R. Ann Parris on Cheap & Easy Fertilizers


Cheap & Easy Fertilizers by R. Ann Parris

As with humans and animals, plant health and productivity depends heavily on what they’re eating. Getting our gardens a solid diet of nutrients can help them shrug off pests and diseases, conditions that are a little too dry or wet, and marginal heat and cold setbacks.

We don’t want to go overboard with fertilizers, especially nitrogen, but it’s easy and inexpensive to source plenty of heathy amendments that can provide our crops with the constant, slow releases of balanced nutrients they need.

Leaf Mold is fantastic on all fronts. It’s easy, but even bigger, trees’ deep root systems gives them — and the leaves we’re collecting — access to more diverse micronutrients and greater quantities of nutrients than most annuals or perennial grasses can condense for us these days due to played-out soils that are treated with bare-minimum nutrients. From some sources, they can also be richer in soil-positive microbial life.

You throw any ol’ fallen leaves from any ol’ deciduous tree in black plastic bags, and stick them somewhere — under a porch, in a pile by a shed, laid out along garden beds (where they do double duty as heat sinks). If they’re really dry, wet them down a bit first. They’ll rot into the same rich, crumbly compost a traditional turned or tumbled pile or bin would produce from veggie scraps and plants, usually in 3-9 months by area. We can turn it into soil or spread it on top where it’ll do double duty as a mulch.

Some are highly acidic (not always a bad thing) and we do want to be cautious that we’re not using disease-carrier species. If we’re collecting oak leaves, we might want to screen our leaf mold once it’s finished so we’re not planting acorns in our beds.

Comfrey is another that needs some warnings. It’s prone to spreading (voraciously), especially if we churn soil near it or try to dig it up and move it somewhere. In a patio container or somewhere it’s hemmed in by livestock pens, the easy-growing plant makes a great nutrient miner. The leaves can be soaked or brewed into a tea for liquid fertilizer, or collected and dropped in place to boost both soil structure and nutrients.

Kelp and Seaweed are both excellent fertilizers, condensing near-shore nutrients and compounds it can be hard to replace from land sources these days.

Algae from ponds, clogged creeks, and stock tanks can offer us many of the same benefits of kelp and seaweed, without any of the steps to reduce salts or the price tag in the store. Like leaf mold, algae from watersheds can condense a wide array of the micronutrients as well as being excellent sources of the primary 3-5 macronutrients.

It can be turned into a slurry, added to our worm bins or traditional compost heaps, tilled into our soils at the end of the season, or we can collect it with rakes and toss it right on the surface of garden beds and containers to slowly break down and drip into the soil.

Fish Tank Water is basically what’s fueling aquaponic production. If we have aquatic turtles, freshwater fish, newts, salamanders, or frogs, we can apply the water we’re changing to our garden beds, compost heaps, or worm bins.

Worm bins require a little more setup labor/cost and near-daily care, but they can offer both valuable worm castings and leachate collected by percolating water through the layers. If we have poultry they can also serve as a protein farm, which can make them even more attractive.

There are other sources for cheap and easy fertilizer.

Pond water can be used instead of tank water or algae. We can freeze our used tea bags to toss in buckets come garden season for a plant-boosting liquid fertilizer. Coffee grounds can boost not only nitrogen, but also acidity and water retention and be applied directly to the surface of beds and planters.

There’s plenty to spend money and time on in the prepper world. When we can save a little with quick, easy and inexpensive DIYs and boost our garden production at the same time, take advantage of the alternative to bags and tubs of fertilizers.