two large piles of guinea pig mulch
Blog,  Successful Garden

Why Harvest Your Own Fertilizer?

Really? Harvest Fertilizer?

I like to get mine for free. I love to save money. And, I enjoy visiting the places where I get the fertilizer. Or you could go to Wal-mart or home improvement stores and buy it. It will work. Walmart can be an adventure too! Whether you harvest your own fertilizer or buy it, I’ll help you figure out how much you will need for the size of your garden and I’ll give you some ideas about the sources of fertilizer that may be available in your local area.

Plan your garden.

I prefer beds over rows because I can grow more in a smaller space. Beds can maintain their soft texture longer than traditional rows. Measure the length and width of your total space. Then measure the width and length of the beds, leaving about 1 ½ to 2 feet of a path between the beds. My recommendation for the width of each bed to be no more than four feet wide. I prefer three feet wide because, for my height, reaching across four is awkward. When beds are too wide, you will find yourself reaching farther than your balance will let you. I’ve been known to fall into four-foot beds, compressing the soil where I catch myself. I redesigned my garden with this in mind.

Now that you have your garden planned, calculate how much fertilizer you will need.

Figure about two bags per bed that is twenty-four feet long by three feet wide. The calculation will be the same for a feed bag full of natural fertilizer or if you purchase a plastic bag from a store. It’s important to not over fertilize your beds. Start with this calculation and see how it works for you. You will be adding leaves to the beds too. I’ll show you how in “Prepare Your Soil”.

Decide what kind of fertilizer you want to harvest.

I caution the use of horse manure. Horses are usually fed hay which has been sprayed with weedkiller at some point while it was growing. Stables like weed-free hay so that is how it is accomplished. Horse feed is also made up of ingredients that have also been sprayed. That means that the weed killer is still on and in the hay. The theory is that it will dissipate with time-but does it really? What does dissipate mean anyway? Where does it go? It can’t simply disappear.  Even if it does “dissipate” in a year, as they claim, hay is harvested before a year is up. Unbelievably, weed killer actually goes through the horse and causes the manure to have weed killer in it! Your source of horse compost will include hay as well, hay that was likely sprayed at some point.

If you want to avoid herbicides, insecticides, please do your research before harvesting manure.

I had first-hand experience with this one year. It ruined my potatoes and tomatoes. They morphed into the strangest shapes I have ever seen a plant do and they were totally unproductive. My source said she was doing nothing different with her horse feed or hay. I regret that I can no longer get my fertilizer from her as I have gone there for many years. So, please be careful and politely ask questions.

There are other farms you could contact. If you get straight up “poop”, it will be much more concentrated with nitrogen and could cause an imbalance in your soil unless you incorporate a lot of leaves and clippings. I highly recommend that you refrain from using it for at least one year, giving the soil organisms time to break the nutrients down into a form that the plants can use. 

In my garden adventures, I was introduced to a place where old shavings from a guinea pig farm is stored. The piles are in separate piles according to the age of the composted shavings. I know this is not true organic fertilizer, but it has never infected my garden with weed killer. Finding a good source of fertilizer can take some work, but once you find it, it may be available for you for years.

Finally, you will need to find something to put the manure in.

Heavy duty garbage bags will work, but recycled feed bags will make the job 100 times easier. Find the bags at horse stables, feed stores, cattle or dairy farms, goats or sheep, even chickens. The bags hold up well and can be used multiple times. I like how they stand up once you put the first couple of shovel fulls in.

Many horse stables will gladly keep the bags for you. And they may be the source of your fertilizer but you will want to politely ask some questions about the hay and feed.

Now that you have done your homework, go shovel some manure! I’ll show you how in my post: How to Harvest Your Own Fertilizer.





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