Last year, you did everything right in your garden: you planted when your Farmer’s Almanac advised; you pruned everything back at just the right time and the exact right amount (utilizing your laser level — of course!); and you companion planted your tomatoes and your marigolds, your carrots and corn and pole beans.
Yet your carrots were scraggly, your marigolds barely bloomed, and your tomatoes were tiny.
If so, it could be the soil that’s the problem.
Soil can be too acidic or basic for your plants, or not contain enough nitrogen, phosphorus, or calcium. However, commercial fertilizers can be expensive, environmentally unfriendly, or both. If you want to produce better fruits and veggies and stronger plants, check out these five ways to cheaply amend your soil.
1) Banana peels
We know bananas are a rich source of potassium and phosphorus. If your plants looked otherwise normal but grew stunted last year, your soil may be lacking these essential energy nutrients. Banana peels are also full of other micronutrients, such as magnesium, calcium, and sodium. Cut the peels into small pieces and toss with your soil — no compost heap required.
2) Egg shells
Egg shells are a vital source of calcium. After you have used eggs in a recipe, carefully rinse out the inside of the shell and set it aside to dry. Just as with the banana, make sure that you crush the shell well before amending it into the soil. Grass family plants like alfalfa, corn, and ornamental grasses seem to require more calcium than other plants; if you are growing grasses, amending the soil with calcium would be wise.
If your soil tends to be on the sandy or acidic side, egg shells can help maintain pH balance and replace nutrients that are leached out of the soil when you water.
3) Coffee grounds
Coffee is a great source of nitrogen for plants. After you have made your coffee, amend the soil with the grounds right away: since coffee grounds hold water so well, if you leave it sitting in your kitchen for several days, it may mold.
Fresh coffee grounds or brewed coffee are great for acid-loving plants such as blueberries, but the leftover grounds from brewed coffee are only mildly acidic and won’t alter the pH of the soil very much.
Nitrogen is such an important nutrient for plants that its importance can’t be overemphasized. Without enough nitrogen in the soil, the plant simply will not germinate and grow.
4) Dead leaves, grass clippings, and other garden debris
When you use grass clippings and dead leaves, all of the nutrients that were once in these plants are returned to the soil. As a result, you are getting a fresh store of all the main and micronutrients essential for plant growth.
Just as with the banana peel and egg, you are going to want to ensure that you crumble these very finely so that new plants can absorb their nutrients as rapidly as possible. Either amend the soil with these clippings or simply pile fresh dirt on top of them to create a bed.
5) Kitchen scraps
Maybe you started keeping your kitchen scraps, but never got the chance to put them in the soil, or weren’t sure when it was time to add them. Rest assured: it’s not too late to use them this spring!
Kitchen scraps include the chopped-off bits of carrot and other root veggies, the ends of tomatoes, the bits of cabbage you chopped off the head, and so on. (Remember to never compost with milks, meats, or other animal products!) Your veggies should be organic if you plan on gardening ‘clean’.
Ensure that your organic vegetables are chopped very fine, either before you compost them, or afterwards in your food processor (being sure to clean it well afterwards!) Then, dig a trench in your garden and place a few inches of kitchen scraps at the bottom, with about a foot of soil on top. If you don’t mind creating gardening mounds, you can do this without digging at all — just choose a spot for a garden mound, lay down several inches of kitchen scraps, and pile topsoil on top. As the kitchen scraps break down, they will release high-energy nutrients to your new plants all throughout the spring and summer. You can use this technique with any of the amendments above, rather than mixing them throughout the soil.
Good luck this spring, and happy gardening!