When we venture into the world of growing our own food we need to learn the art and science of good soil, plant nutrients and just the right amount of sun and water. Today I’m going to address the nutrients (for drainage friendly soil recipes see http://herbidea.com/?p=295).
Container grown fruits and vegetables do best with frequent light feedings of liquid fertilizer or amendments. Commercially sold liquid fertilizers are fast-acting unlike seed meals and other solid organic products. Water-soluble homemade amendments are absorbed quickly and must be used soon after preparation; only prepare what you will apply within a day or two. You may want to test your soil before adding amendments or fertilizers, soil and Ph tests are available at nurseries, home improvement gardens or online. You can also check with your local Master Gardener Office for soil testing options.
In the Free Homemade Liquid Fertilizer Article, Brinton shares his recipe for Fertilizer Tea using 33 %manure mixed with 66% wood shaving, grass clippings or seaweed. He would allow this blend too steep for 3 days (no more), shaking and stirring once a day using only the liquids not the solids, than dilute the tea mixture 1:1 with water and apply to vegetable garden.
In the Article A Better Way to Fertilize Your Garden: Homemade Organic Fertilizer by Steve Solomon, you will find extensive definitions and descriptions of soil amending ingredients please refer to the article for more information. My two favorites and the ones I have used in my garden are Bone Meal which will boost the phosphorus level and Kelp Meal which supplies a range of trace minerals and natural hormones that act like plant vitamins increasing the plants resistance to extreme temps and environmental stress.
Alfalfa is the most natural source of nitrogen for today’s organic gardener. Nitrogen needs to be replenished each growing season; the benefits of alfalfa include the additional minerals calcium, sulfur, magnesium, boron, iron, zinc and others. Alfalfa can be used as a tea when diluted with water and allowed too steep for a day or two. It can also be worked into the top 1-6 inches of garden soil depending on the fertility of the soil. It can also be applied topically on the ground around and between plants after the soil temp reaches 60 degrees F. Container gardens work well with a mixture of 3 parts potting soil with 1 part alfalfa; mix together and layer on the top of the container surface once the seeds have germinated and plants are growing. The alfalfa will slowly release nutrients throughout the growing season.
In his book The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible, Edward Smith recommends the following organic fertilizer mix:
1/3 Cup blood meal (nitrogen)
1/3 Cup colloidal phosphate (for phosphorus)
1/3 Cup greensand (for potassium and trace elements)
The joy of tasting that perfectly ripe, home grown produce is worth the time and effort. Container gardening is fun and easy, really, it’s as simple as soil, sun, water, and nutrients. Use these simple guidelines and start experimenting before you know it you’ll have a dozen or more containers full of fresh produce for you and your family.
Mother Earth News. A Better Way to Fertilize Your Garden: Homemade Organic Fertilizer http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/2006-06-01/A-Better-Way-to-Fertilize-Your-Garden.aspx
Mother Earth News. Fee Homemade Liquid Fertilizers http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/liquid-fertilizers-zm0z11zhun.aspx
Smith, Edward. 2011. The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible. Storey Publishing, North Adams, MA.
Alfalfa’s Secret Website. http://www.alfalfasecret.com/alfalfa-secrets.asp