Free Organic Fertilizer

Free Organic Fertilizer

Free Organic Fertilizer - This is homemade worm tea.

Free organic fertilizer? Does it seem too good to be true? Especially when you first start gardening, it’s easy to start questioning yourself as to the wisdom of this endeavor.  There are so many things to buy, so many expenses.  It seems ridiculous to spend so much money on growing food when it’s so much cheaper to buy.  As far as fertilizing your garden organically, though, it doesn’t have to be expensive.  In fact, some of the best organic fertilizers are completely free.

Grass Clippings – One of the best organic fertilizers.  Plus, it’s free and abundant during growing season.  They not only break down and provide the soil with wonderful nutrients, but grass clippings also prevent weeds and preserve moisture.  Don’t use grass that has been treated with herbicides, as it will kill your plants.

A 1 to 2 inch layer will give all of the nutrients most crops need for a full season of growth.  Just layer it onto your garden like mulch.

Alternatively you can actually make a tea from grass clippings. (I did it once, it really really smells)

Here is another article about using grass clippings as fertilizer.

Egg shells:  How many egg shells do you just throw away every week?  Egg shells are so useful in the garden!  Eggshells are 1% nitrogen, .5% calcium phosphoric acid and have other trace elements that make them a practical fertilizer.  Even if you don’t produce an abundance of eggshells, you can still get them for free.  At a breakfast restaurant near our house, I talked to the manager about saving me egg shells.  I brought him a bucket, and 2 hours later it was filled to overflowing with beautiful shells.  I rinsed them off, let them dry in the sun, then ran them through the food processor. Now I have a wonderful additive for my soil.  These ground eggshells are particularly useful to sprinkle in the hole before you plant tomatoes.

You can also just topdress your garden with a sprinkling of the ground eggshells.  Another great idea is to add them to whatever other liquid fertilizer your making because the minerals will leach into the liquid…then just pour it on.

Also, when just hand crushed they work pretty well for thwarting some garden pests like slugs and other soft bodied worm types.  Imagine if you were a soft slimy creature and you were trying to crawl over sharp jagged egg shells.  OUCH!

 

Urine: The urine that you flush away several times a day has elements your garden needs like nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.  Do these sound familiar?  They’re the elements you’ll find in any fertilizer.  In fact, urine even has almost the perfect ratio.  You will need to dilute the urine so as not to burn your plants.  I saw recommendations ranging from 1:8 to 1:12.

Urine doesn’t keep though, dilute and use it right away.

Here is an article about using urine as a fertilizer.

..and here’s another one from the Washington Post.

Home made compost: Making your own compost at home is of course one of the best ways to keep your garden healthy without spending money. I’ve talked a lot about compost in that section of this blog.  Here in my garden I have a couple of compost piles, I also have a compost turner.  I also have worm compost.  I don’t pay for anything that goes into any of my compost.  I did have an initial outlay for my worms and for my worm box.

Gardening does not have to be an expensive endeavor.  There are so many opportunities to spend money, but most of it isn’t necessary.    Use what you already have.

What about you?  What do you use for free fertilizer?

What I’ve Done in the Garden This Weekend

There are always garden chores to do.

Garden Chores

This is the time of year when things really start hopping in the garden.  Much to do!  Here is what has happened around here today garden wise.

  • Picked up coffee grounds from Starbucks two different times.
  • Added coffee grounds to the compost at the school garden.
  • Fed coffee grounds to the worms at the school garden.
  • Fed coffee grounds to my worms.
  • Thinned the onions in my bed at the school garden.
  • Put a layer of grass clippings on my bush beans in the school garden.
  • Took a bucket to the brunch restaurant down the street and picked it up later filled with egg shells to use for fertilizer.
  • Watered school garden.
  • Watered my beds in the backyard.
  • Harvested a tray of worm castings.
  • Started a batch of worm tea.

This is the time of year when everything needs attention.  I love gardening.  I hope the really hot weather holds off for a while.

I’m pretty sure my bed at the town community garden has fungus.  The beans last year had fungus, and I now know that my tomato plants last year and this year had fungus.  I have to figure out how to get rid of that, but I don’t think it will be easy.  It’s possible that I water too much although I didn’t realize that was possible.

Rain vs Watering

Rain is great for your garden.

Rain, rain..come on!

Have you ever noticed how green everything looks after it rains?  Well, it wasn’t your imagination.

Rain that falls from the sky and waters your garden provides more than just moisture. Turns out that rain allows plants to take in the Oxygen and Nitrogen that naturally occurs in the air.  When lightning strikes, it gives the Oxygen and Nitrogen molecules enough energy to form nitrates which the plants can take up.  The atmosphere is about 21% Oxygen and 78% Nitrogen.  That’s a lot of Nitrogen waiting to green up your plants.

Another thing I didn’t realize until I started researching this post is that dust is another thing in rain that helps plants.  Have you ever noticed how rain settles the dust?  The dust in the air is filled with all kinds of organic goodness that goes straight to your plants when the dust filled rain falls in your garden.

There are also things added to city water that are great for you, but not so much for your plants.  Additionally, rain water has a neutral pH, which helps.

So, rain dance anyone?

Weeding a Garden

Pulling Weeds in Your Garden

Pulling Weeds in Your Garden

I’ve mentioned before that “in my gardening dreams I plant a seed or transplant a plant, lovingly water it while relaxing nearby afterwards with a glass of iced tea. The plants grow visibly every single day.  They create flawless fruit quickly“.

Another way reality doesn’t match with my fantasy is the existence of weeds.  Unfortunately weed seeds are everywhere.  They blow around in the wind.  They are in come mulches.  In fact, I have had to pull up many many cantaloupe sprouts this spring because I made the mistake of putting cantaloupe seeds along with the rind into the worm bin.  Sadly, the seeds survived and have been sprouting all over the place.

Weeds (I’m including any unwanted plant in the category of weeds) take space, nutrition and water away from the things you’re actually trying to grow.  Not only that, but they’re kind of unsightly as well.  In short, the weeds? They have to go.

Weeding can seem to be an overwhelming task.  Weeds want to take over the world.  I do have a couple of tips to cope with the whole weed issue.

1) Used raised beds.  As I wrote in a previous post, my bed in the school garden was only a chain link fence away from a soccer field that is constantly seeded and green with grass all year long.  Until we installed the raised bed, it really was just hopeless.  There was no way to consistently keep the grass out of that bed.  It made gardening there such a chore.  Now, I get a couple of shoots of grass, but I’m able to easily keep up with it.  When I added the new soil into the raised bed I put a think layer of newspaper on top of the old soil.  The newspaper will compost, but in the meantime, the grass and everything down there will die.

2) Set the timer on your phone and weed just a few minutes at a time.  Yesterday and today I went out to the school garden and pulled grass out of the half of my bed where the onions are.  I didn’t go insane with boredom because my brain knew that it would only be 20 minutes, then I’d be free.  You can do anything for 20 minutes. (Thanks Flylady)

There are certainly things you can do to to help prevent weeds in the first place.  We’ll leave that for another blog post.

Thinning Your Plants

Thinning plants in the garden

These are the onions I thinned from my garden.

I just got back from the school garden.  My primary reason for walking over was to spend 20 minutes pulling weeds from between my onion plants. As I was finishing up it occurred to me that those onions were never going to grow to full size planted like they are.  It’s a long story, but I didn’t plant them.  They were planted in groups of 3 and 4.  Looking back on it, I would have planted them each separately.  Because they were planted several in each hole, each onion bulb didn’t have room to become a big beautiful onion.  As much as it killed me, I had to pull some out prematurely so that the others would have room to grow larger.

When we plant seeds, we are instructed to put a couple of seeds in each whole.  I think the reason for this is that not all seeds sprout.  When more than one does, you have to thin.

As a new gardener thrilled with things sprouting in your garden, the thought of thinning goes against everything you want to do.  You’ve planted seeds, then you look at them daily, sometimes hourly waiting for them to sprout.  Pulling out those precious sprouts just seems wrong.

Do it anyway.

If you don’t thin your plants, they simply won’t have the room and the soil resources to grow the way they’re supposed to.  I’m all for making the best use of the garden space you have, but don’t compromise your plants by overcrowding.

Also, depending on what you’re thinning, you can actually go ahead and use what you’ve thinned.  The picture above are the onions I thinned.  I’ll certainly be using them!  Baby potatoes, baby spinach, baby carrots…you can use them all.

Here is an actual picture of the worms I smash.

The worms eating my plants.

The worms eating my plants.

Last night on my worm inspection they were bigger and fatter than usual.  I actually had to take a deep breath before I grabbed this guy and smashed him with my bare hands.

 

What’s Eating My Garden?

What is eating my garden?

What is eating this plant?

Now is the time of year when seeds are sprouting.  Eager looking plants are lined up at the garden center, ready for a long and fruitful life in my garden.  In my gardening dreams I plant a seed or transplant a plant, lovingly water it while relaxing nearby afterwards with a glass of iced tea.

In my fantasy, the plants grow visibly every single day.  They create flawless fruit quickly

The reality is quite different.  The fact is there is an army of various creatures who would love nothing more than to feast on my garden before I ever have a chance.

Everything I have planted in one of my beds in my yard is getting munched by something.  This is a picture of a bell pepper plant after I covered it in Diatomaceous Earth.

You might also notice the crushed egg shells around the base of the plant.  I read that slugs can’t get over egg shells because they’re too sharp. This was when I was going under the assumption that it was slugs.  I eliminated that theory when I actually spotted one of the culprits.  They look like this picture below.

These are the culprits.

These are the culprits.

Turns out the abundance of moths I have witnessed over the last month were busy making babies all over my plants.

Well, it’s time for those moth babies to die.

If I don’t stop them, they will completely kill my plants.  They are currently attempting to consume my basil, a kale plant, some baby broccoli plants and two green to red pepper plants.

My current plan is to spray with BT (often).  Also, I go out at least twice a day (morning and night) and kill those green slimy things with my bare hands.

I will win.

They will stop eating my plants.

Battling Bermuda Grass

This is my plot at the school community garden.

This is my plot at the school community garden.

This is a picture of my plot at the community garden at my kid’s school.  As you can see, it goes along the fence that separates the garden from the soccer fields.

Our school does a great job at keeping those soccer fields looking just beautiful. The grass stays very healthy and tends to send shoots right through that chain link fence in an attempt to take over not only my plot but, I’m sure, the entire garden.

Even though I am a vigilant and dedicated gardener, I just can’t keep the grass out of this bed.  In the foreground of the picture you see onions.  Further back you see just grass that has grown into the bed.

I just arranged for this plot to have a raised bed built around it in order to raise it twelve inches.  I’m hoping that this will make it harder on the grass, and easier on me.  All of my other garden plots are raised beds and I don’t have nearly so many weeding issues as I do with this bed.

I’ll keep you updated with progress.

Using Coffee Grounds in Compost

Used Coffee Grounds are Magic in Compost

Used Coffee Grounds are Magic in Compost

The key to your success with compost might be at your local coffee shop. Oddly enough, used coffee grounds are a green in the composting world (meaning it’s high in nitrogen).  In fact, its a fabulous green in many ways.  Coffee grounds are readily available year round in sufficient quantities for whatever compost you want to put together. (Unlike grass clippings that only happen in the summer.) Coffee grounds don’t have pathogens like other sources of nitrogen one might use in compost (like manure).  Besides, where’re you going to get a steady supply of manure if you live in the suburbs?  Coffee grounds are already in small pieces, which helps speed up the process, and they’re readily available for free.  Coffee grounds also won’t add weed seeds to your compost.  Coffee grounds won’t add chemicals to your pile that could kill your garden later either.

Most Starbucks keep their coffee grounds separated out from the rest of their trash.  If you stop by and let them know you’d like grounds, they’ll give you whatever they have.  You’ll be keeping it out of the trash, and you’ll be treating yourself to some great compost. If you live in a Starbucks free zone (do those exist?) then stop by your independent coffee shop or maybe even the 7-11 on the corner and ask them to save grounds for you.  I have a school right behind my house and I have them saving grounds.  People are usually more than willing as long as you remember to pick up the grounds regularly so they don’t make a mess.  And it’s free!

Once you have your bags of coffee grounds, just layer them in with whatever brown material you’re using.  Remember your three to one ratio.  (Three parts browns to one part greens.)  After you get it all layered up, that pile is going to heat up within a couple of days.  You’ll be surprised and amazed by how hot it will get.  There’s almost nothing that intrigues me more than a steaming compost pile.  But, maybe that’s just me.

Here is an article from Science Daily with more scientific info on the subject. 

Here is an article from Sunset Magazine on the subject as well.

 

(Photo courtesy of http://www.caffesociety.co.uk)

Why I Love Worm Composting

Why I love my worm box!

I love my worms.

I keep a worm box.  I realize that this is not something that everyone does.  There are three reasons why I love my worms, and worm composting.

1) Less Garbage. Using my worms for composting means that I get to use a lot of what would normally go in the trash.  Potato peels, apple cores, banana peels, egg shells, used tea bags, carrot tops and many other things go right into my worm box.

2) Less Money: Using what I would normally throw away also means that my gardening endeavors cost me less money.  It seems like there is always some gardening doo dad I “need”.  If I’m not producing what I need to  put on my garden, it means I have to buy it.  I use my worms to use my garbage to make what my garden needs.

3) Worm Tea.  I love the organic liquid fertilizer I brew from the worm castings produced by my worms.  Worm tea will not burn your plants.  It is a natural fungicide. Worm tea repels aphids, spider mites, scale and white flies.

Worm tea is really a miracle product for your garden.  It is a living thing.  If you don’t believe me, make some up and try it on  your plants.  It’s simply unbelievable.  Don’t believe me? Get ahold of me and try it yourself.

4) Shock Factor.  I must admit that I love the shock factor of having worms.  The little girl who lives across the street witnessed me messing with my worms and said, “My mom would NEVER have worms in the house”.  Even my kids don’t like to look at my worms and refuse to handle them.  Of course, I’m an odd sort of mom anyway.  My birthday list this year included a wheelbarrow.