceptionally well not for just one day but for a few days following as if to say “You weren’t doing it right but the rain knows how and it has saved us.”

My broccoli raab and purple cabbage planted this past month or so are two such examples. Both sat and pouted until our first good fall rain. And now? Well, they have to be three times the size they were three days ago!

Before I heard the nitrogen tid-bit I always thought it was because of the chlorine in public water….an oft repeated statement I am sure you have heard too…..but that didn’t address when we used well water.

A third theory I have come across on this issue is that the rain water passes through ozone and becomes a form of hydrogen peroxide through bonding. It then falls to earth, oxygenating the plants and soil which in turn improves their growth. Of course there are differing opinions on hydrogen peroxide and it’s helpfulness to plants and animals, including humans, but that’s best left to someone else to cover. And since I am not a scientist and have not done official studies on this subject I’m going back to theory number one about nitrogen in the rain. (it actually comes in the form of nitrates but let’s keep this a bit more simple so I don’t get confused trying to write about it!)

When I began gardening years ago I started out organically right from the start. And though I didn’t quite understand the complete idea of using cover crops to help improve my soil I did understand how to use manure and also the concept of NPK. Of course every gardener has been bombarded with the NPK issue and though I would like to point out that there is more to soil health than just nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium they do seem to play a fairly large role compared to most other minerals and nutrients. Nitrogen in particular is one we are always trying to get more off…but not too much…so that we will have big plants with lots of growth to give us more “bang for our buck”. Every year I have at least one row of tomato plants that has light green leaves until they get a few small infusions of added nitrogen. As with anything though too much nitrogen can be a bad thing but some, especially in new gardens, is usually needed.

Coming from an organic perspective, the problem then becomes, exactly how to get all that nitrogen? Especially when first starting out and not having years of good soil improvement already in place. I mean…let’s face it..there’s not a one of us who is going to dig a new bed and then just plant it with cover crops for two years before ever putting in our first veggie. Really…it’s laughable to think that isn’t it? No person I know is that patient. Also, in this day and age, there seems to be a larger and larger deficit of good manure. It’s like gold and your lucky if you can find it—especially for free. Before we had our own animals to supply some for us we usually had trouble finding it. And of course everyone seems to know just how valuable it is and more often than not when we did find it—we would have to pay them for us to load it. Free stall cleaning anyone?

So, if we don’t have a few years before our soil will be well built up with green manures, or our own livestock, and we’re having trouble begging or buying animal manure—just how do we supply our plants with nitrogen? First let me say that we don’t need to start worshiping the Goddess of Bagged NPK —- the Petrochemical Temple of Plant Growth —or in other words the Devil in Disguise (disguised in a bag that is) because there are other ways to acquire our desired nutrient. Some of these are more commonly used than others but a few easy to use forms are (a very small amount of this information is taken from The Rodale Book of Composting and The Humanure Handbook — but most comes from my own experiences) :

Alfalfa: Most home gardeners don’t realize that you can go down to your local feed store or Tractor Supply and buy bagged alfalfa for about $10 a 50lb bag. Easily spread around in cube or pellet forms this is a great..albeit slightly pricey way to get more nitrogen. Though on a pound for pound basis it is about the same as buying a bale of alfalfa—depending on where you live of course. Ask around and give people your name. Often we would have “oops—some bales got ruined” or “oops—someone left the bag of pellets out and they got wet” scenarios. Maybe they’ll remember you and give you a call.

Cotton seed meal is another livestock feed product that is an excellent nitrogen source. It can however, be heavy on the chemicals by the very nature of the “cotton” part. If you know where it comes from and it’s organic—great stuff.

Dried Blood—of course. This one is expensive if you buy it though you can sometimes get in in bulk form from fertilizer dealers (even those listed for, and carrying mostly, petrochemical fertilizers). We capture blood in a bucket when butchering, and with some water added to thin it out, get just enough to water a specific area with it. Sometimes we just dump it on our compost pile since it is usually in need of nitrogen resuscitation.

Grass clippings—immediately turned into the soil. Once these boogers dry they are no longer a great nitrogen source so turning them in or keeping them moist is a must.

Hair—supposedly hair has as much nitrogen as 100 to 200 pounds of manure. Get them from hair salons and keep them wet (wet wet wet—they suck up lots of moisture) and mix well to aerate or they will matt. Nothing like having a big fat felted sheep wool matt in your compost pile. Try turning that over! Also, again, ask around. Some people shear regularly—especially show sheep—but do not use the wool. Get it free from them if the hair salon thing grosses you out like it does me or you just want more.

Weeds—some have very high nitrogen amounts. Treat them similar to grass and make triple sure they aren’t seeding or worse: spread by root pieces.

Lastly I am going to add a very controversial nitrogen source. Human urine.

However I felt in this day and age that it needs to be said since it is an excellent, and not well used, FREE source of nitrogen. If China has flashed into your mind—remember they also use composted and uncomposted feces. Please remove that image. Used responsibly human urine is a fine fine source of nitrogen for your organic garden. Catch it in a bucket or however you want to, dilute it 1 part urine to 10 parts water (approximately) and pour around the base of your plants and trees or add undiluted to your compost pile that is not heating up correctly. Some things to remember when using human urine:

Never use urine from sick individuals or those taking large amounts of medicines. Though it is highly unlikely for disease to be spread through urine (usually feces are the main culprit) we should play it safe since it can occur—though in frequently. Besides—you know if you are sick and how many of us would spread urine from other people? Especially sick people? Probably none of us. Also, medicines are known to linger – for long times. If you still would like to use those two urines to be extremely environmental please use them around non food plants (please). Lets always play it safe – just in case.

Keep your urine use to plants whose edible parts are off the ground…like tomatoes or apples. You can use it on your lettuce, carrots, beets etc but it is probably best to wait a period of time before eating them to be safe (as long as you are following the first recommendation too). People have done it and it is generally considered safe. However, I wouldn’t tell people that you did it –even if it was used while they were seedling months ago….people get kind of ikked out by that 😀

And always dilute it…it can burn your plants. But your compost pile will love it “hot”.

P.S Howling Hill is doing her annual seed swap and wondered if any body was interested. Go over to her place to start signing up to trade and swap.

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