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I'm trying to make the switch to adding natural instead of synthetic fertilizer to my vegetable garden (and stop tilling while I'm at it). Besides compost, I'm curious whether I could use some kitchen and garden scraps for this purpose. I don't have room for a compost pile.

Googling it, some blogs suggest scattering tea leaves, peanut shells, grass clippings, leaves from the beech hedge and even shredded banana peels on the soil.

How do I know which and how much of these scraps to use? For example, using too much tea leaves seems to make the soil more acidic. And won't the banana peels attract fruit flies?

  • Have you considered vermicomposting? Good control of flies, and the worms tell you what they like and in what proportion. – Colin Beckingham Sep 7 '18 at 19:35
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    fruit peels and kitchen scraps will not only attract fruitflies but also wasps, bluebottles and other flies. – Bamboo Sep 7 '18 at 20:49
  • @ColinBeckingham Thanks for the tip, I'll look into it. – Frank Kusters Sep 8 '18 at 13:01
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Adding food waste directly to your garden has several challenges.

First: the nutrients in food scraps are not directly bio-available. The plants cannot absorb them. The food must go through the composting process, under proper conditions, before the nutrients will become available to the plants. What's worse: if that process occurs in the garden beds and IF you have not provided enough of the right materials near each other, the process will compete with your plants to get the right materials from the soil. Some of the macro-nutrients in the soil before you added kitchen scraps will become locked up in a non-available form before the decomposition is done.

Second: all sorts of undesirable animals will be very happy that you have put out food for them. Without a compost environment (moisture, 1 cubic yard minimum) the food scraps will not heat up and will take a long time to decompose, so they will be in an edible form for a while attracting animals.

I do suggest strongly considering a small-form-factor composting method such as vermicomposting to achieve all your goals in as little space as possible.

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    Adding waste directly is a bad idea. Got it. – Frank Kusters Sep 8 '18 at 13:00
  • Great answer, Greggles. The only caveat I'd bring up is plants will never be able to uptake compost...chemistry. Compost is for the soil life, not plants. The soil life works in conjunction with plant roots but not directly. Mycorrhizae is more helpful but if the chemistry is not in the soil plants will wither away. Rats and mice love gardens and rotting material. Once that material is decomposed (unrecognizable from original form) only then is it usable to the soil life. Not plants. Soil life makes great tilth. Plants will never take up compost like food. – stormy Sep 11 '18 at 21:30
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Compost is not fertilizer, never ever should be used as fertilizer. Compost is also not soil and should never be used as soil (pots, raised beds).

In the natural soil systems, when leaves and branches and grasses die to fall to the ground they are then in the first soil Horizon called O. For organics. These organics immediately begin to decompose.

Decomposed organics DO NOT provide the chemistry plants need for photosynthesis. In your case, you have non decomposed organics waiting to be decomposed on your soil. And greggles hit on one of the worst problems; attracting herbivores and omnivores to your garden. And they will eat anything including your garden.

Back to the O horizon; when the organic matter is fully decomposed then the soil organisms come up to eat this stuff. This stuff is in no way 'food' for the plants! This feeds the micro and macro organisms in your soil. This stuff buffers pH, widening the spectrum of pH values that are useful to the plants for uptake of the chemistry they need they HAVE to have with which to make their OWN FOOD. Compost is necessary for soil TILTH. That is the benefit to plants. Soil tilth, fruffy, organic matter pH buffered soil. The soil organisms mix the organic matter into the root zone of plants (4 - 6"). There are mycorrhizal fungi also enhanced that do help roots uptake chemistry but do not fertilize plants.

Compost does not fertilize plants.

The micro and macro soil organisms (not the decomposers) eat this completely decomposed organic matter from the surface or the bottom of the O horizon and then go back down into the topsoil horizon (4 to 6 inches deep) and poop out their meals. This mixes decomposed organic matter into that horizon better than any human could or should.

Plants do not use compost for their chemistry needs. There MIGHT be a bit of nitrogen left over but negligible for their needs. The decomposers use nitrogen for their fuel to do their decomposing job! I add nitrogen to my compost to help them out, nitrogen is not a given at all in compost. Nor is phosphorus and potassium or the micro chemicals (nutrients...nutrients = food...plants don't take up food they take up chemistry).

In nature, these chemicals are rare to find in the soil of forests, grass lands...because nature is doing population control. There might be enough chemistry to add one more plant to an ecosystem but no more.

These 'fads' called No Till, No Fertilizer, Hugelkulture, Food Forests and Permaculture in MY opinion are ridiculous. Synthetic fertilizer differs from Organic fertilizer only by the 'fillers' in the package. Nitrogen is nitrogen, Phosphorus is phosphorus...elements no matter their source are still the exact same thing.

The videos out there are very 'convincing' but I have found these terms ensure accumulating readers. I have caught a few wonderful gardeners, very popular, admitting they use fertilizer. Admitting they originally tilled the ground. To me, not their clientele.

Our efforts growing anything constitute artificial in all its definition! Permaculture supposedly means we plant in ground that is hard, cold, lifeless because of low pore space and air, and then we walk away. Forget watering, no CHEMICALS allowed, and then we get to come back and harvest? These trends attract people who think gardening is too much work.

I do not till ever again after the first time making cold, compacted, airless topsoil with little organic matter into a bed I would want to germinate in and thrive if I were a plant. One 'till' will never ever hurt the life or the structure of the soil. These guys are over the edge promoting no till.

I use fertilizer judiciously. My starts do no get fertilized until the third set of leaves. Their cotyledon provides the chemistry and carbohydrates the babies need until they are able to make their own food via photosynthesis. Then the human has to add properly formulated fertilizer to enable those plant to do photosynthesis and make their own food. Proper amount of water. Proper drainage (how does that happen without at least one till)? The proper amount of light.

my beds after 5 years, once double dug to form, trenches cleaned out once a year throwing soil back on top of the bed.

This soil is volcanic pumice with little to no organic matter from the forest floor. I've just added decomposed organic matter purchased in bales that I dump on the surface, thinly while planted and thickly for the winter. Look at the difference! The walks are unchanged. That is the original soil.

Ugh. These trends are horribly ridiculous. My opinion.

When one knows the true rules one knows that we humans are responsible for any plant we plant that we want to grow vigorously, provide fruits we need or want to eat. That includes a decent once 'tilled' bed. Double digging with a shovel is all that is necessary down a good foot, soil turned over, chopped up a bit with the shovel, a trench made around the edge of the bed to give water a place to go and be able to SUCK the excess water from the bed, you end up with 3 to 4 feet of soil that one rakes flat and compacts with a sheet of plywood and then you do a dance on top...you end up with a raised bed at least a foot off the ground.

This is the last time one tills. This does not ruin the structure or life in the soil. It enhances it! Planting in undisturbed soil is the laziest and dumbest thing a wannabe gardener can do.

Then we dump DECOMPOSED organic matter on top. Or we plant our starts and then add decomposed organic matter. Not for fertilizer! To feed the life in the soil. We test the pH at the very least.

After planting our starts, we fertilize depending on the type of plants. Salad bowl beds get higher Nitrogen in relation to Phosphorus and Potassium; such as 5-5-5 or 8-4-5. Great for vegetative growth. Reduces 'bolting' or reproductive growth of these leafy vegetable that make the lettuces, kales...more bitter.

After jumping up and down on a piece of plywood, the bed is ready for seeds. Lettuce and all the salads, radish, carrots, beets, peas...cool season germinating plants. After flipping up a thin covering of soil, you allow these to grow at least 3" and then you need to add a balanced fertilizer.

Fertilizer is a crucial science gardeners need to understand fluently. These trends that lump fertilizer in 'bad chemicals' are doing a huge disservice to the making of gardeners. Fertilizer is not PESTICIDE. Pesticides are not necessary at all and usually cause more problems than before application. Pesticides include herbicides, fungicides, miticides...all the 'cides' which mean to kill.

Please keep asking questions. Even us 'experts' or 'professionals' are still arguing this subject.

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    I am aware that compost is neither soil nor fertilizer. I'd like to move away from fossil fuel based fertilizer, and in the long term compost seems to be the best for the soil. – Frank Kusters Sep 8 '18 at 13:07
  • Compost is critical for the soil of our gardens because we don't have the time it takes to build up organic matter. Compost is the only way to improve any soil. Compost does not have the chemistry (nutrients) plants need to have in order to thrive and make flowers and fruit. Fossil fuel based fertilizer?...there are lots of wonderful 'organic' fertilizers...I've been using GroWilla 2-5-4 this late summer. Dr. Earth's 5-5-5 earlier in the season. Decomposed mulch dumped right on the surface is best way to amend soils. Grins, are you still driving your car? Mowing your lawn? – stormy Sep 10 '18 at 5:12
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    > Grins, are you still driving your car? My electric car is on order. > Mowing your lawn? Yes, on green electricity. – Frank Kusters Sep 11 '18 at 11:03
  • I was hoping you wouldn't tell me this! Grins! Dang it, I always end up with spinach in my teeth! There are many organic balanced fertilizers that also come with cool bacteria (thatch decomposing bacteria in case you don't have any in your soil), cooler fungi, micro chemistry (nutrients). I have been gardening since 8 years old plus a ton of education and gardening for other people, continuing education and fertilizer has been lumped into pesticide and called bad names. I've mentioned Dr. Earth (I've been wowed), Growilla, all organic...compost has little to no chemistry plants need. – stormy Sep 11 '18 at 21:17
  • No Till and No Fertilizer are myths and bad information. The commercial agriculture business tills once or twice a year every year. That is not a good thing but how to feed all the people? If each one of us had a vegetable garden and year round farmer's markets, we could feed everyone. Would take a humongous community effort, rarely found in the states. I've taken excess produce from all my gardens to the food banks. That produce we've grown gets put to use! Those electric cars are fast, quiet, responsive. I am a muscle car Harley babe that loves gas powered equipment! Sorry! – stormy Sep 11 '18 at 21:38

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