Organic Fertilizer

Compost is considered the Cadillac of organic fertilizers. Compost can be made from plant, animal, and mineral-based materials. The beauty of making compost is that no matter what material you start with, the end product is relatively similar. Finished compost has a low but good balance of nutrients, while being high in organic matter that helps feed the soil's microorganisms.

Composts are available commercially or you can make your own. They can be used along with other fertilizers. Ingredients in commercial composts include various kinds of animal manures and lawn and garden wastes. Making compost is a way to deal with yard waste and make fertilizer simultaneously, and you always know what ingredients went into the finished product.

Animal Manures - Manures can be derived from a variety of animals and even insects. Most are available bagged, composted, and sometimes sterilized.

The nutrient composition of animal manures varies based on the animal, the bedding, and method of manure storage. While it's easy to go to a garden center to pick up a bag of composted manure, if you need larger quantities of manure you can visit a local farm and see if they have an old pile of manure sitting nearby. Aged manure is better than fresh, and cow is better than horse (high in weed seeds), but any manure will give you the advantages we've been talking about.

Cow manure is the manure most commonly found bagged in garden centers. While nutrient content is low, the plants can absorb them moderately quickly. Manure from sea birds, chickens, and bats is rich in nutrients, especially nitrogen. Highly soluble and quickly available nutrients are useful early in the season to stimulate vegetative growth. However, high-nitrogen chicken manures and guanos can burn tender plant roots. It's best to use them as a foliar feed, diluted in water; or in a composted form.

Worm castings are similar to compost in their composition, and they are equally easy to produce at home. Because nutrient levels are so low in worm castings, they are like compost considered more of a soil amendment than a fertilizer.