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What to Use for a Vegetable Garden Organic Fertilizer?

written by: BStone•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 3/9/2010

Environmentally-friendly and healthy, organic gardening has many benefits. What types of natural material can be used as a vegetable garden organic fertilizer?

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    Organic Gardening

    organic tomatoes Organic gardening is simply the use of natural, organic matter to develop and maintain plants. No synthetic materials are used in any way, no pesticides, nor chemical fertilizers. Many gardeners today are moving away from the use of chemicals, and switching back to organic methods, especially when growing vegetables. As a result, vegetables are completely natural, free of toxins, and packed with nutrients.

    The use of organic fertilizers is one of the basic requirements of natural gardening. By substituting natural matter for synthetic, chemicals are not introduced into the life cycle. The soil, the water, the air, and the bodies of both animals and humans remain pure and healthy. A vegetable garden organic fertilizer can be anything from animal manure to herbs. Kitchen scraps and coffee grinds become useful material, rather than food waste. There are a variety of options to choose from, from common items which can be reused, to commercial products.

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    Natural Fertilizers

    There is no one perfect fertilizer; all of these options are beneficial. They can be used independently of one another, in combination, or as alternatives to one another. Some gardeners may prefer developing their own compost pile, while others may feel more comfortable simply purchasing a commercial product. Try different ways of using organic fertilizers to find out what works best.

    • Alfalfa is nitrogen-producing and mineral-rich; fold into the earth in autumn for best results.
    • Molasses is a source of food for microorganisms; can be used regularly
    • Seaweed stimulates plant growth and is an excellent source of trace minerals; use once a month
    • Soybean meal is high in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium; being protein-rich, it is slowly broken down
    • Lava sand is ground lava; it is rich in minerals, has an energizing effect on the soil, and helps the earth hold water
    • Animal manure, usually chicken or horse manure, is a good source of nitrogen; be sure to compost first
    • Compost is a favored organic fertilizer by many gardeners; use vegetable peels, herb scraps, egg shells, lawn clippings — any raw organic material from around the house
    • Coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen; they can be added to compost piles
    • Commercial organic fertilizers, such as Organic Liquid Tomato Fertilizer, work as well; they are generally excellent sources of plant nutrients
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    Benefits for the Plants

    There are so many benefits of using an organic fertilizer for the environment, and the people who consume the crops, but what about the plants themselves? Organic fertilizers improve soil structure, and the ability of the earth to hold nutrients and water. The microorganisms which thrive on organic matter will help maintain living soil. Organic plants are nourished, and more capable of dealing with the natural stress of their environment.

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    Tips for Using Organic Material

    It does take more effort to practice natural, eco-friendly gardening. The use of organic fertilizers requires time and patience. Microorganisms in the soil — fungi, bacteria, algae, molds, and earthworms — take several weeks to break down organic matter, transforming it into workable soil, rich in readily-available nutrients. For this reason, a vegetable garden organic fertilizer should be added, at least three weeks before the first seeds are planted. Once it is time to plant, work the soil, turning upper and lower layers. Make sure there are no clumps of un-rotted material, as this could interfere with nutrient uptake.

    Be flexible with a newly organic garden. The more time spent adding material, and allowing it to integrate into the earth naturally, the better the soil. Keep in mind, areas where chemicals may have been previously used, or where the soil is of a poor quality, allow for more time to cycle in organic matter. Have patience, and enjoy the learning process. The fruits of organic gardening are well worth the effort.

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    Stephens, James M. "Organic Vegetable Gardening." (University of Florida IFAS Extension) <>.

    Phipps, Nikki. "Fertilizer Options for Your Vegetable Garden." (Gardening Know How) <>

    "Basics of Organic Fertilizers." <>

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    Photo Credit

    photo by: K Thread (CC/flickr) <>