Making Fertilizer is a Life Lesson

This part really can be tricky even when following Steve Solomon’s Complete Organic Fertilizer Recipe. Once you’ve read the article read on. No need for me to summarize it.

His book made it sound like it would be as easy as going to a farm and seed store and just asking for the ingredients. For some reason I figured the suppliers, especially the organic supplier would know all about Steve Solomon and his fertilizer mix. But this wasn’t the case. I was either too small scale or just sounding like an idiot but I kind of got the feeling I was speaking Chinese.

First of all I couldn’t find seed meal and agricultural lime and the rest of the ingredients were packed in small bags, designed for the home gardener who just wants to liven up a rose bush. Either that or for them money is no object. I finally ended up ordering from this place located about 300 miles from me and paying a hefty shipping cost. I’m sure the products were top of the line though. They made me feel weird about using cottonseed meal saying it was for more acidic loving plants like blueberries. They recommended I use Alfalfa Meal instead and that’s what I’ve been using for the last 3 years.

Lime was another matter. No one had heard of agricultural lime so I used dolomite lime and gypsum instead. These, I was able to purchase at a nearby Southern States dealer.

Once I had all the ingredients, making the fertilizer was easy and kind of fun. I just used about a quart sized plastic container to measure each ingredient, mixed it all up with a shovel in a wheelbarrow and dumped the mixture into 5 gallon buckets with lids. This all cost me about $150.00 but would have been much less without the shipping cost and after 3 years I’ve only had to replenish the dolomite lime and alfalfa meal.

I did manage to get my soil tested last Fall and found I needed to add most everything except magnesium which means I’ll go a much lighter (if at all) on the dolomite lime next year. The test showed a very low level of phosphorus so I added bone meal this year although probably not nearly enough.

Actually while writing this, I’m realizing I really need to make some adjustments next year especially with my limes. Apparently I’ve been snoozing and should be using “calcitic limestone” which is probably what Solomon refers to as “agricultural lime”. I will also be adding cottonseed meal to my garden next year because after doing some research it appears to be fine to add to the vegetable garden.

Anyhow, for first time gardeners, Solomon’s recipe is great because once you find the ingredients, it’s pretty straight forward, works in improving soil and if measured and applied properly, relatively safe for the environment.  As Solomon says, once you get going with his formula it’s a good idea to get your soil tested and go from there.

So what’s the life lesson of all this? My Mom says it’s much easier to go through life not understanding. She says it’s good to not ask questions, accept that life is a mystery and leave it at that. My Dad is the opposite. He questions everything. I mean everything.

But if we just start following recipes without understanding the ingredients or how and why they are being mixed together, we may end up with a surprise. Obviously, we can’t learn or understand everything, and some surprises can be good but in the case of growing food, they usually aren’t welcomed and sometimes, can lead to disaster.

A big part of growing nutritious food in a sustainable way is understanding how things grow and how they are part of a ecosystem. Adding fertilizer can help but growing food involves many different parts all working together to form a healthy plant. It starts with the soil. Good soil means a strong plant that will be better equipped to survive  drought, wind, heavy rain, disease and pests. When mature, it will be nutritious food. No surprises needed.

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