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Don’t Buy Fertilizer! It Is All Around You.

This June 22, 2022, photo provided by Jessica Damiano shows fruit and vegetable scraps in a planting hole in a Glen Head, NY, garden. As kitchen scraps decompose, they add valuable nutrients to the soil to nourish plants. (Jessica Damiano via AP)
Don’t Buy Fertilizer! It Is All Around You
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The cost of everything – from fuel to food – seems to be rising around the world. So, growing our own food is a good way to save money.

However, the cost of gardening materials has also been rising.

Plant expert Jessica Damiano writes about gardening for the Associated Press. In her latest story, she writes about saving money on fertilizer. She suggests that home gardeners make their own.

All plants require nutrients. Necessary nutrients exist naturally in most soils. But over time, they get used up. So, nutrients need to be added to the soil from time to time for plants to produce fruits and vegetables for our meals.

This is where fertilizers come in.

Most fertilizers contain three primary nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. (This is often represented by the N-P-K ratio on fertilizer containers.) Damiano explains how the three work. Nitrogen helps the plant turn its energy into green, leafy growth. Phosphorus helps the development of roots, fruits, and flowers. And potassium helps the plant’s overall health.

Many fertilizers also have secondary nutrients, like calcium and magnesium. They sometimes have micronutrients such as iron, copper, boron, manganese, and zinc.

All these nutrients are necessary for creating the best growing conditions for a plant.

Here is some good news: There are many ways that home gardeners can save money while providing their plants with high-quality nutrients.

Cut grass

Consider cut grass. If you leave cut grass on the lawn, you may not need fertilizer.

As grass breaks down, it releases nitrogen into the soil. This will help grass to continue to grow. However, Damiano gives this warning: Do not use fresh cut grass in garden beds. It will burn your plants.

Organic food waste becomes nutrient-rich compost. (Rosanne Skirble/VOA)
Organic food waste becomes nutrient-rich compost. (Rosanne Skirble/VOA)

Compost is best for soil

Compost, she says, is the best thing you can add to soil.

Compost helps to control how much water stays in the soil. It keeps dry soil wet. It can help thick dirt, or clay, drain water. Compost also adds nutrients to the soil.

Damiano advises to use a lot of compost in plant beds or planting holes. She suggests using compost in place of mulch. (Mulch is placed on top of the soil.)

To make your own compost, simply collect fruit and vegetable scraps. Do not add meat, dairy, or fats. You can keep the food scraps in a bowl in your kitchen. Whenever it fills up, bury the material directly in the garden soil. As the scraps break down, they add nutrients.

Just be sure to bury them at least 25 to 30 centimeters deep. This will keep hungry wildlife from digging them up. And bury the scraps several centimeters from the plants. This will avoid damaging roots.

Fish fertilizer

Many gardeners treat their plants with fish fertilizer. It contains nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, and sodium, among other nutrients. And it could be costly. So, Damiano suggests burying fish parts deep in the garden soil -- again 25 to 30 centimeters deep.

You can also make your own fish fertilizer by putting fish scraps in a closed container of water -- about 19 liters. Leave it for about a month. Then drain the liquid and use it to water plants. However, do not use processed fish that has added salt. Too much salt can damage the soil and your plants.

This June 23, 2022 photo shows fish in a Glen Head, NY, garden. Plants benefit from whole fish and fish scraps. They release nutrients into the soil. (Jessica Damiano via AP)
This June 23, 2022 photo shows fish in a Glen Head, NY, garden. Plants benefit from whole fish and fish scraps. They release nutrients into the soil. (Jessica Damiano via AP)

Use leftover materials from around your house

Are you someone who fishes? If so, you can use scraps from the fish you catch. If not, your local fish seller, called a fishmonger, might give away — or sell at low cost — scraps and heads.

Are you a fish owner? Plants can also be helped from used fish-tank water. This water is rich in nitrogen and other nutrients.

Do you cook vegetables in water? If so, save it! The water is filled with vitamins and minerals that could help your garden.

And water from boiled eggs is full of calcium. This is especially useful for tomatoes and peppers. Just make sure to let the water cool to room temperature before using on your plants.

You can even use eggshells instead of buying garden lime. Both are made of calcium carbonate. Dry out the egg shells thoroughly. Then break them up into tiny pieces. Add the small pieces to your garden’s soil. The same can be done with banana peels. They are full of potassium and good for plants.

I’m Anna Matteo.

Jessica Damiano reported this story for The Associated Press. Anna Matteo adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

garden – n. a piece of ground in which fruits, flowers, or vegetables are grown

primary –adj. first in order of time or development

ratio – n. the relationship in number or quantity between two or more things

lawn – n. ground (as around a house or in a garden or park) that is covered with grass and is cut regularly

compost – n. a mixture that consists largely of decayed organic matter and is used for fertilizing and conditioning land

mulch – n. a material (as straw or bark) spread over the ground especially to protect the roots of plants from heat or cold, to keep soil moist, and to control weeds

scrap –n. a piece of something that is usually thrown away

drain – v. to remove liquid from something