Over time, soil becomes depleted of nutrients and organic matter. Adding fertilizer contributes to soil’s health and by extension the health of the plants. However, fertilizer can be expensive and may seem extravagant for a beginner. There are products already available in the home that can be used to nourish the soil and lead to better yield. Before using any of these, you should first get your soil tested to determine what nutrients it lacks and could use more of (that is of course if you can afford it).
Key plant nutrients
Nitrogen is an essential nutrient that supports key functions. For this reason, it is termed the “backbone” of plants. It is critical for growth and development. Nitrogen is essential for photosynthesis. It is important for cell growth and development and helps hold the genetic code in the plant nucleus.
Plants need phosphorus fertilizer for normal development and timely maturity. A deficiency makes plants unable to complete their production cycle as expected.
Potassium is an indispensable constituent for the correct development of plants. It is important in photosynthesis and is responsible for many other functions including water and nutrient transportation, protein, and starch synthesis.
Calcium plays a part in nutrient uptake, promotes cell elongation, and strengthens cell wall structure. It also helps protect the plant against disease. Calcium deficiency causes a disease known as blossom-end-root which affects peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants.
Magnesium is the powerhouse behind photosynthesis in plants. It is also used by plants for the metabolism of carbohydrates and in cell membrane stabilization. A deficiency will affect the leaves in various ways including yellowing them and eventually killing the plant. This is why magnesium-rich fertilizer is critical.
Bananas are saturated with potassium and also have calcium and phosphorus which plants need for proper growth. Banana peels can be used in a variety of ways including:
Throw one or two peels into the hole before transplanting.
Make banana peel tea by soaking a few skins in a half-liter of water. Let them soak and leach into the water for a few days. Water your plants with it.
Make a banana smoothie by blending the banana peels or spoiled bananas then pouring that around the plants in the garden or pour it at the base of the soil before transplanting.
Wash and crush the eggshells then work the pieces into the soil. Eggs shells are about 93% calcium carbonate which is the same ingredient as lime. Lime is a tried-and-true soil amendment used to make the soil less acidic. Eggs shells also replace depleted calcium.
Used Coffee grounds
Coffee grounds have a lot of uses in the home, one of which is as a fertilizer. Recycle your coffee grounds to help acidify the soil. You can sprinkle the used grounds over the surface of the soil.
Another way is to make garden coffee and water your plants with it. Make garden coffee by soaking up to six cups of used coffee ground for a week and you’re good to go. Alternatively, you can add the used coffee grounds to your compost if you have one.
Used tea leaves
Used tea leaves contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium as well as some trace minerals. Sprinkle the used leaves on the soil and gently scratch them in. You can also use the tea bags to cover the drainage holes in pots. They hold soil well and allow excess water to drain. You can also add the tea leaves to your compost pit.
A weak solution of green tea can be used to water plants every 4 weeks. Use 1 teabag for 8-10 litres of water.
It turns out urine is one of the household items we may be wasting and/or underutilizing. Urine is considered sterile and safe to use as long as the body it’s coming from is healthy. It’s high in nitrogen. Urea contains more phosphorus and potassium than store-bought fertilizers.
A good ratio of urine to water is 1:8. Mix and use the solution to water your plants. Pour two cups around the perimeter of smaller plants and 4 cups for medium and 6 for large plants. If you really can’t get on board with watering your plants with your urine, then pour the urine directly onto your compost.
Manure enriches the soil and conditions the soil. Adding animal waste is one of the easiest ways to fertilize the soil. The most common are horse, cow, and chicken manure. You can also use sheep, rabbit, and turkey. You should not use the waste from household pets including cats and dogs because they are likely to carry pests and are unsuitable for the garden.
The acetic acid in vinegar works to increase the acidity of the soil for acid-loving plants. Just make sure not to use undiluted vinegar. Add one tablespoon of vinegar to 4-5 liters of water. Water your plants with this solution every three months.
Coconut is packed full of nutrients that trigger cell division in the roots and shoots of plants, resulting in explosive growth. The water also creates a barrier from diseases that compromise the health of the plant thereby increasing germination. It is a rich source of potassium and has small amounts of sodium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Mix 3 ½ tablespoons of raw coconut water with 4 cups of chlorine-free water. Spray on plant and leaves 1-2 per week.
Add one tablespoon of Epsom salts into approx. 5 litres of water. Spray your fertilizer once a month directly to the foliage for a quick dose of magnesium and sulfur.
Tree leaves are rich with trace minerals, they attract earthworms, retain moisture and make heavy soils lighter. You can use them in two ways. One, till them into your soil or mix crushed leaves into potting soil. Or use them as mulch to both fertilize the soil and keep the weeds down.
Grass clippings and weeds
Grass clippings are rich in nitrogen which breaks down slowly over time enriching the soil. They can be used as mulch to block weeds. To use them as fertilizer, fill a 5 kg bucket with grass clippings, add water to the top then let it sit for a day or two. Dilute the resultant mix in a ratio of 1:10. Water the plants. Weed tea fertilizer can also be made in the same way. You can even mix the two up to make a hybrid grass-weed tea.
Gelatin can be a great source of nitrogen. Dissolve 1 pack of gelatin (approx. 200g) in a cup of hot water and then add three cups of cold water. Pour the cold mixture directly on the soil around your plants once a month. It is great for houseplants.
Wood ash or fireplace ash
Ash is rich in potassium and calcium carbonate which can help balance out pH if your soil is too acidic. This makes it easier for the plants to absorb nutrients that are present in the soil. It is only good when used in moderation, just sprinkle a little over the topsoil. It will eventually work its way down.
Many different nutrients are released into the water that food is boiled in. Use the water you boil your potatoes, vegetables, eggs, and even pasta in as fertilizer – make sure it doesn’t have salt in it).
Fish tank water fertilizer
Used fish tank water is full of nitrogen and other trace minerals that plants need to thrive. Save the dirty water from your tank and use it to water your plants.
Hair is a good source of nitrogen. Take hair from your hairbrush, your local barbershop/beauty shop, and even your cat and dogs hairs. Just add the hair to the soil.
Matches are a great source of magnesium. To use matches as fertilizer, soak the matches in water and spray the plant or bury the whole match in the soil next to the plant.
Powdered milk is rich in calcium and is easily used by plants because of its powdered form.
Instead of throwing away vegetable peels and other kitchen scraps, you can make your own compost. The compost will release the nutrients slowly and a well-composted garden can do without fertilizer application for a year or two. Compost also helps soil retain its moisture which is important for plants especially during the dry season.