Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Walt's Organic Fertilizer Co. and Steve Solomon's Veganized Fertilizer Recipe

For those of you living in the greater Seattle area and in need of vegan fertilizer, Walt’s Organic Fertilizer Co. sells a vegan mix called Organic Garden Blend 6-2-5. The mix has a good balance of NPK. Note that you might want to add some lime to the mix. Pacific Northwest soil is very acidic; the rain leaches away much of the calcium. This problem can be corrected by feeding it some lime.

For a year now I have been mixing my own vegan fertilizer using a recipe that I derived from Steve Solomon's Complete Organic Fertilizer for the Pacific Northwest. The following ingredients are totally vegan:

4 parts organic cottonseed meal (or organic soya bean meal)

½ part dolomite lime (or a 50/50 mix of dolomite lime and agricultural lime)

½ part kelp meal

½ part rock phosphate

I was really unsure about using this fertilizer on my garden last year, but I was assured by the great (and very helpful!) folks on the Veganic Agriculture Network that the modified recipe I was using was indeed vegan and balanced. Then, a few weeks ago, I was walking my dog in the Lake Hills Park in Bellevue and came upon a large community garden that was open to the public called the Urban Demonstration Garden. As I walked around reading the informational placards placed in front of the various plants and garden beds, I came upon one placard that explained the type of fertilizer they use. Lo and behold, they use the same exact recipe (also derived from Steve Solomon’s formula) that I thought I had “made up.” I was surprised, and yet very relieved, to know I’m not the only one using it. The only minor difference with their recipe is that they sometimes use fish meal as a substitute for one of the ingredients, which I would never use.

I just started using organic soya bean (soybean) meal instead of cottonseed meal this week. Cottonseed meal seems to have some controversy surrounding it regarding whether or not it is really organic (and GM free), even though it may be labeled “organic,” and this is something I want to look into more. (On page 36 of Steve Solomon’s book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, he gives a short explanation on how the final product of cottonseed meal has been stripped of its oil – the part that retains any pesticides/herbicides. Solomon recommends using cottonseed, but being the vegan skeptic that I am, I plan on researching the situation further.) Regardless, I decided to try the soybean meal more for a change of pace. Linseed meal is also an acceptable substitute for cottonseed or soybean meal. I sometimes throw in some alfalafa meal with my fertilizer as well, though it’s not necessarily needed, it seems.

All of the ingredients I’ve written about thus far are available at Walt’s Fertilizer Co. If you live farther east toward the mountains, The Grange in Issaquah sells some of these ingredients as well. I'm sure there are many more sources out there for vegan fertilizer products that I don't know about because I am new to veganics, but I have been keeping my eye out for new companies and sources, and will list them on my blog as I encounter them.

If you are wondering whether or not an ingredient you want to use for fertilizer is vegan, Growing Green (a book on veganic techniques) devotes a chapter to the guidelines (chapter 3: Soil Fertility). Also there is a very helpful information sheet presented (in PDF format) by the Vegan-Organic Network called Propagation and Fertilizers, which I often have been referring to lately.

There are many different types of vegan fertilizers that one can use, some less expensive than others (e.g., wood ash, comfrey liquid, compost tea, stinging nettle liquid, weed tea). Some really creative ways have been proposed in various garden blogs and forums on how to fertilize plants without using animal products. I am trying to keep a list of the ones I encounter so that one day I can post them all.

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