Taking steps to develop a good starting soil should be every gardener’s priority and when it comes to feeding your plants, nothing beats organic homemade compost.
Good compost contains the ideal range of nutrients which are released slowly into the ground as the plants need them. But there are times when feeding our plants can give them a real boost:
- When they are fruiting
- When they are being affected by poor weather or pests,
- When they are in containers
How you feed them and what you feed them with is important, especially if you garden organically. Many of us will prefer not to use commercial non-organic fertilizers and opt for organic ones instead. But there is a way of making your own organic fertilizers for virtually no cost.
Plant Nutrition Basics
Plants require three main elements for good health:
- Nitrogen, labeled with an N, is for green leafy growth;
- Phosphorus (P) is for healthy root and shoot growth;
- Potassium, labeled with a K, is for flowering, fruiting, and general hardiness
Commercial fertilizers, both organic and non-organic, provide these elements in precise amounts. Just look carefully at the label to find the NPK ratio. A balanced fertilizer will have an equal ratio such as 20-20-20. A specialist product such as feed for tomatoes or strawberries will have a higher potassium content.
There are several different organic fertilizers which you can make yourself. Comfrey is the wonder plant of the home-made fertilizer world. It grows prolifically in places that many other plants wouldn’t and they contains high levels of all the essential nutrients for plant growth and a number of trace elements. There are different varieties of comfrey, but the best one to plant is Bocking 14, which doesn’t self-seed so it won’t invade your garden.
A popular way to use comfrey is to make a liquid fertilizer.
- Harvest a large bag of leaves (it’s advisable to wear gloves as the hairy leaves can cause a rash)
- Squash them into a large container, preferably with a lid to keep in the smell, and weigh them down.
- Leave for a few weeks and pour off the liquid into a clearly labeled container, keeping it out of the reach of children.
- When required dilute 15 to 1 with rainwater.
- Using a watering can to water your plants, aim towards the soil, not the leaves or stems, as fertilizers can cause scorching of foliage.
Stinging nettles are high in nitrogen and can also be used in the same way as comfrey to make a liquid feed. You’ll definitely need gloves for this plant.
- After harvesting them, make sure you scrunch them up before weighing them down in a container.
- Dilute the liquid as before with rainwater so it looks like a weak tea solution.
Grass clippings can be easily added to a compost pile but in large quantities often make a slimy mess. They are high in nitrogen and potassium and could be used as a mulch on your vegetable plot. As with adding them to the compost pile, they are best used in thin layers. Use dry clippings in layers which barely cover the surface of the soil applied after a light weeding.
Wood ash contains useful amounts of potassium and other trace elements depending on the wood burnt. Younger wood is better. It can be added in small quantities to the compost heap where it can be blended with other materials. Wood ash is alkaline, so avoid using it around plants which prefer acidic soil, such as potatoes as alkaline conditions can encourage potato scab.
When you’ve made your own fertilizer, it’s tempting to use all of that homegrown goodness and it liberally to your plot. This should be avoided, as it will often do more harm than good. Too much nitrogen in particular can cause lots of soft, leafy growth which is prone to aphid attack.
Timing is also important – it is best add small, regular quantities when your plants needed such as when they are flowering or fruiting, rather than single large applications.
Making your own fertilizers is not only good value for money, and in most cases free, but it is also sustainable, using plants from your plot to feed your own veggies.
(From GrowVeg Youtube Channel https://www.youtube.com/user/GrowVeg/videos)