Category Archives: Fertilizer

$5.00 Compost Fertilizer

One of the things a gardener has to do every year is to fertilize the garden. If you clean out the garden every year, all those plant clippings are taking nutrients out of the soil that need to be replaced.

You have a number of choices every year from standard 10-10-10 fertilizer to organic fertilizers, but another choice is to just use compost.

A video series I have been watching recently is by Charles Dowding and his practice is to put two inches of compost on top of the soil every year and that’s it. He doesn’t dig it in, but lets it sit on top of the soil. He does this every year and is able to get two crops of vegetables every year.

While it is possible to make your own compost, it’s a lot of work.
What I prefer to do is just buy it from for $25/cu yard.

They even have a calculator so that you can figure out exactly how much you will need.

I did the calculation for a 4′ x 8′ garden bed and you would need .2 cu. ft. of compost.
If you do the math, that works out to just $5.00

The only catch is that you will need to bring a pickup to get the compost. They will dump it into your truck.  If you don’t need a full cubic yard, you can share it with your friends and neighbors.

Here is a video by Charles Dowding and his method.

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Filed under Compost, Fertilizer

Cover Crops in the Home Garden

One of the new ways of farming and gardening is to use cover crops to improve the soil structure and nutrients, instead of the traditional tilling and chemical fertilizers.

Here’s a free book on the benefits of using cover crops on a farm. I’m going to try and bring some of these concepts to the home garden.
Managing Cover Crops Profitably.

Here’s another great source of Cover Crop Information from the USDA.

I decided to try this on a test area that I use mainly for tropical milkweed. It’s one of the few areas in my yard that is open enough to plant extra seed.

March 16th I planted the Interseed Mix from Walnut Creek Seeds. I used half the packet and will reserve half in case the first seeding does poorly.  I will later on plant my milkweed and hope all the crops will co-exist.


Below is what the cover crop looks like on April 27th.


I next used my trimmer and cut most of plants down to a couple inches high so that I could plant my milkweed. I’m not sure how much the cover crop will recover.



You can see from the picture below that the cover crop came back dramatically and is growing faster than my milkweed in some places.

  • Angelia Phacelia – pretty flower – dead by July 1st.
  • Barley – gets large and turning brown around July 1st. I would not plant this again – too much maintenance.
  • Crimson Clover – 12 34
  • Flax – poor germination
  • Millet – poor germination.
  • Radish – fast grower and tall – cut it down about June 1st.

Other Cover Crops

Crimson Clover – planted in the fall.


Fall Cover Crops

This is another seed mix from Walnut Creek Seeds




Notes from video below.

  • Legumes add Nitrogen, but they have to be inoculated – most come pre-inoculated.
  • Crimson clover – his favorite cover crop – usually winter kills, makes a lot of Nitrogen.- earthworms love it – easy to kill.
  • Radish tops scavenge more nitrogen than the tubers – don’t throw this away. Leave on the soil?
  • – articles are old.

Crimson Clover

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Filed under Cover Crop, Experiments, Fertilizer, Gardening, soil

Corn Gluten Meal – Fertilizer + Weed Preventer


One of the aggravations all gardeners have are all the weed seeds that sprout up all over the garden and yard. While you could certainly use a number of weed killers to fight them after they sprout, a better and more organic way is to keep them from sprouting in the first place.

I have used corn gluten meal in the past and it does seem to prevent seeds from sprouting. The other advantage of corn gluten meal is that it is high in nitrogen – about ten percent.

I’ve found the product locally at OK Hatchery in Kirkwood Missouri. Forty pounds is $40. While the big box stores also carry this product it is much more expensive.

Note – while listening to Mike Miller – a St. Louis gardening expert, he recommends putting out pre-emergent weed preventer twice during the year – once during early spring and once in mid-August.

If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of corn gluten meal, check out the link below from Iowa State University.

Notes from above ISU.

  • If it does not rain in 5 days of application, water it in with approximately .25 inches of water.  Then leave a drying period after germination.
  • I generally recommend 20 lbs product per 1000 ft
  • The material is generally about 10% nitrogen by weight.  One hundred pounds has 10 lbs of nitrogen. The nitrogen will release slowly over a 3 to 4 month period after application.
  • Corn gluten meal will not provide as complete control as synthetics and is likely to cost more. But, it does provide a natural substitute for those who choose not to use synthetic herbicides for pre-emergence weed control.

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Filed under Fertilizer, Seeds, Weeds

Soil-Compost-Fertilizer in the Garden

Today I attend a program done by three experts in the St. Louis gardening community. Below are my notes from their presentations.

Paul Roberts – teacher at Meramec

Does not use fertilizer on the beds at Meramec CC.
(Note – these are not brand new beds, but ones that have been tended for 25 years. I’m sure your new garden soil is not as good.)

Earthworms are good. He even likes moles as they aerate the soil.

Uses tree chips from aroborists every two years as a mulch.

He does not incorporate organic matter into the soil.

He tells of one instance when a person actually had too much organic matter in the soil – 20%.

Recommends chicken manure as a fertilizer if you need fertilizer. Available at Hummerts.

Roy Gross – St. Louis Composting

A lot of soil in the St. Louis area is 1% to 2 % organic matter.

Build organic matter to 5% .

In general, he doesn’t like tilling except in some very new gardens with poor soil.

If your grass needs help in the fall – first aerate – then add 1/2″ Black Gold mulch.

Rain gardens are 30″ deep.

Pat Bellrose – Fahr Greenhouses

Compost is supposed to be turned every 5 to 7 days. If you do that it won’t smell. (My back hurts just thinking about that.)

PH – acidity

Compost has a PH of 9.
STL County water has a PH of 9.5
Most plants like a PH of 6.5 to 7.
My Conclusion – check you soil PH – every year.

Leaf Mold is not true compost.

Pine Bark has a PH of 4.5 to 5

You can use Iron sulfate to change PH quickly to more acid soil.

He uses a soil mix of 2 parts compost, 2 parts pine bark fines, 1 part rice hulls and 4 pounds iron sulfate and 5 pounds gypsum/yard. for his new plants in the greenhouse. No Peat Moss. Plants seed to like it even though the scientific analysis says it shouldn’t be that good.
This is available at St.Louis Composting – SLC-Pro Mix One
You have to buy it in bulk, but could bring in 5 gallon buckets.

He uses a water soluble fertilizer – 200 parts per million.
Note – that’s equal to .0002

Sand is for concrete – not soils.

Turface is Good

Cation Exchange Capacity –

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Filed under Fertilizer, Mulch, soil

Plants Turning Yellow – Fertilize

I was looking at some impatiens I had in a window box and noticed they were turning yellow. I decided to try an experiment and sprinkle some fertilizer to one side of the container, but not the other. As you can see from the picture, the fertilized side greened up and looks healthy.

From this experiment I decided to fertilize all my plants. This has been a very stressful year on the plants and there’s a good chance we may have another three months of growth.

I generally use a 10-10-10 fertilizer or something similar. The main thing I do after spreading the fertilizer is to go around with a hose and make that the fertilizer is washed off the plants and gets onto the soil.

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How to Cut Your Fertilizer Use by 50 Per Cent

One of the experiments I’m trying this year is to mix charcoal in with my fertilizer. I’m mixing it at a ratio of 1 to 1, so in essence I’m cutting my fertilizer use by 50%.While the new charcoal will capture some of the fertilizer nutrients over time, I don’t expect any big change since I’m putting this on fairly lightly.

I can always add more fertilizer later in the year if the plants look like they might need some help.

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Filed under Charcoal-Terra Preta, Fertilizer

Fertilizer Use Indoors

As I transition from outdoors to indoor plants, I’m always looking to improve the system I have for growing indoor plants. There are many indoor fertilizer available and I thought I would show some options.

Always start with a good potting soil which has some fertilizer already in the soil.

That should last for two to four weeks for small containers, but then you’ll need to transition to larger containers or start using a soluble fertilizer.

I have good results using Miracle Gro soluble plant food with micronutrients. I mix a small amount – 1/8 tsp/ gallon when I do my watering.

Osmocote Plus and Dynamite Fertilizer are also two recommended fertilizers which will should last until spring.


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Compost – Black Gold

I went out to St. Louis Composting yesterday to see if they might have their good compost in bags I could buy. I saw a man with a shovel loading compost into bags which he then put into his car. I realized then that this might be a better option than buying mulch by the bag every year.

For me there are a couple of problems which I need to remember and which might be helpful to you.

  • Order half a cubic yard at a time – that’s about the maximum amount I can get into the back of my car. They will use a bulldozer to dig out what you want and then dump it for you to load into your car.
  • Bring along a strong-back worker who can use a shove to put the compost into bags which he can then put into the back of the car.
  • Buy heavy duty bags. The regular 1.2 mil bags are a bit light for the job. The good bags are a lot more expensive, but you can save then for use next year.
  • Bring a tarp to put under the bags.
  • I used the Black Gold Compost as a top layer to dress the garden – it’s wonderful.
  • If you’ve got a friend with a large pickup truck bed (4′ x 8′), you can get 2 cu yards to fit inside comfortably.

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Jacks is the Old Peter’s Fertilizer

The Missouri Botanical Garden once told me that they recommend using Peter’s soluble fertilizer. The problem is that you can’t find Peter’s any more. The reason is that the Peter’s product has had to change the name to Jacks or Jacks Classic.

You can buy it on their website or Amazon.

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Make Your Own Charcoal Soil Amendment

After a number of experiments, I’ve come up with an almost perfect way to breakdown charcoal – just add water. In my quest to make terra preta, I have tried to breakup charcoal to a usable size by using blenders and bricks, but my latest test proved the best. If you use charcoal briquettes and submerge them in water, the glue which hold them together breaks down and with a little gentle coaxing and kneading they break down into a black gruel. If you then let it dry out about 90% you can then easily break it up with your hands. You then have a great soil amendment.

At this point, spread it around your garden and try to work it into the soil.

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Filed under Butterfly Gardening, Charcoal-Terra Preta, Fertilizer, soil