People are often astonished when they find out how much fertilizer is bought and used on food crops every year. In the United States alone, over 22 million tons of fertilizer is applied to crops yearly. Some sources claim that double this amount is used. Yet China and India use more fertilizer than the US does.
This represents a huge amount of money and it is probably one reason that many people have the impression that gardening is expensive. However, this is an expense that most people don’t need to contend with. Most households have or produce things that are excellent for use in fertilizing plants, even without setting up a compost pile. The best part about it, besides how cheap the fertilizer is, is that it is natural and doesn’t rely on man-made chemicals.
It should be noted that good fertilizer is reasonably high in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium; known as the NPK value. These should be balanced and making your own fertilizer does exactly that.
Fertilizer Tea Ingredients
Nearly any plant material that doesn’t contain oil or meat byproducts can be used for natural fertilizer. However, some are better than others. It should also be understood that the smaller the particles, the faster it will break down for use by the plants.
This is one thing that makes fertilizer tea valuable. The particles that are held in suspension in the liquid are tiny. They break down fast and give the plants an almost immediate boost. Steps will follow that deal with making the fertilizer tea, but first, let’s look at some of the best ingredients.
Coffee and coffee grounds
Topping the list of ingredients is coffee and coffee grounds. In coffee, the particles are already in suspension. The grounds are also fine enough to break down rapidly. Both give a boost of especially nitrogen, probably the most important of the NPK numbers. They also tend to be a bit acidic, which is especially great for acid-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.
Eggshells are almost entirely composed of calcium carbonate and calcium is a substance that most plants need. In fact, low calcium levels when growing tomatoes result in blossom end rot; a condition where the end of the tomato turns black and rots. The egg shells should be rinsed, to prevent them from stinking as they break down, and should be crushed to about the consistency of coffee grounds.
Bananas and their peels are quite high in both potassium and magnesium, which most plants can use. They are also high in carbon, which is useful for diluting high-nitrogen substances. Too much nitrogen can burn the plants, so the carbon balances and stabilizes the nitrogen. The banana peels should be chopped if possible and they can be dried for use, but this isn’t totally necessary. A food processor or blender can simplify the chopping process.
Molasses is a byproduct of the refinement of sugar and it contains glucose, sucrose, and fructose. All of these are simple sugars and while plants produce sugar during photosynthesis, the addition of the simple sugars in the fertilizer tea causes several things to occur.
First, it gives the plants an immediate boost, since sugars produce energy as they are absorbed and broken down. Second, the molasses feeds microbes that assist in the breakdown of other plant material. Many of the microbes are vital to successful crops. Third, molasses also contains trace elements that are helpful to plants; primarily manganese, iron, calcium, and magnesium.
Table sugar can be used for the same purpose, but since it is more complex, it takes more energy for the plants to break it down for use. Note: Honey should never be used. Honey has anti-microbial properties that can actually kill the helpful microbes. It is for this reason honey should also never be added to compost piles.
Making the fertilizer tea
To make the plant tea, combine the ingredients, cover them with water and let sit for a day or two. The ingredients can steep for longer than this, but if this is done, fermentation can take place. While the fermenting brew is still good for plants, many people object to the aroma it produces.
Also, because of the fermentation, the container can be covered, but it shouldn’t be covered tightly. It will produce carbon dioxide and can cause the container to burst if the gas can’t escape.
The water can then be strained off. This is diluted at a rate of one cup of fertilizer water to a half gallon of fresh water. A cup or two of this very weak tea can be poured around each plant every couple of weeks. The plants benefit, yet the cost is minimal and the effort isn’t great.
Making your own liquid fertilizer is easy, inexpensive and helpful for a productive garden, particularly when container gardening. It is especially great for heavy feeding plants, like tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, cantaloupe, and corn. By making your own, you aren’t using chemicals, and yet you are increasing the chances of having a good harvest. For that matter, the homemade liquid fertilizer also increases the health of the soil you grow the plants in. That is a very nice win-win situation.