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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:

What's Wrong With My Vegetable Garden?
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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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Prizes and contest details

Grand prize

Every question you submit counts as an entry towards the drawing for the grand prize: a new iPad preloaded with problem-solving ebooks from Timber Press. You can submit multiple questions for more chances to win.

Weekly prizes

In addition, judges will select one question every week to be answered by a Timber Press author. The winning questioner will receive a free copy of the Timber Press book relevant to his or her question.

Other details

Grand prize is a 16GB WiFi third-generation iPad. Questions may be edited for length and clarity. By submitting your question, you enter the contest, as well as sign up for our email newsletter. Emails are sent out about once a week, and contain contest and book information. You can unsubscribe using links provided in the emails.

No purchase necessary. One grand prize iPad winner will be chosen at random. Weekly book winners will be selected by judges based on question content. Open to residents of the U.S. and Canada, 18 years or older, as of 5/1/2012. Entries must be received by 5 p.m. Pacific Time on 9/1/2012. Void where prohibited. The information provided will be used by Timber Press to contact the winner and will not be given to a third party.