Thursday, March 12, 2020

Fertilizer Basics: Natural

Last week I covered commercial chemical fertilizers for gardening or farming. Commercial fertilizers are common because they are fast acting, allowing a farmer the chance to tailor his fertilizer to his crop and change what gets planted as the weather and markets change. For example, corn needs nitrogen while soybeans don't, and there are several other differences between crop requirements. Cash crops are different than gardening in that a garden will be planned out at least a year ahead and the plants will all have similar fertilizer needs.This will allow a gardener to use slower methods of fertilizing their ground and still get a good yield.

Natural fertilizers all start with some sort of animal waste. The feces and urine produced while raising animals has to go somewhere, so why not use it to our advantage rather than just disposing of it? Growing feed using animal wastes creates a cycle of nutrients that is easier to maintain and mimics the way the Earth has worked for as long as animals have been around.

Animal wastes mixed with straw, sawdust, or other bedding material is referred to as manure. The stuff you have the kids mucking out of the stables and stalls is a good source of plant nutrients once it has been treated a bit, depending on the type of animal it came from. Many manures or droppings are too concentrated to be applied to a garden; the high nitrogen content makes them too "hot" for young plants and will kill them. We need to break some of those manures down a bit to make them suitable for plant use and to do that we need to compost them.

Lokidude covered the basics of composting a while back: pile it up, keep it moist but not wet, and turn the pile over every few days to keep it aerated are the main points. (The different designs of compost heaps and their operations are a topic for a dedicated gardener, which I am not, so if you have pointers or instructions please contact us and we'll get you to write a guest post.) Composting eliminates a lot of the odors of the manure and breaks down the more complex chemical into forms that plants can use more easily. If done at a high enough temperature, a compost pile can also eliminate many disease-causing microbes (pathogens) from certain manures. Composted manure should be applied at least 120 days before harvest for root crops, and at least 90 days before harvest for other crops, to avoid pathogenic contamination.

Making a simple "tea" out of manure will dilute the hot ones and is a lot quicker than a compost pile. Simply place the manure in a container and add water to get 5 to 10 times the amount of the manure, let it sit for a few days, stirring it once a day, and then strain the solids out and use the liquid as plant food.

A third method is to work the fresh manure into the top foot of soil in the fall and let it break down over the winter. The four to six months of  contact with soil, and the microbes present in it, will break down most of the manure and create a good place to plant seeds in the spring.

Types by Animal
The various types of manure can be classified by the kind of animal that produced it. A quick-and-dirty version is by their eating habits.

Herbivores are common food animals and they can be further separated by digestive methods.
  • Ruminants have multiple stomachs (usually 4) and chew a cud. The will eat plants and store some in their first gut (rumen), bringing it back up to be chewed on some more after they have found a place to rest. These are your sheep, goats, cows, and deer. Ruminant manure is a good general-purpose fertilizer with a good blend of nutrients and a fairly low nitrogen content, so it is less likely to burn young plants.
  • Other herbivores like horses and mules are monogastric and have only one stomach. Food passes through them much faster and doesn't break down as well in the animal. Expect to find viable weed seeds in the manure, which will require a composter kept at 140° for a few days to kill them.
  • Rabbits are a pseudo-ruminant. They have a single stomach and rely on bacteria in their gut to break down plants. Rabbit manure is a good choice for fertilizer, and there never seems to be a shortage of it if you're raising them.

Omnivores like pigs and humans are poor choices for manure. The amount of pathogens present requires a high temperature (140° or higher) or longer retention time (up to a year) to remove. I covered composting toilets in an article, so I'm not going to repeat it all here; there are books written about how to close the gap in our current food production cycle, and see the links titled "Humanure" below. Omnivore manures also tend to smell worse than that of herbivores, but that may just be a cultural thing.

Carnivores like cats and dogs share the risks of omnivores, with the addition of nasty things like roundworms and toxoplasmosis. These are not safe to use on food crops, but once composted they can be used to feed trees and shrubs.

I'll leave a few links at the bottom of the page in case you're looking for more information. Properly feeding your plant will let them produce more food for you in the same amount of space, so it is an important aspect of gardening for preppers.

No comments:

Post a Comment

The Fine Print

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Creative Commons License

Erin Palette is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to