The Best Organic Fertilizers for a Vegetable Garden

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As vegetable gardeners, we are always faced with a myriad of questions. There are so many different choices in vegetable varieties, tool options, and much, much more. One of the most common questions many gardeners ask is, “What fertilizers should I use?”. This is a great question because there are so many fertilizer options with many different applications, it can easily send a gardener into a whirlwind of confusion and doubt.

If you are interested in growing organically, which I hope you are, then you should use organic fertilizers. Organic simply means it is related to, or derived from, living organisms and is not manufactured through chemicals. Organic fertilizers provide the best nutrients and minerals for a healthy garden because they are naturally occurring. Man may attempt to replicate what nature provides with chemical “super fertilizers”, but it pales in comparison to the raw power of using what nature already gives us.

So, what are the best organic fertilizers we can use for vegetables? Here are my favorite choices (in no particular order):

Compost

CompostCompost is by far the most widely used fertilizer and soil amendment in vegetable gardens today; and rightfully so! Compost is easily made from all types of things from around the home, but mostly from yard refuge and most vegetable peelings from the kitchen. It is generally worked into the soil before planting and added as a side dressing after the plants have become established. Compost adds beneficial microorganisms, greatly improves soil health, and increases earthworm activity in your soil.

Compost Teas

Compost teas are made from steeping compost. The liquid left from the steeping process is strained and then used to water plants. Compost tea can offer your vegetable plants a super-charged drink of essential nutrients and minerals.

Herbivore Manures

Manures from animals such as grass fed cows, horses, rabbits and chickens make great fertilizers. Never use manures from animals such as dogs or cats, or manures from humans (eeww). Typically, manures are mixed with hay, straws, or alfalfa and set out to compost before using. You should always let manures compost for a minimum of nine months before applying it to the vegetable garden. Using fresh manures can burn plants and cause quite a stink.

Fish and Seaweed Emulsions

Fish and seaweed (kelp) fertilizers are a great way to easily improve soil nutrients and provide your plants a good feeding. These organic fertilizers come in a liquid form and are mixed with water, then used to water plants where nutrients are taken in through the leaves. Using compost in combination with a fish or seaweed fertilizer is a great way to take on a two-pronged attack of organic fertilization.

Vermicomposting or Worm Poo

EarthwormThe reason earthworms are essential for healthy soil is because they wiggle around the soil helping to aerate it, but the best quality of the earthworm is its poo (or castings). The castings not only provide valuable nutrients to the soil, but the poo also contains beneficial microorganisms from the earthworm’s digestive system. Beneficial microorganisms are vital for breaking down organic matter into a form that plant roots can intake.

Vermicomposting is the farming of worms in order to collect their castings to use as a fertilizer or top dressing. You can also purchase worm castings and earthworm cocoons to place in raised beds or large containers. The cocoons will hatch earthworms introducing these soil soldiers to your vegetable garden.

Commercial Organic Fertilizers

There are many companies that produce awesome organic fertilizers. Such companies I highly recommend are Gardener's Supply and Gardens Alive!. Both companies offer all natural fertilizers for broad spectrum or specific applications.

Gardens Alive! features many specific organic fertilizers and are offering a special right now on soil care products. Click the coupon link below to save $20 off a $40 order! So, if you order $40 worth of awesome organic products you are getting them half off!

Save $20 off orders $40 at Gardens Alive!

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Comments

  1. wow I didn’t realize you can buy worms to hatch. I guess I thought you just got worms as worms. lol. This may be a great idea for my raised beds. thanks for you helpful post ~ as always.

    • Hi Jackie,

      Yes, you can buy worms to hatch and it really works well, too! Just make sure you have a good amount of organic matter for the earthworms to munch on. They are ideal for adding to raised beds. In fact, I recommend adding them to raised beds since earthworms are not usually found there since they are on top of the soil.

      Thanks!

  2. Great summary of organic fertilizers. I always knew that earthworms were beneficial, but didn’t realize why. I thought it was just aeration. Thanks for clarifying that for me.

    Stan Horst
    Publisher: BetterBenches.com

    • Hi Stan – Earthworms are the true workhorse of great soils. If you have soil that is vacant of earthworms, it is a sure sign of poor soil for growing just about anything. I’m glad you enjoyed the organic fertilizer summary and thanks for stopping by.

      Tee

  3. Great post all of your compost tips work great! I use most of that stuff weekly. When I build new beds or making my potting mix. I normally mix in a lot of homemade compost, vermicompost (I have my own worm farm), mushroom compost, bloodmeal and bone meal. My plants love it they grow large and produce lots of flowers and fruit / veggies

    I also like to mix in Donkey manure because, you get less seeds in the manure. You get less because they do not eat seeds and most Donkey owners will feed them seedless hay.

    In our garden, we are 90% organic and hopefully next year we will be 100% organic.

  4. Thanks for the great tips! I am working on some compost but i don’t think it will be ready by spring :(

  5. Mr. Riddle,
    I have a question.
    What is coffee grounds and egg shells good for? My mother in law uses this in all types of gardens and swears by it. I took horticulture class in High school and our teacher said it was best for flower beds. Can it be used for both vege gardens and flower beds????

    • Hi Greta,

      Coffee grounds and egg shells can be added to vegetable or flower gardens. They both are good sources of organic matter which is important for healthy soil. Coffee grounds are a natural material derived from coffee beans so they contain organic matter. Egg shells contain a good amount of calcium and other minerals that are good for plants. Crushed egg shells are especially good for vegetables, like tomatoes, when they are setting fruit for an extra boost of needed calcium.

      It’s a good idea to use the coffee grounds and egg shells in a sustainable way instead of just throwing them away.

  6. I started composting last year and now that spring has arrived and my garden has started-up, In have been using the compost as a soil amendment and organic fertilizer. The results have been fantastic, especially for my tomatoes. Does anyone know if certain vegetables respond better to compost than others?

    • I wouldn’t say that a particular vegetable responds better to compost. Compost is really a soil amendment that adds tilth and structure to the soil as well as nutrients.

      There are some vegetables that do not like too much organic matter, such as potatoes. High concentrations of organic matter can cause potatoes to rot sometimes, but we are talking about very high amounts of organic matter that would cause that.

      I hope that answers your question.

    • I mulch my stuff from the kitchen and I checked the PH & the fertility right in the pot from the kitchen and believe it or not, the PH was 7.0 and fertility was better than my garden bed. I put all fresh vegs, egg shells & coffee grounds in it. I put worm castings right into the composter, as the worms love the composter.

  7. Good advice here:-

    “You should always let manures compost for a minimum of nine months before applying it to the vegetable garden. Using fresh manures can burn plants and cause quite a stink.”

    I would add that you need this amount of time for the composting action to render any weed seeds in the manure to be nonviable. There is nothing worse than lovingly adding a layer of compost & finding a fresh crop of weeds emerging a week or so later.

    ~Bruce

    • Hi Bruce – Excellent point! You are right, if you have added weeds to your compost it is important to get the pile hot so it kills any seeds.

      Thanks for pointing that out!

  8. I truly want to go organic. I believe my soil has been quite depleted and as I live in the city near petrol stations, I may have contamination issues.
    Will raised beds help in this matter? How long does it take for a typical soil
    to become organic again?

  9. You mentioned “Herbivore Manures”

    If you ever get a chance to get some aged sheep manure it’s great as well. If you can find a farmer with a shearing shed, there will likely be plenty of “dags” under the holding pens – a wheelbarrow full of year old droppings does wonders, and if they’r good and old, getting any weeds seed possibility is slim

  10. Hello Tee,
    What is your view on using cow or horse manure tea? Just found your site and I like a lot. Thanks.

  11. Hello,
    Why do my vegetable plants get more leaves than vegetables? What should a soil test show? How will I know what to add to make more vegetables. thank you.

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