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    10 Best Fertilizer Alternatives for Your Garden

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    10 Best Fertilizer Alternatives for Your Garden

    Long-term use of synthetic fertilizers negatively affects soil structure and lowers its pH. Ultimately, this means less nutrients for your plants and smaller, weaker yields for you.

    If you’re hoping to get away from these inorganic chemical fertilizers and give your garden a boost, try these fertilizer alternatives. These organic solutions are easy to make and use and will improve your self-sufficiency in terms of sustainability and off-grid living. 

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    1. Manure 

    Farmers and gardeners have been using animal manure as a fertilizer, energy source and soil amendment for centuries. This material contains plenty of nutrients that boost plant growth, including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

    In many cases, it’s just as effective as inorganic chemical fertilizer, which means it can be a bit pricey. Luckily, those who have pets or livestock can collect and use manure already on their homestead. Use the raw manure or make compost to increase nutrient uptake. 

    2. Mulch

    Most people picture wood clippings when they think of mulch, but the store-bought kind do little to nourish your garden. Sure, they protect the beds from weeds and sunlight, but homemade mulch is far superior.

    Make yours out of grass clippings, leaves, pine bark, straw and other decomposable, organic materials you find around the yard. Ensure your plants have room to breathe as you add a layer of mulch to their beds. 

    3. Coffee Grounds

    Coffee grounds contain nitrogen, phosphoric acid, calcium, iron, magnesium and chromium, all of which are key to healthy plant growth. They also attract worms, the homesteader's best friend. These little guys will excrete nutrients, too, adding yet another layer of all-natural fertilizer to your garden.

    Collect your used coffee grounds in a jar or airtight container and sprinkle them onto the soil whenever you want to improve drainage, water retention or aeration. Alternatively, sprinkle fresh grounds on acid-loving plants to raise soil pH. 

    4. Eggshells 

    Give your plants a serving of calcium with crushed eggshells. This fertilizer alternative returns calcium carbonate to othe soil as it breaks down, giving your crops a consistent nutrient boost over a longer period of time.

    Eggshells are also readily available to most families — even off-grid ones! — and a great way to minimize food waste. Put crushed eggshells in the soil before planting seeds or when transplanting vegetables to ensure the roots have a chance to soak up your homemade fertilizer. 

    5. Biofertilizers 

    Biofertilizers sound nasty, but they’re actually all-natural and super great for your garden. These fertilizers rely on live biomass or microbial strains to convert biological waste into plant-ready nutrients.

    Ultimately, they provide an effective solution to increasing quality and yield while industry standards for sustainability and its demand for more organic produce. You can also find biopesticides that are eco-friendly and ward off mold, bugs, fungi, mammals and other potential threats. 

    6. Fish Emulsion

    Perhaps you have a successful fisherman in the family. Why not put all those fish carcasses to good use and make a fish emulsion for your plants? Yep, it’s just as gross as it sounds.

    Combine your leftover fish parts and water in a barrel or airtight container. Let it steep for several weeks. It’ll start to stink so make sure it’s far away from your living space. When it’s ready, strain the fish parts and apply the liquid emulsion fertilizer to your garden

    7. Compost Tea

    Anyone with a working kitchen can make their own compost. Whatever biodegradable rubbish you toss in your bin will eventually turn into humus that you can use on your plants. However, if you want to make its minerals more bioavailable, you can turn your compost into a nutritious tea.

    You’ll need a bucket, an aquarium pump, compost, water and a catalyst to boost nutritious microbial growth. After 24 hours, you should have a rich, frothy brew to pour over the soil or spray directly on leaves. 

    8. Wood Ash 

    If you have an outdoor fireplace or fire pit, try saving some of the wood ash to use as fertilizer on your fields or garden. Like eggshells, this material is high in calcium carbonate. Plus, it contains immense amounts of potassium, which plants need to thrive.

    Avoid using lighter fluid and other synthetic chemicals on your fire if you plan to use them on edible vegetable gardens. Otherwise, the wood ash may leach harmful compounds into the soil and contaminate your food. 

    9. Diluted Urine

    Plants rely on ammonium to grow big and strong, too. However, if you’re looking for a homemade alternative, diluted pee is your best bet. That’s right. Humans have been collecting urine for fertilzer for a long time, but it went out of fashion in the west after the invention of the sewage system.

    As fertilizer prices rise, homesteaders and gardeners are starting to make their own again — literally! Just remember to dilute it to one part urine and ten parts water before pouring it on your plants.

    10. Aquarium Water 

    Aquarium water works much the same way as diluted urine. Have your kids ever jokes about swimming in fish pee when they’re in a lake or ocean? Well, on smaller scales, they aren’t entirely wrong.

    In an aquarium, there’s just only so much space for the fish excrements to float around and pollute the water. The longer you wait to clean it, the higher its pollution — and plant nutrient — content. Just don’t use saltwater on your plants as this can dry out the soil. 

    Embracing More Sustainable Practices 

    With so many organic fertilizers to choose from, there’s no reason not to take the more sustainable route. Make your own mulches, mixtures, teas, emulsions and more with the recipes and ideas above. Better yet, embrace more sustainable growing practices and minimize your need for fertilizers altogether. 

    Plant legumes during the winter months to restore nitrogen to the soil or plant mustard, radish and buckwheat to absorb excess nitrogen and improve soil structure. Practicing crop rotation and other tried-and-true methods are good for the earth, too. Find what works for your homestead and stick with it. The more consistent you are, the better your yield will be. 

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      1 thought on “10 Best Fertilizer Alternatives for Your Garden”

      1. I can attest that dirty aquarium water from “vacuuming” (syphon cleaning) the gravel is excellent fertilizer, especially for well-established fruit trees. Just pour it around the base of the tree at least a foot or two away from the trunk, then water it in. Works great for my Myers lemon, which produces at least three harvests per year, sometimes four depending on the weather.


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