Vegan-Friendly Fertiliser & Compost
Regular plant compost is the safest option for vegans when it comes to fertilizers. Depending on how and from where the manure is collected, it could also be vegan-friendly. However, it is a lot more difficult to find ethical manure, while plant compost is easily available in garden stores or you can make it on your own.
What is fertilizer and why do I need it?
As the plants grow, they take nutrition from the soil. Without a fertilizer, once one generation of plants drinks up the nutrients they need, they don’t leave too much (if anything) for the next generation. So, unless you’re planning to move your production to another plot of land, you will have to use plant fertilizer.
Plant fertilizers are basically soil food and their purpose is to bring nutrition back to the soil so it can in turn nurture the plants growing from it. Heard of the term “pushing daisies”? That’s it – once things return to the ground, it takes nutrients from it so it can support new life. The circle of life.
What is crop rotation and can it replace the fertilizer?
Crop rotation is literally replanting another plant on the plot where another one used to be, while that plant is planted somewhere else.
For example, let’s say you have plots A, B, and C, and you’re growing oats (in plot A), barley (B), and wheat (C). After the harvest, you move oats to plot C, barley to plot A, and wheat to plot B. Year after that oats go to B, barley to C, and wheat to A. Thus, you’re rotating your crops each year.
Since each plant needs different nutrients in different amounts, crop rotation prevents over-extraction of one particular nutrient from one particular plot of land.
Still, crop rotation can’t completely replace fertilizers, especially in mass production. However, if they are used together, they can ensure rich soil and healthy plants.
Plant-based fertilizer vs manure
Plant-based fertilizer actually has more nutrients and absorbs easier into the soil. It’s also a lot more eco-friendly since it doesn’t involve the high carbon footprint of rearing animals no the greenhouse gasses they produce. It also prevents the gasses that plants make when they are dumped in landfills. And this is all ignoring the treatment of animals that the manure is collected from.
On the other hand, animal manure needs to only be collected and doesn’t require a special manufacturing process. It also provides humus to the soil which helps with water retention. This means that if you live in a dry area, manure is a better option for you.
As the name might suggest, chemical fertilizers are a manufactured product. They are supposed to be more efficient and richer in nutrients, but the production process is expensive and you will have to pay quite a bit for them.
Most chemical fertilizers are vegan-friendly, but they are in no way kosher if you’re interested in organic farming.
How to use a fertilizer?
Each type of fertilizer has a slight difference in the way they are used. Also, there may be additional differences based on the plant, the soil, climate, etc.
The simple rule is that solid fertilizers are mixed into the soil during planting, while the liquid is sprinkled on top throughout the year. Solid fertilizer (ie compost) can become liquid when you dissolve it in some water (compost tea), thus making it suitable for topping up the nutrition in the soil during the growing period.
What is compost?
Compost is a plant fertilizer that is entirely made out of dead plants. Its main components are green and brown materials, with greens being any plants that still have their moisture (ie food scraps or wilting flowers), and browns being the dehydrated/dry stuff (dry leaves, paper, wood ash, etc).
Greens are rich in nitrogen, while the browns are rich in carbon, and when they mix and the oxygen is introduced through regular mixing, certain microbes get to work and break down the materials so they create plant food that the soil can absorb easily.
Compost can be used solid during the planting process, or you can create compost tea by dissolving it in some water. The tea will have to be replied at least once a month to make sure that your plants are getting as many nutrients as possible.
Where can I buy plant compost?
You should be able to find it easily in any garden store or the garden section of home improvement stores. If you need it in bigger quantities, you’ll have to look into a farming equipment and material supplier.
Local farmers may also make their own and you could contact them and ask to buy some from them. If your city does composting as a part of their waste disposal system, they may either be willing to give or sell you some so you can make your own, or direct you towards a fertilizer manufacturer they are working with.
Finally, if your city doesn’t do composting, look into local eco groups or HOAs. They may offer you either the raw material or even offer ready-made fertilizer.
How can I make compost?
Making compost is not difficult but it is smelly and time-consuming. Still, it is totally worth it not because you have full control over what goes into it, but also because it will be good for the environment.
How to collect material for greenss?
If you’re vegan, all your food is compostable. The only food that you can’t use is animal-based (though eggshells are fine). Flowers and other house plants get a green light as well.
So, this means that you can use dead or dying decorative plants, food leftovers, food cutoffs that are left after meal prep, peels, produce that is going bad, used coffee grounds and tea leaves, etc. As a beginner, it may be a good idea to skip the garlic, onion, and harder items like nuts, but you can come back and give them a go once you get some experience.
For a small garden, what you can produce alone should be enough. But for a large and/or commercial plot, you’ll need some help. You can enlist friends, family, and neighbors to help you collect the materials. We’ll talk about this a bit later.
Materials for making plant fertilizer
Once you have the greens, you’ll need the browns as well. Traditionally, it’s dead leaves or old newspapers. The former is plentiful in fall, so if you choose to go for that, fertilizer making may be a seasonal thing for you.
If you’re using newspapers, use the standard black and white ones with matt pages. Glossy pages are coated in a polymer that won’t compost at all. If you’re not sure if your newspaper is good for the job, light a page and see if it burns easily or if it’s resisting a bit. Of course, do this away from anything flammable and keep the fire extinguisher at hand just in case.
No need for heavy machinery – just a pitchfork and a set of clothes you don’t mind getting dirty.
That is unless you’re mass producing this stuff. If so, you will need to invest in a heavy-duty compost mixer.
There are also a couple of compost tumblers that are meant for home and small farm use, so you can consider either buying one or making it. It’s an additional effort and/or expense, but your nose will thank you for it.
How to make plant fertilizer/compost?
In short, mix greens and browns, mix them once a day and let the microbes do their work.
The exact ratio of greens to browns depends on how wet are your greens (so always keep extra browns so you can adjust if the mixture seems a bit too wet and gets too stinky). Layer the two in equal layers, and as many times it takes to fill up your container or compost mixer. Think of the like the opera cake – you want the fairly even, and not too thick or thin.
If your compost seems a bit dry, you can either add more green or add a little bit of water (use a classic watering can for even distribution).
Fro this point, you need to turn the mixture over at least once a day and let all of it get access to oxygen (we need it to develop microbes so they can do their thing). Just repeat that until your mixture starts looking and smelling like wet soil.
A trick from the pros
Dehydrated food is brown compost. So, if you have a food dehydrator, you can dry your food leftovers and collect them in a regular bin instead of worrying about unpleasant smell or leakage.
If you’re willing to go the extra step, you can invest in one of the composting machines like Smart CARA that both dry and sanitize your leftovers.
Compost made with brown matter that has a slightly higher nutritional value will be more nutritious itself.
How to set up a composting scheme in your community
If you’re interested in making fertilizer, you may as well take this additional step. A composting scheme can be beneficial for you, your community, and the environment, and it only takes a little planning and a set of wheels.
First, create your network. Get in touch with neighbors and other people in your area who are interested in composting their food leftovers. Amongst those who are interested, see who owns a food dehydrator. They can just dehydrate their leftovers and food prep waste, and then simply keep it in an airtight jar or plastic food container.
The ones that are providing wet plants can wrap them in old newspapers (and we already know that plain newspapers can be treated as brown compost).
Then it’s up to you to come up with a collection schedule and transportation. You can also see who is willing to drop their stuff off, but people will be more interested in participating if they have as little work to do.
When it comes to transportation, you will need a well-ventilated vehicle – a pickup truck or a separate trailer. You will also need at least two separate containers – one for the green, and one for brown compost.
All this is enough if you need to make enough for yourself, but it’s also a good starting point if you want to manufacture organic plant fertilizer for sale.