So, besides compost, what can you do to add nutrients to your soil without using toxic commercial fertilizers? I started thinking about this when my very first crop of zucchinis started rotting on the tips. I looked it up on the Internet and learned that “blossom end rot” was caused by insufficient calcium in the soil. So you know what I did? I crushed up a bunch of egg shells and sprinkled them around under my zucchini plants. Voila! It worked – and it worked FAST. Almost immediately my zucchinis started perking up and I’ve never had blossom end rot since.
So I’ve started adding the occasional thing to my garden bed instead of (or in addition to) the compost, working it directly into the soil. Besides the egg shells, we’ve tried peanut shells (they do NOT break down – years later we still have whole and intact peanut shells showing up all over the place), leftover veggies, last season’s carrot tops, and various other things.
From Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living, here is an interesting safe fertilization method, which the contributor says works best if you add in the spring, working it into your soil:
“Each 100 square feet needs a cup of ground-up alfalfa (smashed rabbit pellets will do), 2 lb. bonemeal, 10 lb. rock phosphate, 25 lb. greensand, 2 lb. granite dust, and 10 lb. wood ashes. If none of these are available, just add a commercial fertilizer and/or compost. The garden needs 3 inches or more of compost each year. That’s why serious gardeners also have rabbits or goats. Compost has been called ‘black gold': well worth digging for!”
Carla’s book also speaks of using coffee grounds in your garden to prevent cutworms, and earthworms love them! I’d want to be careful to use organic coffee grounds, though, as regular ones may be adding harmful pesticides to your soil. I dunno – better safe than sorry, though I know there’s a point where you can take your caution a little too far. Does the good of having fertile soil outweigh the risk of some stray chemicals? But I digress…
I have also heard of compost tea, which I’ve been meaning to try for some time. Wikipedia says it is made by “steeping compost in water for a variable period up to 5-days, then applying the liquid un-diluted as a spray to non-edible plant parts, or as a soil-drench (root dip), such as to seedlings, or as a surface spray to reduce incidence of harmful phytopathogenic fungi in the phyllosphere.” More on that here.
I have a feeling I’m going to be spending much of my cold winter nights reading Carla Emery’s book and scheming for next year’s gardens.