How to - Organic Gardening

The organic way to fertilize your garden

Learn to imitate nature when it comes to nourishing your garden

When to apply manure
Spring: Add it as you prepare your beds. You can apply it to sod before a light rain, but not when you’re expecting a heavy rain.

Summer: Side dress near plants; top dress around plants when you have put them in the soil.

Fall: Apply it after you’ve cleaned up the garden, prepared the beds for winter and there’s been a hard frost.

Winter: Add manure to the extra leaves in plastic bags; then add a bit of soil, moisten and tie up the bags. Store in a work shed. In spring, you’ll have excellent compost.

Manure teas
My hort guru Juliet makes what she calls Eau de Chickshit, which she swears by. Like other eaux de vie, it must sit and ferment properly. Put chicken manure in a bucket of water. Strain and put the solid wastes into the compost and the liquid into a bottle. Measure about 5 inches (12.7 centimetres) from the edges of the lateral branches of the plant, and make a little channel with a trowel. Add the liquid to the channel. Tomatoes love this treatment. So does just about everything else.

Fish emulsion fertilizer
Make your own fish emulsion: put fish scraps in a large container and add water. Cover top with wire screening to keep out animals and insects; put in an isolated location to ferment for 8 to 12 weeks. This stuff can get pretty high – add citrus oil or scent to mask some of the odour. When it’s finished, a layer of mineral-rich oil will float on top of the water, and the fish scales will have sunk to bottom. Skim off the oil and store in a special container. Dilute 1 cup (250 millilitres) in 5 gallons (22 litres) of water. It’s rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and trace elements, but low in calcium.

Other organics
Dried blood is 10 to 12 percent nitrogen. Steamed bone meal is 1 to 3 percent nitrogen, 10 to 15 percent phosphorus. Raw bone meal is richer in nitrogen –3 to 6 percent – than steamed, but it’s slower to decompose.

Hoof and horn meal is 10 to 16 percent nitrogen and about 2 percent phosphorus.

If you have meat scraps and fat, or fish scraps: bury deeply to keep out of the way of animals but within reach of mature plant roots.

Also look for products based on composted manures and natural minerals in pelletized form, which condition soil and provide nutrients. These products won’t burn plants and are environmentally safe.

Foliar feeding
If your soil hasn’t had time to build up enough organic matter, you may need to do some short-term foliar feeding. This is feeding plants through their leaves by spraying. Use this method if there’s been a heat wave or you haven’t been able to water regularly. As well, use when plants are flowering or setting fruit. Spray in the morning when the plants are getting revved up for activity and it’s fairly calm. Use a kelp-based product derived from marine plants.

For more information on organic fertilization, read Ecological Gardening.

ecological-gardening.jpgExcerpted from Ecological Gardening. Published by Random House. Copyright © 2008 by Marjorie Harris. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Random House.

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