Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Free Garden Fertilizers from Items you Normally Throw Away

[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].

We always gardened because we can produce better quality food and a low cost, without participating in using any of the destructive chemicals which ruin the fertility of the soil.  And there are at least two very common household discards which are ideal for many of your garden plants.

You’ve heard of liming the garden and lawn, right?  Many gardeners buy a bag of lime (calcium carbonate) every few years and sprinkle it throughout the garden.   Were you aware that eggshells are 93% calcium carbonate?

Calcium is an essential plant nutrient that plays a fundamental part in cell manufacture and growth.  Most roots must have some calcium at the growing tips.  Plant growth removes large quantities of calcium from the soil, and so calcium must be replenished.  In addition to calcium, eggshells contain about 1 percent nitrogen, about 0.5 percent phosphoric acid, and other trace elements that make them a practical fertilizer.

We saved all our eggshells in a pan in our oven, including shells from the eggs from the farmers market, as well as the shells from our own chicken eggs. The pilot light temperature of the oven was sufficient to dry out the shells. Then, when the pan was full, we either crushed them by hand, or reduced them to a fine powder in the blender. Then we placed the crushed eggshells around fruit trees, roses, and potted plants, and also just broadcast them throughout the garden.

We learned that snail problems could be reduced with the helped of recycled eggshells. Using the hand-crushed shells, with plenty of their rough edges, we’d scatter these around those plants that the snails were eating.  Snails did not usually cross the barriers made with these rough eggshells, presumably because they cause discomfort to the snails.

Another common kitchen discard is coffee grounds. Used coffee grounds contain about 2 percent nitrogen, about a third of a percent of phosphoric acid, and varying amounts of potash, generally less than one percent.  Analysis of coffee grounds shows that they contain many minerals, including trace minerals, carbohydrates, sugars, some vitamins, and some caffeine.  They are particularly useful on those plants for which you would apply “acid food,” such as blueberries, avocados, roses, camellias, and certain fruit trees.

Sometimes we use scatter the used coffee grounds in the garden, and sometimes we dry them first. We scatter them as a light mulch around those plants that we feel would benefit the most. We don’t scatter them too thickly, however, especially in wet weather, because the coffee grounds will have a tendency to get moldy.

Because most plants need calcium for root growth, most can be beneficially stimulated by adding both ground up eggshells (lime) and dried coffee grounds.

Smile the next time you drink your morning cup of coffee, and eat those breakfast eggs, because the by-products of that meal are ideal for your urban garden and no longer need to be thought of as “waste.”

I sought to include many of these low-tech, low-cost ideas in my “Extreme Simplicity” book, which recorded all the methods that my wife and I actually practiced.  We always figured that if we could do all that we did with low-income, anyone anywhere could practice these same methods to become self-reliant.  You can get “Extreme Simplicity” from, or from the Store at

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