The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Complete organic fertilizer

Dolomite limeLast week, I discussed how micronutrient deficiencies in our soil make even homegrown vegetables less nutritious than they were a few decades ago.  Steve Solomon's solution to this problem is to enrich his soil with what he calls "complete organic fertilizer."  Gardening When It Counts gives you some leeway in blending this fertilizer, but the gist of the recipe is as follows:

Seed mealThe recipe is mixed by volume and results in a fertilizer with NPK of 5:5:1, along with substantial amounts of the most important micronutrients.  Solomon says that not only does complete organic fertilizer result in balanced nutrient levels in the soil, it is also easy for beginning gardeners to deal with and doesn't require hauling so much bulk to your farm.

I was leery of the price tag attached to Solomon's mixture, but he says that the ingredients are relatively cheap when purchased at feed stores.  He spends about $300 per year buying the components, and gets $4,000 to $8,000 worth of vegetables in return.  Solomon uses a gallon to a gallon and a half of his complete organic fertilizer on every 100 square feet of garden, then adds the same amount again as side-dressing on his higher demand vegetables.  This fertilizer is in addition to a quarter inch coating of compost added to the garden each year.

Before you all rush out to buy seedmeal, here are some potential disadvantages of complete organic fertilizer:

All of those warnings aside, I suspect some of you might like to give complete organic fertilizer a shot.  If you do, please check back and let me know how your experiment went!

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This post is part of our Gardening When It Counts lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I sent a sample of my garden soil out last fall to find out if my soil was lacking anything, and the report came back that I needed phosphate. Not more than a couple miles down the road I could buy any type of chemical fertilizer I needed including a 50lb bag of phosphate. But I wanted organic rock phosphate so I called around to all of the farm and garden centers, but no luck, just small expensive 5lb bags of bone mill phosphate. Well the garden didn't get any phosphate this year, perhaps next year it will. It looks like chemicals rule the market.
Comment by zimmy Tue May 4 09:48:41 2010

I'm really glad you posted about that, because I'd completely forgotten how I'd been reading over the last year or so that rock phosphate supplies were perhaps running out. (My memory of the article I read is vague.) That would explain the high prices, and would make Solomon's complete organic fertilizer unsustainable.

Maybe a better option would be to plant some dynamic accumulators --- they can concentrate phosphate from deep in the ground that other plants can't access. Some dynamic accumulators of phosphorus include buckwheat, carroway, German chamomile, common chickweed, clovers, dandelions, docks, garlic, lamb's quarter, lemon balm, lupine, marigold, meadowsweet, mustard, redroot pigweed, purslane, savory, sorrel, vetch, watercress, and yarrow. Probably the easiest to grow would be patch of buckwheat, but I know what we have plenty of those around as weeds mixed into our lawn, that then end up as mulch on our beds.

Comment by anna Tue May 4 13:24:50 2010
Two plants whose roots go deep (15-20 feet) are alfalfa and kudzu.
Comment by Errol Tue May 4 16:41:39 2010

Good point! Although some plants are good at accumulating nutrients even from the surface soil --- there's usually plenty of everything a plant would need in the soil, but it's often bound tightly to soil particles and hard for most plants to get at.

Actually, fungi are often the best at pulling those nutrients out of the soil and sharing with plants, although I don't know if they specifically work with phosphorus.

Comment by anna Tue May 4 17:01:26 2010
I just ran across this book and have spent a few hours looking to find where to buy these ingredients, so far with no luck. Well if these recipe is unobtainable what would be a good one that we can buy?
Comment by Jim Sun Sep 19 14:22:53 2010
Did you try feed stores? That's where you're most likely to find most of these ingredients.
Comment by anna Sun Sep 19 15:28:09 2010
It should be noted that this recipe is specifically formulated to be used in the Pacific northwest where cool soil temperatures make large additions of organic matter probelmatic (it invites a nasty like bug called the symphylan), and the soil is generally quite acidic. I live in Portland, and Solomon's recipe has done wonders to both the volumes and taste of my vegetables. I use both alfalfa meal and conola meal and also add some glacial rock dust. It works wonders for me.
Comment by Patrick Entenmann Wed Mar 28 14:10:07 2012
Patrick --- I'm so glad you took the time to clarify. It makes perfect sense that different regions would need different kinds of soil amendments, and it's very true that the Pacific Northwest is a very different gardening area than the rest of the country. I'd heard the word "symphylan", but have never bothered to look it up since it doesn't seem to apply to us. Here, the more organic matter, the better!
Comment by anna Wed Mar 28 15:30:17 2012

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