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Boost your produce: Four easy ways to help growth

Jul 12th, 2011 | Category: Growing

by Tom Cooper

It’s officially summer, but judging by the thermometer and how the season’s production is behind by a few weeks, it’s evident summer is struggling. So too may be your garden. But it’s not too late to give your produce a boost this summer, especially for plants that like acidic elements and seek the heat.

Applying a thin layer of coffee grounds at the base of plants once a week allows the grounds to sink in during watering. Grounds contain nitrogen, which tomato plants love. PHOTO BY BECCA SCHWARZ COLE

Here are some simple ideas for increasing your garden’s production with the help of some items readily available in your Northwest household. (You can also add these items to your compost pile at any time.) Between sunshine, warmer temperatures, and a these easy tricks, a produce boost is on the way.

Urine? Human urine? Yes, human urine. Are you sure? Yes.

To be perfectly frank, human urine going down the toilet is a complete waste. Full of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphate, urine contains key fertilizer ingredients that plants absolutely love and thrive on. Plus, urine is totally free, and you save on all that water being wasted to wash away your small amounts of urine! Some toilets use five to seven gallons of water per flush, just to wash away your ounces of urine each time you go.

If you’re shy about collecting urine, try to recognize the benefits and realize that before indoor plumbing came to be the norm 50 years ago, many people had been doing this for years. (Today, people in other countries, and those of us with homesteading knowledge, continue to do this.) It is so beneficial that once you try it and see the physical growth results, you will likely think twice about flushing the toilet again.

I find the easiest method of using urine is to water it down. Try mixing one part urine with seven parts water, and apply to the base of the plant. (I have heard people use half and half, while others who recommend one part urine to 20 parts water.)

I know people who pee in collection containers off the back porch or inside their bathrooms, while others have actual containment units in an outhouse next to the garden for easy access. For my own personal use, I collect my urine contributions via a gallon jug, and mix it with water in a watering can for my evening watering in the garden. I usually apply urine to each plant on a weekly or biweekly basis. (As soil temperatures rise, be sure not to overdo it. You do not want to end up with nitrogen-rich, monstrous plants that do not produce well.)

For anyone who needs a more “discreet” style of collection means before they will attempt using this valuable resource, know there are plenty of companies selling units that resemble a mix of a chamber pot/watering container. Go ahead and google it. And don’t worry about the smell. If you collect and use urine correctly, smell will not be an issue.

Urine is sterile and therefore bacteria free, so it is healthy to use on plants. Liquid fertilizer is also far more fast-acting that any kind of solid fertilizer.

However, note that if you are suffering from an infection of some sort, such as a urinary tract infection, then skip the collection process until your body is healed.

One of the best times to use this liquid fertilizer is when your plants are loading up and ready to bare fruit (and veg), such as when peppers and tomatoes are full of green blossoms, pumpkins and zucchini are starting to show fruit, corn is in full silk, etc. During the late season, use it for plant rejuvenation. Or, use it continuously throughout the growing season.

Coffee grounds & tea bags
You are a Northwest resident, so chances are you drink tea or coffee, and therefore have coffee grounds and used tea bags readily available, probably every day. Like urine, grounds contain a high amount of nitrogen. You can always put these (and the filters) directly into your compost pile, but an easy boost for your plants is to collect the grounds, and place a thin layer around the base of the plant each week, and allow to soak in during daily watering. Plants that like acidity, such as tomatoes, blueberries and roses, will do well. Worms also feed on grounds, so they too will assist and fertilize your garden’s soil.

Egg shells make a good addition to your garden’s soil, or as a repellent above ground against slugs. PHOTO BY BECCA SCHWARZ COLE

Egg shells
Crushed egg shells add valuable nutrients to soil, including calcium, which is essential for cell growth, especially in plants like tomatoes. Calcium is particularly helpful with fast-growing plants which quickly use the soil’s present calcium, and also helps to prevent blossom end rot.

Collect your egg shells and crush them up as fine as you can. Egg shells not crushed or left in large pieces will break down very slowly. Allow your egg shells to dry out; you can assist this process by placing the shells on a pan or in a bowl and leaving in the sunshine, or bake the shells in the oven for a few minutes for a faster approach.

Egg shells can be added directly to the soil, or circled around the base of the plant on the surface of the soil. They can also be used at the bottom of plant pots in place of stones or newspaper.

Known as a deterrent against slugs and some worms, shells placed on the soil surface can also help with tomatoes, peppers, broccoli and other plants.

Sea scraps
Another available resource in the Northwest is the sea, particularly local fish scraps, oyster shells and kelp. Before you throw them out, know these items contain good amounts of nitrogen and calcium and have great benefits when used carefully.

Did you have fish for dinner and have scraps left over? Collect the scraps, bones and all, and puree in a blender or food processor. Take two cups of the puree and combine with water and one cup of milk (or not) to create a liquid fertilizer.

On a compost-related note, I recommend burying the matter for several weeks and allowing it to break down, then digging it up for use. Do not place directly on top of your compost heap, as it may attract unwanted rodents.

Kelp contains nitrogen and potassium, and increases he soil’s organic matter. I have known gardeners who bury it directly into their soil and swear by it.

Crushed oyster shells are another natural deterrent against slugs, and also increase a soil’s ph. To use them best, simply dry the shells and crush them with a hammer to create small pieces. They will be sharp, so protect your eyes during the crush process.

These are just a few ideas for boosting your garden’s growth using items from your household during the summer months. A visit to a neighbor who has a never-ending amount of gardening wisdom is always helpful too (bring some of your garden’s produce or preserves as a thank you), or speak with the experts at your local gardening center. The Northwest is full of local resources.

Tom Cooper lives with his family on a small homestead in northwest Washington. He enjoys simpler living and growing and raising food on every available square foot.

4 Comments to “Boost your produce: Four easy ways to help growth”

  1. Shelby says:

    I knew about the egg shells and coffee grounds, the urine idea I love and will discretely try on a patch of grass first. I am afraid my young son will blab about the “secret” fertilizer however.

  2. Imelda says:

    My mom used urine to fertilized her bougainvillea and it was so healthy looking plant around the house.

  3. Paul Seger says:

    NY biggest problem growing blueberries is the rabbits eating the new growth. Fencing is impractical.
    I’ve been doing the urine treatment for about two weeks now, so won’t know the results for a while yet.
    Any suggestions?

  4. Paul Seger says:

    My biggest problem growing blueberries is the rabbits eating the new growth. Fencing is impractical.
    I’ve been doing the urine treatment for about two weeks now, so won’t know the results for a while yet.
    Any suggestions?

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