Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Free Fertilizers for the Urban Backyard

[Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Foraging California,” and other books. You can learn about his classes and books at, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041].

In my “Extreme Simplicity” book, my wife Dolores and I outlined our efforts to live lightly and self-reliantly in the city,  a path that many more are pursuing these days.

We shared all our experiences with gardening and producing our own food.  Some friends told u that they do not garden because it is “an expensive hobby.”  That always made us laugh. There was a time not that long ago when nearly everyone gardened because homegrown produce was not only better from the produce you purchase at a supermarket, but also cheaper.

Before WWII, before agricultural chemical came into widespread use, everyone knew that to produce healthy plants, you had to improve the soil.  Weak soil means that the plants grown there will be weak, and subject to insect infestation, and more susceptible to both drought and freezing.  Insects tend to eat the weakest plants, and insecticides would rarely be necessarily if the soil provided all the nutrients needed by the plants.

We taught ourselves about the whole spectrum of fertilizers that were once common-knowledge.

For example, we learned a lot about the beneficial properties of seaweed from professional gardener Ernest Hogeboom.  He would collect several large trash bags of kelp from areas along the Pacific Coast.  He’d empty the kelp into a 55-gallon drum, fill it with water and cover it.  As the seaweed began to decompose, the water turned brown.  Within about two months, the seaweed was full decomposed into the water.  Hogeboom used the liquid as a concentrate, which he would dilute with water before spraying it on, or pouring it around, his clients’ plants.

Dolores used this for our own landscaping and gardening clients, with the addition of fish emulsion.  Approximately a quarter cup of fish emulsion was used for each gallon of seaweed elixir.  Plants sprayed with this mixture also seemed to repel insects, and generally showed renewed growth..The only pitfall is the fishy, oceanic odor that is detectable for a day or two after the application. 

Seaweed is rich in potassium, up to 12 percent by volume.  Though seaweed contains many beneficial trace elements, it is relatively poor in nitrogen and phosphate, which is why the addition of fish emulsion creates a nearly perfect fertilizer.

We didn’t use the bulky metal 55 gallon drum that Hogeboom used, but rather we purchased a 30 gallon plastic trashcan at a building supply store for about $10. 

If you live in a coastal area where seaweed rotting on the beach is readily availably, you’ve got a great potential fertilizer available only for your labor of hauling it.

No comments: