How to fertilize your garden without synthetic fertilizers
Spring is just around the corner and that means it's finally time to start planting that garden you have been thinking about all winter! One of the first things you might be thinking of is sprinkling some fertilizer on your seeds and starters to get a bumper crop or some extra large blooms. A lot of people think using synthetic fertilizers is the easiest choice to help your garden thrive, but in reality it's just a quick fix that will cause a lot of long term damage to your garden and the environment. Instead of using harsh chemicals on your beautiful garden, you should make the switch to organic fertilizers! Not only are organic fertilizers better for the environment and human health, you can also use a lot of the food scraps and things you have in your home to fertilize your garden. Super cost effective and so easy!
Why we shouldn't use synthetic fertilizers
When it comes to talking about synthetic fertilizers, it's best to start with what they are and what they are made of. Synthetic fertilizers are man-made products made from byproducts of the petroleum industry. Some examples of these fertilizers are Ammonium nitrate, Ammonium phosphate, superphosphate, and so many other variations (2). Because these fertilizers are made from petroleum products it means they are super energy intensive to produce and require the burning of fossil fuels to extract the specific chemicals. So basically fertilizers = fossil fuels = climate change! Eeek! (1).
In terms of fertilizing the plants and soil, synthetic fertilizers give the plants food in a readily available form, however, plants consume this food very rapidly and that means the fertilizer needs to be reapplied over and over again (3). The reason this type of fertilizer needs to be constantly reapplied is because they do absolutely nothing to improve the quality and health of the soil. Synthetic fertilizers provide nutrients for the plants but include no organic matter or nutrients that are required by the microorganisms in the soil to remain healthy. Moreover, synthetic fertilizers are known for killing microorganisms as soon as it's applied. These organisms are highly important because they break down organic matter and make the nutrients available for the plants to take up and grow (2). Without these important soil organisms, nothing would be able to grow and our soil would become unusable.
While synthetic fertilizers are extremely damaging to the biodiversity of our soil, they are also extremely toxic when they enter our waterways and drinking water. Because these chemical fertilizers need to be reapplied so often that means there is an excess quantity of them that can runoff when the plants are watered or it rains.This fertilizer runoff contributes to a process called eutrophication, which results in dead zones in bodies of water, because there is not enough oxygen available for the plants and animals living there. (5). Not only is this super dangerous for aquatic wildlife, this can also affect us. When waterways are polluted like this it's not safe for us to play or swim in and eventually these chemical nutrients can leach into the groundwater and cause serious health effects like gastric cancer, hypertension, and possible developmental issues in children (4).
As you can see using synthetic fertilizers isn't a great idea. They are super dangerous for the health of our environment and us. Thankfully there is an alternative that doesn't have so many nasty effects. That alternative is organic fertilizers!
Why organic alternatives are better
Like we mentioned before, in order to have a healthy garden and environment we need to have soil that's full of nutrients and microorganisms. This is where organic fertilizers shine. Organic fertilizers don't contain just nutrients, they contain organic matter that feeds the microorganisms and breaks down into nutrients over time. If you switch to organic fertilizers, not only would you be reducing your impact on the environment, you could also be growing organic fruits and vegetables at home in your own garden., Who doesn't want that?! Plus it's so simple. You can buy some organic fertilizers at the store or DIY some from food scraps you have at home.
Organic fertilizers you might have at home
Organic fertilizers come in a variety of different forms. Anywhere from food scraps from your fridge to bat guano extract. Most of the time there is no need to head to the store and buy a big bag of organic fertilizer. Instead, you could try using some things you already have at home. Check out some of the items we found that are great fertilizers for your gardens!
- Food scraps and compost: We all have food scraps from fruits and veggies we don't eat or the food went bad before we could eat it. Food scraps or a homemade compost is a great organic fertilizer that would add a ton of nutrients to your garden! You can even add broken down cardboard in there. If you're thinking about starting a compost check out this article! (6)
- Coffee grounds and tea leaves: Coffee grounds and tea leaves are great additions to your garden soil, however, because they can often be very acidic you want to use them sparingly and on plants that love acidic soil (6). Some plants that grow best in acidic soil are azaleas, rhododendrons, and blueberries.
- Grass clippings and tree leaves: If you don't know what to do with all of the leaves you raked in your yard or all the grass clippings from your lawn, why don't you put them in your garden! Both of these items have super high levels of nitrogen and potassium that plants love (6).
- Banana Peels: We all know bananas are a great source of potassium and that's true for our soil too! Dry your banana peels out and sprinkle them over your garden (6).
- Seaweed: Seaweed is packed with tons of nutrients like potassium, nitrogen, phosphate, and magnesium. You can use it in its dried form or get a liquid form from your local garden center! (8)
- Eggshells: I think we have all joked about eating some extra calcium in the morning when we accidentally get an eggshell in our breakfast. But instead of just throwing them away like you normally would, sprinkle them in your garden for some added calcium. Calcium is an important nutrient that helps plants absorb nutrients better (6).
- Aquarium water (not salt water): If you have a fresh water fish tank and are looking for a way to dispose of your water, look no further. Aquarium water has a lot of nutrients that are beneficial for plants and a lot of the fish excrement is just extra nutrients for the soil! (7)
- Fireplace ash: Fireplace ash is often used when the soil is too acidic. Ash has a higher pH, meaning it's more basic which will make the soil less acidic if added. Make sure you use this ash sparingly as too much is not so great for the plants. (7)
Organic Fertilizers you can buy
We also wanted to include some organic fertilizers that you can buy at a store. This is probably necessary if you have a huge space you want to fertilize. Some items we recommend to add to your soil that you can buy at many garden supply centers or nurseries are bone meal, worm castings, fish meal, compost, and animal manure. There are even companies where you can get compost (possibly for free) when you give them your food scraps. All of these products are super concentrated fertilizers that will help improve the quality of your soil. Some brands of organic fertilizer we recommend are: biolink, Dr.Earth, Jobe's Organics, and Down to Earth. If for some reason you can't find any of these brands in your nurseries or stores, it's best to contact your local nurseries and they usually have great recommendations for fertilizers they use and sell!
- Majumdar, D., & Gupta, N. (2000). Nitrate pollution of groundwater and associated human health disordersDeepanjan. Indian Journal of Environmental Health, 28-39. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from file:///Users/sophieboisseau/Downloads/Nitrate_pollution_of_groundwater_and_ass.pdf