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Mari from Montezuma, GA asked:
What natural fertilizers are there besides animal manure? I have a large garden, but no tractor or large equipment. I know about alfalfa meal and cottonseed meal — I can apply those by bucket and hand. But are there others that are good that do not take large equipment to spread?
David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth, authors of What's Wrong With My Vegetable Garden?, answered:
The living ecosystem in which all plants grow needs our care and protection to stay healthy. This starts with healthy, biologically active soil. The tiny community beneath our feet consists of bacterial and fungal decomposers that break down organic plant matter. Larger multi-cellular organisms like beneficial nematodes feed on the decomposers. And these, in turn, become food for larger creatures like insects and worms. All of these organisms ultimately utilize the energy captured by plants from the sun, which is stored in dead plant material. In other words, to create healthy, biologically active soil, feed this dynamic community dead plant material: compost, organic fertilizer, manure, and mulch.
Alfalfa meal and cottonseed meal are both excellent sources of nitrogen for your garden, and, even more important, they feed the beneficial soil micro-organisms like bacteria and fungi in the decomposer community. The soil community is full of the good guys that help fend off diseases.
Below is a list of beneficial nutrients and their sources. All of these are easily applied by bucket or hand.
Nitrogen: chicken manure, blood meal, alfalfa meal, cottonseed meal, fish emulsion
Phosphorus: bone meal, rock phosphate, guano, greensand
Potassium: greensand, kelp, wood ashes, guano
Calcium: lime, dolomitic lime, gypsum, greensand
Magnesium: Epsom salts, dolomitic lime, greensand
Sulfur: Epsom salts, gypsum, sulfur
Boron: seaweed (kelp), Borax
Chloride: seaweed (kelp)
Copper: seaweed (kelp)
Iron: seaweed (kelp), iron chelate
Manganese: seaweed (kelp)
Molybdenum: seaweed (kelp)
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