Even if you have perfect soil, your garden needs regular
applications of nitrogen to replace the nitrogen removed by crops as you
harvest them and from erosion by wind and rain.
Contact your local county extension agent or garden center to obtain
instructions for completing a soil test to determine all the nutrients your
The easiest solution is to add chemical fertilizer like
10-10-10. It provides the three main
nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, in equal amounts. Many garden advisors suggest adding it to
fulfill the needs of all garden plants.
However, it is not the best option.
Chemical fertilizer kills soil microbes and garden critters
like earthworms. If you put 10-10-10 on
everything, you will add excess amounts of some nutrients, and perhaps not
enough of others. Rain washes excess
fertilizer into streams and disrupts ecosystems.
Organic fertilizers are a better choice. They can seem expensive when compared to
chemical fertilizers, but in the end, they are cheaper. Blood meal provides nitrogen, potash gives
the soil phosphorus, and bone meal supplies potassium. At a local store, three-pound bags of blood
meal, potash, and bone meal cost about $6.50 each. A 20-pound bag of Black Hen fertilizer, which
is composted chicken manure, is about $7.
Bone meal, for example, has an N-P-K ratio of 6-9-0, which means it has
6 parts nitrogen, 9 parts phosphorus, and no parts potassium. Black Hen fertilizer has a N-P-K ratio of
2-3-2. Bone meal is about three times as
strong as Black Hen, but the bone meal costs about six times more than the
An even cheaper choice is alfalfa meal or cottonseed meal,
available in 50-pound bags at feed stores for about $15. Alfalfa meal has a N-P-K ratio of 2-1-2, and
cottonseed meal, available in approximately the same amount and quantity as
alfalfa meal, has a N-P-K ratio of 6-4-1.5.
Farmers use alfalfa meal and cottonseed meal as animal feed, but they
work well as fertilizer. I prefer to use
alfalfa meal instead of cottonseed meal because farmers apply more pesticides
to cotton than they do to alfalfa, and farmers grow GMO cotton but I do not
think there is a GMO version of alfalfa.
Not everyone has room for 50 pound bags of fertilizer or can
store bags of Black Hen fertilizer somewhere the smell will not offend
anyone. In those cases, the more
expensive small bags of organic fertilizers are the best option. For a small garden, they will last the season
and maybe longer. Organic fertilizer
stays in the soil longer than chemical fertilizer, and this benefit offsets the
higher initial cost of organic fertilizer as compared to chemical
fertilizer. They also actually improve
the soil’s health instead of destroying soil life. For me, one of the best benefits is that although
composted chicken manure or bone meal are a little icky, you do not have to
worry about the fertilizers burning the hands of children who want to help in
Below are two other internet references that give a discusion of chemical versus organic fertilizer.
Here is a link to the benefits of organic fertilizer over chemical fertilizer, and
this is a YouTube video from Atlanta Gardener about the living soil organic fertilizer creates.
Labels: alfalfa meal, Atlanta Gardener, benefits of organic fertilizer, Black Hen fertilizer, blood meal, bone meal, chemical fertilizer, cottonseed meal, organic fertilizer