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The Ultimate Guide to Organic Fertilizer

Discover the benefits of organic fertilizers for healthy plant growth and soil improvement with our guide on types and application tips.

Other fertilizers act quickly and provide you with results in no time. However, they are also known for their harsh effects on the soil and plants. Enter organic fertilizers. These naturally occurring materials deliver the nutrients slowly and ensure that your plants grow strong and resilient over time. They do so by improving the soil structure and composition for healthy plant growth. 

So, what are they, and how do they work? Let’s find out in this article that will tell you all about vegan and environment-friendly fertilizers in detail. 

What are Organic Fertilizers?

What are Organic Fertilizers

Organic fertilizers are a type of fertilizers derived wholly from natural sources such as plants and animals. These may incorporate agricultural byproducts, animal manure, and fresh or dried plant materials. 

They release nutrients slowly and thus provide consistent nourishment to the plants. Also, they are gentle and do not harm the plants like chemical fertilizers. 

Types of Organic Fertilizers

Majorly they are of the following three types:

  • Plant-based organic fertilizers
  • Animal-based organic fertilizers
  • Mineral-based fertilizers

Plant-based Fertilizers

These fertilizers are derivatives of the decaying plant matter or other farm byproducts such as molasses, green manure, cover crops, kelp, compost, seaweed, cottonseed meal, and more. These sources provide plants with essential nutrients while promoting soil health besides the growth and development of the plant.

Cottonseed meal

Cottonseed meal

A waste from the cotton industry, cottonseed meal is an amazing plant-based organic fertilizer. It is a slow-release fertilizer rich in nitrogen, with an NPK value of 6-2-2. This plant-derived manure is good at lowering the pH of the soil, so no plant burns. You can either add it to your garden soil or apply it as a top dressing for your plants. 

Perfect for acid-loving plants.

Seaweeds

You can use seaweeds in both liquid and meal form to add trace elements to your plants. They are known for adding amino acids, micronutrients, polysaccharides, sugars, and vitamins to your plants, boosting their growth. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are also present in small amounts in seaweeds.  

Dry seaweeds in the sun or dehydrator for use later on. 

Compost

This fertilizer is usually prepared by breaking down your kitchen and lawn or garden waste to improve the soil structure and also fertility. On the one hand, it helps reduce household waste; on the other, it works its way back into the food chain by producing more healthy plants.

It is particularly good for vegetable plants because when it rots, it generates heat, encouraging more growth.

Soybean meal

The solid residue left after grinding the soybeans for oil is your soybean meal. It has a high amount of nitrogen with an NPK value analyzed to be 7-1.5-1. You only require 1-2 pounds of soybean meal for every 100 square meters of soil once a year, and the slow-release fertilizer will do its job.

Insoluble in water, soybean meal does not leach out and contaminate the water bodies. 

Other types of plant-based fertilizers are alfalfa meal, corn gluten meal, kelp meal, and down-to-earth vegan mix. 

Animal-based Fertilizers

As the name suggests, these are made by used byproducts of animals. 

Bone meal

It is a composition of steamed and defatted animal bones grounded into a fine powder. It is a slow-release fertilizer and has calcium and phosphorus in good measure, making it highly beneficial for bulbs and root crops. Not only this, bone meal contains micronutrients like zinc, iron, and magnesium and is good for microbial growth in the soil.

A single application is found to be effective for up to four months. 

Fish emulsion

Fish emulsion

It is an all-purpose liquid fertilizer and acts really fast on the overall growth of the plant. Fish emulsions contain whole fish or derivatives such as scales, bones, and skin. This makes it a rich source of both macro and micronutrients such as nitrogen (N), potassium (K), phosphorus (P), sulfur (S), calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg).

Just dilute it as per the manufacturer’s instructions and apply it to the plants.  

Feather meal 

The poultry feathers are ground and converted into a meal famously known as a feather meal. It is the highest source of non-synthetic nitrogen, making it highly beneficial for plants with foliage. While the blood meal is slightly messy, the feather meal is easier to work with.

It is a slow-release fertilizer and is effective in soil for 6-9 months.

Other types of animal-based fertilizers: animal manures, blood meal, and Bat/seabird guano

Mineral-based Organic Fertilizers

Mineral-based fertilizers are a type of plant fertilizers derived from the earth and thus present a healthy alternative for fertilization. These provide plants with nutrients that they need to grow and thrive. 

Types of mineral-based fertilizers

Green sand

Green sand

Also called glauconite, green sand is a marine deposit that acts as a slow-release fertilizer. It is enriched with potash, iron, and several silicates. Apart from these nutrients, green sand is capable of loosening compacted soil, holding sand soils, thus boosting the water-retaining ability of the soil. 

It is a proven soil conditioner for lawns, gardens, and flower beds. 

Rock Phosphate

From germination to maturation, every plant requires phosphorus and thus requires a plant food like rock phosphate. Most commercial phosphate fertilizers on the market today use rock phosphate as their raw material. However, in the past, it was used as a fertilizer, particularly for acidic soils.

Homemade Organic fertilizers

Those who need an instant boost to their plants can also attempt to make organic fertilizers at home. Below are a few examples you can try for your houseplants. 

Coffee grounds fertilizer

Coffee grounds fertilizer

Although a few plants can withstand unbrewed coffee grounds, the best way is to take the used coffee grounds. Whether you have decaf or regular coffee, both are equally useful for your plants. 

You can prepare it yourself: Take a teaspoon of coffee grounds you’ve already used and mix them with the soil. Diluted grounds can also be used while watering the plants.

Note: Do not use spent coffee grounds to fertilize your succulents. Coffee grounds retain water and could prove fatal for plants that love arid soil. 

DIY Compost Tea

One of the most eco-friendly and nourishing fertilizers for your plants is the DIY compost tea. It is nothing but a kind of liquid fertilizer that has compost steeped in it. The latter can help plants fight against the microorganisms harmful to them.  

As you brew or make DIY compost tea, all the nutrients present in it are released into the water, along with some essential bacteria and fungi. Brewing might take some time, so plan. Also, it is eco-friendly and can be customized as per the needs of your plants.

Banana peel

So, next time you think of throwing away those peels, think about your plants. Banana peels are full of nutrients such as phosphorus and potassium and hence beneficial for your plants. But do not add them directly to your plants, as these may take really long to decompose.

Another reason you shouldn’t do this is because rotting peels may attract flies and other insects and cause nuisance. Instead, soak the banana peels to draw the nutrients out and then pour this water into the soil. Use this remedy once a month and watch the difference.

Note: You can use many more organic fertilizers at home, depending on the requirements of your plant. Though these are inexpensive to make, one must have composting knowledge before proceeding. 

The Role of Organic Fertilizers in Sustainable Agriculture

Enhancing Soil Health

Organic fertilizers improve soil structure, increase water retention, and boost microbial activity, leading to healthier, more resilient soils.

Reducing Chemical Runoff

Using organic fertilizers reduces the risk of harmful chemical runoff into water bodies, protecting local ecosystems and promoting biodiversity.

Supporting Long-term Sustainability

By enriching the soil naturally, organic fertilizers help maintain soil fertility over time, ensuring sustainable crop production and reducing dependence on synthetic inputs.

Promoting Eco-friendly Practices

Organic fertilizers encourage the use of eco-friendly farming practices, contributing to overall agricultural sustainability and environmental conservation.

How to Apply Organic Fertilizers: Some Pro Tips

Read the Instructions

The word ‘Organic’ does not mean that all organic fertilizers are good for your plants. Overfertilization can take place even with these fertilizers. So, read the manufacturer’s instructions. It has all the information about the application rate, frequency, and usage method.

Store appropriately

Just like synthetic fertilizers, it is important to store the organic fertilizers in a cool and dry place. They should not be exposed to sunlight and humidity. Storing like this will also keep them safe from pests and bad odors.

Wear protective gear

Powdered organic fertilizers are found to cause eye irritation or breathing issues. To combat these problems, wear protective eyewear and thick gloves and cover your body, especially your arms and legs.

Choose the right time to fertilize

It is always good to fertilize the plants either in the early morning hours or late afternoon. This is because, at these times, the risk of evaporation is the least. This also means the plants have ample time to absorb the nutrients. 

Use manure that has been well-composted

Fresh pathogens can burn plants. Therefore, always buy decayed manure as the pathogens have died in it, and the nutrient quantity is also balanced. 

Water them

water plants

After you apply the fertilizer, don’t forget to water the plants and moisten the soil. This is especially important when you’re adding solid or granular organic fertilizers. This enhances their availability to the plants. 

Watch the plant closely

Did your plant like the fertilizer? With this, we mean, is it showing any signs of improvement for which you used it or not? Or are there any deleterious effects? For example, if you have overfertilized, then leaves may start turning yellow. Look closely for such signs.

Keep a written record of fertilization

You may not feel an urge for it, but it is important to ensure your plants stay happy and healthy. So, pen down the fertilizers you’ve used and how much you’ve used so that you know what to do in case you need to adjust later on. 

Pick the right fertilizer

Every plant has a different nutrient requirement. So, choose a fertilizer that fulfills its needs in terms of nutrients, growth, and impact on the environment.

When should you add organic fertilizers to your plants?

Conduct a Soil Test

The current condition of your soil is by far the best parameter to decide about fertilization. A soil test can tell you about nutrient proportions in the soil and its pH levels.

Match the needs 

As we already discussed, we need to match the needs of the plants. For example, if the plant has huge foliage, it can only flourish with a good amount of nitrogen availability. So, use a high-nitrogen fertilizer, whether in granular or foliar form.

Seasonal/Climatic Requirements

Similar to other types of fertilizers, the effectiveness of organic fertilizers will change with changing climates and seasons. In hot climates, when the plants grow more vigorously, they need a quick dose of nutrients. A fast-release fertilizer like fish emulsion is just perfect for them.

How to Optimize Organic Fertilizer Use

An easy way to ensure you get the most out of your organic fertilizers is by looking at the plants closely for issues and then troubleshooting them accordingly.

Common Issues

Unfortunately, the most seasoned gardeners might also make mistakes, and issues may arise. Here are some examples. If the foliage is small or growing slowly, it may be in need of some nutrients immediately. 

Methods to Address the Problems

You must make changes to your fertilization technique by watching your plants closely. For instance, if they show you signs of nutrient burn, water them a lot to wash away the extra nutrients. Or if you suspect a nutrient deficiency, take a soil test to find out what they lack or need.

Advanced techniques

Advanced techniques

With time, newer techniques have been introduced into fertilization. There are advanced organic fertilization techniques such as biochar and worm composting. These are sustainable methods that are good for the environment and you.

Note: Worm castings are a type of soil amendment, whereas biochar improves the soil structure and makes it more capable of retaining nutrients.

Parting Thoughts

Organic fertilizers are a great nutrient alternative for your plants. You can also consider combining two or more types of organic fertilizers to meet the nutrient requirements of your plants. This will ensure they have all the nutrients in the right amount and thus will grow healthy.

Besides this, should your plant require a nutrient in more quantity than your organic fertilizer can provide, consider a certified fertilizer seller. He will help you with high-quality fertilizers for better health and yield from your plants.

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