Fertilizing the Organic Garden

Fertilizing the Organic GardenFertilizing allows you to enjoy better flavors and yields than if you simply let nature take its course. It also ensures that your plants have everything they need to stave off disease, withstand stress and pests and grow vigorously. Here are some tips for fertilizing your organic garden.

Test the Soil

Testing your soil helps you to identify excesses and deficiencies of certain nutrients so you can fertilize accordingly. Do-it-yourself soil test kits only cost a couple of dollars at any home and garden center and will reliably measure your soil’s levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (NPK), as well as its pH. After testing, you can record your findings and take them into consideration when choosing a fertilizer. Keep in mind that most commercially available soil test kits only handle NPK and pH readings, so if you want something more comprehensive, you might consider having a professional workup done. To do this, you can typically contact the agricultural division of your local university.

Don’t Overapply

Too much of anything can be harmful, and fertilizer is no exception. While it may seem like adding more fertilizer should yield better results, it can disfigure and even kill your plants. For example, overusing nitrogen-rich fertilizers can burn plants’ roots, causing them to wither and die. Besides being detrimental for your plants, over-applying fertilizers is also detrimental for your wallet. For best results, you should always follow the instructions on the product package.

Worm Castings

While manure and guano are good choices for organic fertilizers, many people don’t like using them because they’re smelly and require extensive composting before they can be used safely. Worm castings, the more polite term for earthworm poop, require no prior composting and are completely odorless. They look, feel and smell no different from soil, but contain an abundance of highly bioavailable nutrients and probiotics. Furthermore, worm castings improve soil quality by stabilizing aggregates and improving soil’s ability to retain water.


Lacto-fermented foods are popular ways to boost your health, but did you know that they can also be good for your plants? These foods contain beneficial bacteria known as lactobacilli that break down nutrients and convert them to a form that is usable by other living things, including plants. The juice from raw sauerkraut is ideal for fertilization purposes. When used as a foliar spray, it populates the leaves and stems to crowd out pathogens that would normally cause disease. When added to the soil, lactobacilli will turn organic matter into nutrients that are easy for plants to use.

Don’t Litter

There is a school of thought that encourages gardeners to simply lay their compostable scraps on the soil around plants and let nature take its course. However, this practice is largely discouraged today because it increases the risk of diseases and pest problems. When left on the soil, many compostables will rot and mold, fueling the growth of bacteria and fungi that can be deadly to plants. They may also attract rodents and neighborhood pets that will dig up your plants looking for food scraps.


Limestone is a sedimentary mineral that contains different nutrient profiles depending on where it was mined. Dolomitic limestone is the preferred form and contains roughly 38 percent magnesium, which is great for plant like roses and nightshade vegetables. However, it is recommended that you exercise caution when using this fertilizer in your organic garden as it can dramatically reduce soil acidity. Soil’s ideal acidity should be between 6.0 and 6.5, so make sure to test its pH before and after adding limestone.

Homemade Compost

There are numerous benefits to using compost you’ve made yourself. Compost sourced from hardware stores and city composting programs are often loaded with bits of plastic and other non-biodegradable refuse and may not even be fully composted. Furthermore, it is virtually guaranteed to be non-organic. By making your own, you can control exactly what goes into it. You can even use the results of your soil test to create a specially-tailored compost that fulfills your garden’s specific needs. Home composting is also a great way to dispose of vegetable scraps, egg shells, tea bags and coffee grounds in an environmentally friendly and non-wasteful manner.

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