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Poopular wisdom: Natural and effective ways to fertilize your garden

Posted by The NativeEnergy Team on May 10, 2011
Tags: green tips


We talk about poop at lot here at the office.

No, it’s not because we have a second-grade sense of humor (at least, not all of us). Rather, it’s because that unglamorous material is useful. By incorporating manure and other organic fertilizers into your lawn and garden, you can avoid using synthetic chemicals—putting yourself on a safer path for your family, your pets, and the environment.

Here are some natural fertilizers that will jumpstart your garden:

1. Composted Cow Manure

Many of our farm methane carbon projects—including the Laurelbrook Farm Compost Project and the Northeast Farm Separation Project—produce composted cow manure as a byproduct. Bob Jacquier of Laurelbrook Farm has been selling his compost for a premium in Connecticut. And Mike Woodis of Country Ayre Farm is using his cow doo to raise money for a high school football team!

What’s so great about this “brown gold”? Cow manure contains essential plant nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N-P-K). Because they occur in relatively low doses in cow manure, you are unlikely to over-fertilize. Excess fertilizer from homeowners’ lawns and gardens can harm lakes and rivers. Manure also contains plant matter, known as “humus,” which holds moisture and improves soil composition and structure.

Where to Find It: If you live in an agricultural area, ask local farmers for aged manure—they’ll probably be happy to give you some! Alternatively, you can find composted manure at many garden centers and hardware stores.

How to Use It: Never apply fresh manure to plants; it can burn the roots. Instead, work composted manure into your soil; 25-100 pounds per 100 square feet of garden.

2. Vermicompost

Vermicomposting is a method of processing vegetable waste with worms. It produces rich “worm castings,” which are highly beneficial in the garden. Like manure, castings include a large amount of valuable humus and micro-organisms, as well as critical plant nutrients. Better still, a substance passed through the worms’ digestive system helps prevent the fertilizer from washing away.

Where to Find It: You won’t find it at the store, but you can produce vermicompost in your home or apartment with leftover food scraps and red wiggler worms.

How to Use It: Vermicompost is potent, so use one part compost to four parts soil. Compost “tea”—a byproduct of the process—can be mixed with water and poured or sprayed over plants.

3. Composted Food Waste

Backyard composting has gained in popularity. With food and lawn scraps that would otherwise fill landfills and with little effort on your part, you can nourish your garden.

Where to Find It: Make your own! If you have space outside, composting your waste is easy. If you live in an apartment or find the process unappealing, you can also buy it at garden stores. Our local Intervale Compost is available throughout New England.

How to Use It: Food waste compost can be used as a mulch, soil amendment, compost tea, or lawn top dressing.

Whether you decide to use homegrown compost or store-bought natural fertilizers, keep in mind that even organic fertilizer can pollute waterways when used in excess. Apply lightly, be wary of commercial ingredients like fish meal, and avoid peat mixes when possible. Fish meal can contain harmful materials like mercury, and peat can contribute to global warming.

By growing your own food with natural fertilizer, you will save money and reduce your carbon footprint. So grab some trowels and get started!


Extremely Green: Organic Fertilizer and Soil Amendment Guide
Vegetable Gardener: Using Manure to Fertilize Your Garden
TreeHugger: Vermicomposting and Vermiculture: Worms, Bins and How To Get Started
Intervale Compost: Compost Calculator

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