Feeding Plants with Chemical Free and Organic Methods

Since abandoning all chemical fertilizers in 2010, I’ve established a system that works quite well so far and includes building organic material in the soil so the microbes, worms, and nutrients have a place to live and remain available to plants. Once the organic material is established, additional microbes are added and fed regularly. Our plants are continually more healthy and resistant to many pests and diseases that once plagued them on a regular basis. While we still have limited pests and diseases, I’m optimistic that once the soil is finally as balanced as it can be, the problems will be minimal. Since I’m seeing consistent improvement in plant health, increased worm population, fewer pests and disease, I know this process is working!

References I’ve found helpful on this topic are:

Gardening by the Light of the Moon by Pam Campi
Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Loenfels and Wayne Lewis
Compost Tea Making by Marc Remillard

Time of application is important. According to the moon cycle calendar, there are days that are best each month for fertilizing plants. With a 12 month growing season in our climate, I’ve found success using this program monthly. I always apply these methods in the early evening; microbes do not survive in UV light. I imagine the microbes and critters have quite a party overnight after such a nutritious feast!

Mcardles (2012)

The PH level of soil, water, and fertilizer is also important. I’m very careful to monitor the PH of the soil and liquids I apply; PH is impacted by such a wide variety of factors, it can change very quickly. I test the soil PH with a meter most of the time. During dry season, I use a lot of well water that is too high of a PH. So, I amend the soil with organic sulfur and/or amend the water PH if it’s feasible. Temperature seems to impact PH of liquid also. For plants to properly absorb nutrients, the PH must be within the range of their preference. 6.5-7.0 tends to be a common preference for most home gardeners but certain plants are choosy like the miracle fruit, blackberries, and blueberries that prefer acidity. To test liquid PH, I use an electronic meter. To reduce the PH of liquid, I use white vinegar in very small amounts (like a few drops) and continuously test until the target PH is reached. If the PH is too low, I add well water. Our well water here ranges between 8.0-10.0+. I also like to apply right before or after rain if it works out that way. If not, I water the soil before or after application (depending upon the moisture in the soil) but avoid rinsing the leaves if I’m using a liquid fertilizer as the organic material on the leaves is beneficial.

The fertilizing process I’m using at present includes and alternates between compost tea, rock dust, manure, mulch, homemade compost, homemade weed tea, epsom salts (mostly for palms), lava rock, potash, Espoma dry organic fertilizer, biozome, fish emulsion, seaweed (liquid), Medina Has to Grow, Chemwize EmPak, EM-1, and Ladybug’s John’s Recipe. Soil building includes cover crops, nitrogen fixing plants, and creating bio-intensive growing environments.

In the future, I plan to add biochar to the fertilizing routine once I finish the grinding process. The char I have now is too large and needs to be ground into finer particles and inoculated. I’m studying and learning more on this topic.

I attempt to provide fungi and bacteria to the needs of each plant. While garden veggies tend to prefer a bacterial environment, established fruit trees and other plants enjoy a more fungal environment. So, my aerobic compost tea recipe continually changes but this combination bacteria/fungi recipe has shown the best results so far:

compost tea1 cup “forest” soil including leaf mold
1 cup garden soil
1 cup kitchen scrap compost
1 cup worm castings
1 cup fungal compost (from decomposing mulch pile)
1 cup bacterial compost (from compost pile)
3 Tbsp Rock Dust
3 Tbsp Biozome (added during the last hour of brewing)
5 oz EM-1 per 5 gallon bucket (added after tea is finished)
3 oz Molasses
2 oz Fish Emulsion
2 oz liquid seaweed

The dry ingredients are thoroughly mixed and divided into two portions that I put in two old nylon knee high stockings. I fill two 5 gallon buckets with rain water and drop in one stocking for each bucket. Combine the liquid ingredients and then add 1/2 to each bucket. To aerate the tea, I use fish tank pumps, tubing, with aerator stones at the bucket end of the tubing. The tubing runs through an inch hole drilled into the top of the 5 gallon bucket lid. I place the lid on top of each bucket but I don’t seal it as some air should be able to get in. I brew for 24 hours, then I dilute by 50% with more rain water, test the PH and make adjustments as necessary, and apply to plants leaves, root zone, and soil. Mixing applying usually takes me 4 days at about 2.5 hours per day at 20 gallons per application/day to cover only the food producing plants on our property with one application for each plant. To compliment the application of compost tea, I apply manures, dry amendments listed above, mulch, and Free Fertilizer quarterly.

Reference(s):

Mcardles. (April, 2012). The Role of Soil Microbes & Beneficial Fungi. Retrieved from http://mcardles.com/blog/the-role-of-soil-microbes-beneficial-fungi/