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Monday, October 3, 2022

Five Free, All-Natural Garden Fertilizers From Your Kitchen, Yard, and Beach

chicken bones that have been pulverized with a hammer

You'd think that finishing harvesting would be the last work in the garden for the season. However, after everything is harvested, I still have one step left, getting the beds prepped for next spring. One of the tasks on my list is to dig in some organic fertilizers.

If you've been following the news these past few months, you've likely heard that fertilizers, like everything else, are getting more and more expensive. So how about some free fertilizers for the garden?

8-10 egg shells, washed, dried and crushed with mortar & pestle

  1. composted food and garden scraps, such as vegetable/fruit peeling or trimmings, coffee grounds, grass clippings, leaves, plants. You can even add some paper and cardboard to a compost pile. Nutrients in compost: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, boron, copper, iron, zinc, manganese 
  2. ground, washed eggshells. I keep a dish in the fridge for rinsed out eggshells. When I have enough, I oven dry them in a cooling oven for about 30-40 minutes (after baking something else) or at 180 F for 25 to 30 minutes, until quite dry. Once dry, I grind them in a coffee grinder or mortar & pestle. (mortar & pestle is my preferred, as it doesn't send eggshell dust into the air -- mask recommended with coffee grinder). Ground eggshells can then be mixed into the soil before planting. Nutrients in eggshells: calcium. Eggshells decompose best in acidic soil.
  3. composted animal manure, such as chicken manure or rabbit manure. Don't use cat or dog waste, as you can inadvertently introduce pathogens to the soil. But well-composted manure from poultry and rabbits is beneficial for the garden. If you or someone you know raises backyard chickens (or rabbits), you could have a free source of fertilizer for your garden. Nutrients in composted chicken manure: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium
  4. seaweed -- check with your state to find out if harvesting seaweed is allowed. In my area, there is one beach where citizens are allowed to collect a limited amount of seaweed. Seaweed needs to be thoroughly rinsed before use, to remove salt. It can be used as a mulch (directly applied to the soil, composted then mixed into the soil or you can make a liquid fertilizer (see this article). Nutrients in seaweed (may vary according to variety and where harvested): nitrogen, magnesium, potassium, calcium, iodine, phosphorus, zinc
  5. bone meal -- you can buy bonemeal. But this list is about free sources. You can make bonemeal in your kitchen from chicken bones. After our last whole roasted chicken, I put the bones into the crockpot and covered with water, allowing to simmer for about 14 hours. I then picked any remaining meat off those bones, poured off the broth for a pot of soup, then recooked the chicken bones in fresh water for another 14 hours. At the end of this second simmering, I poured off this new stock for another batch of soup. I rinsed the bones in clean water, then spread them out on a baking sheet and baked at 400 degrees F for about an hour. The bones were lightweight, brittle, and browned at this point. After the bones cooled, I placed them into a multi-layered paper bag (the bag from 10 lbs of sugar) and pounded with a hammer on the concrete garage floor. The bones easily pulverized. Very little bone meal is needed in an application, 1 tablespoon max for 2 square feet. Nutrients in bone meal: phosphorus, calcium. Many experts feel bone meal is best for acidic soil. 
Most garden soils benefit from a combination of organic soil amendments when used as fertilizers. No one organic DIY amendment can provide for all of a plant's needs. And some soils can't use one or more of these amendments, due to the soil's pH. My soil is acidic. I use a combination of eggshells, composted yard and kitchen waste, coffee grounds, and bonemeal, as well as purchased chicken manure and commercial compost. 

chicken bones after twice simmered then baked dry

If hammering an animal's bones to pieces before adding to the garden feels weird or macabre to you, can I share my perspective? I feel that if my family is going to use an animal for food, then we should make good use of as much of that animal as possible. Feeding the soil so that more can grow in an area is a good use in my opinion. Besides, becoming a useful soil amendment is a better ending than rotting in a landfill, don't you think? 


  1. Great topic! I've been reading up on this and trying to figure out how to buy less inputs in the long haul. It's been a pleasant surprise to see that, the more we grow, the more biomass in the forms of vines, leaves, etc... is available to compost (or chop and drop in place). We already use four of the five items you mentioned, but don't have seaweed available here. However, gather bagged leaves around the neighborhood in the fall and save those for use throughout the year, as bedding in the duck run, to layer between "greens" in the compost piles, or to use as mulch around crops such as potatoes since we don't hill them in raised beds. Patrick of the youtube Channel OYR (One Yard Revolution) did a video several years ago, scientifically comparing the minerals found in leaves to those of rock dusts, and the leaves really have what the soil needs. So I'd love to use up the rock dust we have and not need more.

    We also do things a little differently in that we add the bones that have been cooked down for stock or whatever, directly into the compost, so that then the added compost has all those minerals in it. Not a right or wrong thing, just a different way. I've been doing a lot of reading about how the microbes in the soil are so important, as they are what facilitates the plants being able to use the nutrients, so that is my next planned area of experimentation: various aerated compost and worms teas.

    A few weeks ago, we got an old used cast iron tub off marketplace, and started a worm bin again. We'd had one of those little plastic towers for years, but couldn't seem to find a balance between keeping it cool enough in the summer and remembering to feed the worms (as in, tucked in a corner of the house, it stayed cool enough but was often forgotten). They tolerate cool weather much more than heat, and I happened upon a youtuber out of Florida talking about the method she uses to work around their susceptibility to heat, basically having a much larger bin, i.e. the bathtub. Hoping that works out so we can have more of our own worm castings.

    1. I don't know why I'm sometimes randomly signed out, but this is Cat. I didn't even realize I wasn't signed in until I went to add a P.S.

      Anyhow, I just wanted to say that I fully agree about using every part of the animal. When we processed our own chickens back in June, the parts none of use would use whatsoever (blood, intestines, heads) went to their pigs. We brought home the hearts and livers to use in my homemade dog food. The feathers went in our compost.

      My husband is elk hunting this week. We were discussing ways to use even more of the animal if he gets one. One thing we were discussing was if we could reasonably make blood meal.

    2. Hi Cat,
      In addition to making bone meal or composting chicken carcasses, I've also read that some people throw bones to the back of their wood-burning fireplaces during an active fire. Then the bone dust gets added to the compost with the wood ashes. I think you just have to use the method that works for you. Any of the above will benefit the soil.
      Good luck with the new worm bin!

      When we first moved into this house, the soil was very poor. Only the scraggliest shrubs could survive in it. We've been slowly improving the soil by composting as much as possible then spreading that around. Good job collecting neighborhood leaves.

      Yeah, I have a lot of problems with the commenting system, too. I am permanently logged out and have to remember to add my name each time I reply to my own blog. Go figure! Thanks for being persistent.

    3. My father had a bathtub buried in the backyard for a while that he used to raise worms, however his were night crawlers he used for fishing instead of gardening. But he was the master of using manure tea. You could see changes in the plants almost overnight.

    4. Hi Live and Learn,
      Interesting about your father's bathtub for raising worms. Until Cat mentioned hers, I'd not heard of this technique for worms.
      Manure tea must be made along the lines of compost tea. That's good to hear that manure tea can quickly help plants that are struggling. I'll remember that with compost tea for next year's garden.

  2. You'd be better off having my husband comment on this topic, but besides composting food and leaf scraps (I think oak leaves are best for our particular soil, but again, this is not my area of expertise), he also uses fish scraps to enrich the soil.

    1. HI Kris,
      Oh, interesting about the fish scraps. One of the commercial fertilizers I use is fish emulsion. That's great that your husband uses the leftover parts of fish he catches in the garden.
      Thanks for providing a link for me to check out!


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