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If you are a regular reader of my column you likely know that I much prefer an organic approach to farm and gardening and that I believe that building healthy soil produces healthy food. As I continue to learn more about pest control and fertility the more I have come to understand why healthy plants and animals have an edge over their synthetically doped counterparts.
The other day I needed to do some fertilization in the vegetable patch so I gathered up some supplies that included bags of alfalfa meal, bone meal, and cottonseed meal. It made sense to me that the mixture would supply a more complete slow release source of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as important trace elements like calcium, magnesium, zinc and copper. But to perfect the concoction I turned to a recipe of Steve Solomon’s, an organic gardener, author and founder of Territorial Seed Company.
Solomon’s mixture includes seed meals, lime, bone meal, kelp meal and some rock dust. Each does something special in terms of improving the soil and feeding our plants. He suggests that we shallowly work four to six quarts per 100 square foot bed before planting and then again as a side dressing to vegetable plants that are considered medium to heavy feeders every three to four weeks during the growing season. Medium feeders include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cucumbers, squash, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and garlic.
Seed meals (made from cotton seed, soybeans, flaxseed, alfalfa, etc.) typically have a nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium (N-P-K) ratio of 6-4-2. Lime is important because it contains calcium but be aware that there are different forms of lime. Dolomitic lime is the best because it has calcium and magnesium carbonates. Agricultural lime is mostly calcium carbonates; and gypsum is mostly calcium carbonate.
This may not mean much to us but to plants the extra trace elements, or micronutrients, are needed in small amounts and these various forms of lime provide them. Solomon recommends that we use a mixture of all three, ideally. Solomon also warns that quicklime, burnt lime and hydrated lime should never be used in the mixture.
Bone meal is rich in phosphorus, necessary for plants to bloom well; and kelp meal provides the entire range of trace elements as well as hormonal components that help to regulate growth and maintain vigor (some say, however, that the power of kelp is a bit exaggerated). Rock dusts (which I have absolutely no experience with) are apparently a good source of micronutrients and can be used in place of the kelp meal.
So, now that we have our ingredients we need the recipe. Grab a big bucket and a scoop and measure out by volume four parts seed meal, one-quarter part agricultural lime, one-quarter part gypsum, one-half part dolomitic lime; and he urges for best results, add one part bone meal or rock phosphate dust, and one-half to one part kelp meal.
Organic fertilizer is as potent as synthetic so do not over use it. The difference between the two, however, is synthetic fertilizer delivers the nutrient dose way too fast and it does nothing to improve soil quality. Organic fertilizers provide nutrients to plants at a rate they can absorb and use and they improve the soil because they also feed the good microbes in the soil that further improve plant health.