Like us, plants do need to be fed regularly in order to stay healthy. Soil nutrients, especially for potted plants, get depleted over time. As a result of this lack of nutrients in the soil, plants may look unhealthy with fewer leaves or produce, and are more prone to various diseases.
In contrast, healthy plants have lush foliage and regular flower blooms. Applying organic fertilizers on a regular basis helps to restore the depleted nutrients in the soil. Creating your own compost is ideal if you have enough time and backyard space.
From my experience as a working mom, the easiest do-it-yourself organic fertilizers are from kitchen scraps like rice wash, fish parts, used coffee grounds, egg shells and banana peels. Remember though that each one has its own purpose, and should be used according to the plants’ specific needs.
Here are a few tips on how to use these kitchen scraps as organic fertilizers for your garden.
Use rice wash for watering the leafy greens.
In most Filipino homes, rice is a common daily staple. So there is naturally a regular supply of rice wash in every Filipino kitchen. I use rice wash to water plants like pechay (pakchoy), bokchoy, lettuce and other leafy greens every morning. Rice wash is rich in various nutrients that help these plants grow fuller and healthier leaves. It also encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria in the soil. I find it very effective in inducing faster growth for seedlings and newly transferred plants.
How to use: Dilute rice wash with an equal amount of water. Use this to water the plants in the morning every other day.
Use raw fish scraps for more foliage and produce.
Raw fish and other products from the sea, such as sea weeds, are high in nitrogen and other trace minerals. Plants need nitrogen to help them grow and produce more abundantly. The other nutrients in the fish, like calcium, phosphorus, sodium and potassium, are also useful for the production of more flowers and fruits, and resistance to diseases.
How to use: Chop or grind the raw fish scraps and bury them at least 6 inches under the soil. The smell of rotting fish can attract your pet so make sure the scraps are buried deep enough into the ground.
Try used coffee grounds for acid-loving plants.
Used coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen which is needed for plants to produce protein. There is currently a debate whether used coffee grounds increases the acidity of the soil (which means a pH level lower than 7.0). Some experts think that once coffee grounds are used, they become acid-neutral and thus, used grounds will not increase soil acidity. To be sure though, check which plants can tolerate acidic soil before using coffee grounds. Radish, potatoes, tomatoes, basil and pepper are examples of acid-loving plants, while okra and eggplants are acid-tolerating plants.
How to use: Sprinkle a handful of used coffee grounds over the sides of the plant and mix this with the soil. Alternatively, soak 1 tbsp of used coffee grounds in 1 liter of water and allow it to steep overnight. Use the liquid to water the plants.
Crushed egg shells can be used both as organic fertilizer and slug repellant.
Egg shells are rich in calcium which is needed by plants to encourage stronger stems and flowers. Unlike nitrogen (N), phosphorus(P) and potassium (K), calcium is a secondary nutrient for plants. This means that plants need calcium in smaller quantities than N-P-K. Lack of calcium, however, can lead to stunted growth in plants. Finely crushed eggshells are also useful in preventing pests like slugs and other night crawlers.
How to use: Wash the eggshells thoroughly and allow them to dry under direct sun for 2 days. To use as fertilizer, grind the eggshells finely and mix them into the soil. Alternatively, boil the egg shells for 3 minutes and let it cool down overnight. Use the boiled water to water the plants in the morning. As slug repellant, sprinkle some finely ground egg shells over the sides of the plants near their roots.
Use dried banana peels to encourage more flowers.
Lastly, banana peels are rich in potassium and phosphorus. These are main nutrients which are needed by plants for flowering and resistance to diseases. I use banana peels mostly for my eggplant, okra and tomato plants.
How to use: Dry the banana peels thoroughly under the sun for at least 3 days. Make sure the banana peels are thoroughly dried, or else they will attract fruit flies and other insects. Cut the peels into small pieces before chopping or grinding them. Mix the banana peels into the soil.
As a final note
Most organic fertilizers act as slow-release fertilizers, which means that their effect on the plants is realized over a period of time (usually after 1 week) as they decompose in the soil. Unlike synthetic fertilizers, there is no danger of over-fertilizing or “burning” the plants’ roots. Since plants are not created equal, make sure to understand which plants need more or less of each organic fertilizer.
To learn more, visit http://www.urbangardeningmom.com for my other articles on urban gardening.