How And Why To Create Homemade Organic Fertilizers
Organic fertilizers can save you money and boost your yields. Here’s an overview on how and why you should make your own homemade fertilizer. You won’t regret it!
It has never been easier to start growing cannabis. The sheer amount of products and options available can be overwhelming, but they are all intended to make your life easier. That does not mean new systems will be cheaper or more effective than traditional methods for tending to your plants. It really depends on the scale of your operation and your goals as a cultivator.
SYNTHETIC VS ORGANIC FERTILIZERS
There seem to be two distinct schools of thought; one involves modern, petrochemical-intensive monoculture production, where sterile conditions and precise metric manipulation of variables are intended to maximise production. Bottled nutrients with strict NPK values and a short pH-range are utilised to minimise deficiencies and support robust growth.
The other technique is the organic or “natural” way, in which plants are grown without petrochemical influence. In this scenario, what is really happening is you are feeding the soil microbiology, which in turn directly feeds the roots all of their favourite munchies in just the right proportions.
New, inexperienced growers need some time to delve into the intricacies of each method – organic vs synthetic. Analyse the pros and cons, then get going with growing! You will surely change your mind on numerous subjects as you develop your green thumb.
ARE BOTTLED PRODUCTS WORTH IT?
As time passes, you will soon start to notice that most of what you buy in a bottle is either exceedingly expensive, wasted, or easily substituted at a fraction of the price with your own concoctions.
Take into consideration that most bottled fertilizers, be they synthetic or organic, lose some of their price value due to the high water content contained within. It is also extremely complicated to mix everything a plant needs into a stabilised bottle. There are limits to chemistry and plant physiology. Nutritional performance is surely lost to bottled convenience.
MAKING YOUR OWN FERTILIZER
Making you own fertilizer can get quite addictive. Not only will you save a significant amount of money in the long-run, you will also begin to understand plant nutrition to a much greater extent, learn to dial-in exactly what your plants require, and ultimately, harvest bigger and better-tasting buds.
Are you throwing away your premium-price bagged soil after each crop or heavily dosing your plants with nutrients and additives without any significant increase in yield?
If so, simply read on.
HOMEMADE FERTILIZER: WHAT DO PLANTS EAT?
We will not go too deep into this subject, rather, we shall quickly provide some basic concepts. Surely you have seen “NPK” mentioned before. These are the macronutrients – the big players in a plant’s health and development.
- N – nitrogen
- P – phosphorus
- K – potassium
Along with these macros, we also have micronutrients, referred to as trace elements. These are metals and minerals that the plant needs in very small quantities, yet are of equal importance as NPK for healthy plant growth. Examples include calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, manganese, cobalt, iodine, selenium, molybdenum.
We also include vitamins and acids here, along with other organic compounds.
Fertilizer manufacturers essentially mix these and attempt to chemically stabilise them for bottling, transportation, and shelf-life. Any given nutrient line is just that brand’s take on a full nutritional plan; all of them claim to be better than the rest.
The secret to a grade-A yield is the right proportion of these constituents at the right time. In this sense, these nutrient lines are quite convenient.
But there is simply no replacement for creating or supplementing with your own, homemade organic fertilizer. In fact, that is what the best of growers do on a regular basis. With some experimentation, you will soon understand how easy this is, and what a difference organic soil makes in your garden.
The main reason for making organic nutrients is quite simple; they can be extremely cheap (or free), and you can make them in your backyard or kitchen with household appliances. They are often very easy to make, are not dangerous, and ultimately, are more environmentally friendly.
Composting, for instance, can save you a ton of hard-earned cash. After a harvest, the soil you used needs to be “recharged”. Most indoor tent growers simply throw away the depleted soil and buy a fresh new bag. That means lugging bags in and out and buying new soil each run. If you start composting all your organic food waste along with your used soil, magic happens. The soil is literally recycled and recharged with all the necessary microbiology and high-quality food your plants need. It will contain everything – NPK, trace elements, and an army of agro-bacteria and mycos to colonise your rhizosphere.
HUNGRY HUNGRY CANNABIS
But cannabis can be a very hungry plant, and if you want those highly desired, heavy, and dense nugs, you need to supplement the base soil conditions. Since you technically do not feed your plants directly when growing in soil, we highly recommend getting into the habit of brewing your own bacteria. The technical term is Actively Aerated Compost Tea (AACT), but the slang terms “bennies”, “beneficial bacterial tea”, worm casting tea, or just compost tea are frequently used.
Regardless of terminology, they are simple to make. Prepare to be amazed. Not only will you create millions of little minions that will protect and feed your roots, you will also extract the best mineral and fungal properties of these soils into a tea, which you can directly feed to your roots, or use as a foliar spray against most common diseases.
If you are growing outdoors and/or your soil quality needs a serious boost, here are some common amendments.
If you need a nitrogen (N) boost, you can add worm castings, a chicken manure recipe, crustaceous meal, and/or bat guano. You can also use human urine, but be sure to dilute it at a ratio of 10:1 parts water to urine. Otherwise, the urine will turn to ammonia and harm your plants. Never pee directly on your plants, it will burn the roots!
If you need a phosphorous (P) boost, boil some banana peels and drench your soil. Let it ferment slightly for optimal onset. Bone and fish meals, chicken manure, and rock dust are also great sources of phosphorus. Rock dust, for instance, is a slow-release source, so it’s great to mix with your depleted soil for a crop-long source of P.
If you need a potassium (K) boost, banana peel, bat guano, fish meal, kelp, wood ash, compost, and siliceous rocks are all great sources.
The two micronutrients calcium and magnesium should be set aside, as these are particularly important, especially during bloom. Only after these reach optimum levels can the other trace elements function to their full potential.
Calcium – limestone, clay, chalk, gypsum
Magnesium – dolomite, magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts)
Other trace elements – azomite (trace nutrients and humic acid)
It is very rare to need to specifically boost other trace elements. They are present in the vast majority of soils and rocks. In fact, most of the amendments we suggested will excessively turbo-charge with trace elements, although this is not a bad thing.
Manure recipes are as old as agriculture itself. Man started to notice that where animals went to do their business, flora would flourish. Manure, to this day, continues to be one of the main agricultural inputs across the globe.
Manure recipes are a fantastic source of slow-release NPK, but they pose two medium-risk problems. If not properly composted or fermented, they can potentially present harmful pathogens to humans, animals, and plants. They can also be a bit tricky to balance with your base soil. So there is no right or wrong manure recipe choice, it depends on your region. Talk to local farmers to get a sense what works best.
- Sheep – Balanced and rich, but requires fermentation
- Goat – Similar to sheep, but stronger
- Cow – Not so rich, but easy to source and to work with
- Swine – Obsolete
- Chicken – Very rich, but usually exceedingly strong in NPK – be sure to dilute
- Rabbit – Best for composting and worm production, very rich
- Equine – Easy to work with and exceptionally great for pot flowers
TAKE IT A STEP FURTHER – GO VEGANIC!
If you are environmentally conscious, here is a quick note about “organic” fertilizers. Petrochemical fertilizers are really bad for the environment, but so are animal-derived products like bone or fish meals, among others.
First of all, the organic label is not a synonym of good, better, or correct. If you really care about the environment, be on the lookout for the OMRI certificate on bottles.
These animal by-products are industrial leftovers that are chemically treated and dehydrated to squeeze every last inch of profit possible out of the industrial process. They are far from being “organic”; they simply contain unadulterated organic raw materials before they are treated with synthetic chemicals. Way better that petrochemicals, but still, our environmental conscience and global warming efforts must not stop there.
Legendary, award-winning cannabis editor, writer, breeder, and activist Kyle Kushman is at the forefront of veganic (plant-based) cultivation of cannabis. Results are clear. If you respect millions of years of natural selection, you will be able to reach maximum genetic potential. Stop trying to cheat Mother Nature. She’s got dibs on experimentation and time.
THAT WAS WAY TOO COMPLICATED
If you are new to this, you may be suffering from information overload. How on earth could you ditch your handy bottles and get your hands dirty in cow dung?
We’re not suggesting that. In fact, we have barely scraped the surface of this subject. Entire books are dedicated to this very issue. It is tremendously difficult to condense so much information into so few words and make it pragmatically useful. We hope this is like a little seed of information to get you going in the right direction.
Above all, please understand that after you manage to get over the learning curve, it all is very simple!
BASIC HOMEMADE FERTILIZERS
To give you some perspective, you only need a bag of premium worm humus (if you are not composting yourself), a bucket, a strong pump, and an airstone; in 48h, you could breed enough aerobic bacteria, fungi, and trace minerals to make your plants go into turbo production mode. Do this every odd week during a crop cycle to net yourself a 20-40% increase in yield. It really is as simple as that.
Indoors or outdoors, you can compost your kitchen rejects like onion skins and egg shells or leftover salads; better still, use the stems and leaves from your last crop! To that, add some worms to drive your composting, and soon you will save tons on soil, recycling it into a world-class grow medium!
Don’t want to pay for kelp extract? If you live near the sea, just go out hunting for seaweeds and make your own seaweed infusion. And if you manage to do it right, it may well be more effective than the bottled version.
WORK YOUR WAY TO ORGANIC
If you are new to this, please do not feel overwhelmed with all these new terms. They are very similar, yet all slightly different. The trick is to understand your base growing medium, and what inputs you need to produce great results. Even pure hydroponics can benefit from organic additives.
We are not suggesting you ditch all commercial-grade nutrients. Rather, start supplementing those with your organic, homemade fertilizers. Baby steps.
Take it one extra level at a time. Eventually, you will notice that not only are your plants growing better, your bank account will grow too.
Little changes like adding compost teas will have a compounding effect. Your plants will grow more vigorously, and your soil will not deplete so aggressively.
Just by reading this article, you are halfway to a fully sustainable model. Feel free to experiment and adapt your methodology for a greener tomorrow.
FERMENTED PLANT JUICE (FPJ)
Fermented plant juice is a cheap and easy way to provide nutrients to your cannabis plants. This completely natural and organic method harnesses beneficial bacteria to break down plants into easily absorbed nutrients. It’s a simple way of creating super soil in your garden. FPJ is a product used commonly in Korean Natural Farming — a holistic cultivation approach that seeks to improve soil health through the use of indigenous microorganisms and the avoiding of chemicals.
Gardeners create FPJ using nutrient-dense plants and herbs such as comfrey, yarrow, stinging nettle, mugwort, aloe vera, horsetail, lambsquartres, and thistle. Some of these plants are viewed as common weeds and grow in most gardens. They’re a superb free source of plant nutrition! It’s best to harvest the young portions of these plants, which are particularly nutritionally-dense.
Some growers choose to use fruit instead of plants to create fermented fruit juice (FFJ). The concept here is the same — these natural products contain a wealth of nutrients that can be liberated by beneficial bacteria. Popular fruits include cantaloupe melons, apricots, berries, tomatoes, and sweet peppers.
Regardless of the source used, plant or fruit, bacteria are the real heroes here. These tiny beings conduct the metabolic process of fermentation. They extract energy from molecules and break down larger molecules into smaller ones. Essentially, they free up all the nutrition stored in fruits and plants.
These microorganisms feed on sugar and convert the energy source into alcohol. During this process, they create a nutrient-dense soup, which will provide your plant with many of the minerals they need for healthy growth. Sugar is also added to help pull nutrients and juices out of the plant material. This happens through the process called osmosis — the movement of solvent molecules from an area of low concentration to an area of high concentration.
HOW TO MAKE FERMENTED PLANT/FRUIT JUICE
Making your own FPJ or FFJ at home is super easy. Choose from the list of plants or fruits above and let’s get started.
Peel and cube your chosen fruit. If you’re using plants, chop them up into smaller pieces. If you’re using plants or fruits from your garden, don’t wash them! They possess beneficial bacteria that will enhance the fermentation process.
Weigh your fruit or plants before placing them into a large glass jar or a container. Add in an equal amount of brown sugar and mash up the plant material with a large spoon. Mix everything up to distribute the sugar all over the plant material.
Cover the opening of your jar or container with a piece of cheesecloth. Use an elastic band to keep it tightly attached. The small holes in the material will allow carbon dioxide created through fermentation to escape. Store the mixture in a cool and dark place for 7–14 days.
Strain the mixture through a fine sieve and pour it into bottles for storage. Keep them in the fridge until you’re ready to use them.
Add four tablespoons of mixture to about 3.5 litres of water and apply as a foliar spray or use for watering.
Did you know you can save a ton on fertilizer? We show you how with an overview of homemade organic fertilizers.
I Need Help With Nutrients!
Unlike humans with our complicated social systems, dietary needs, etc., the cannabis plant has a very short list of things it needs to be happy and grow buds: Light, water, air and nutrients.
Light is the easy one since more light is usually better for your plants.
Water isn’t much trouble since any clean water from pretty much any source will do as long as the pH is corrected.
Air is free and you can move it around with a cheap oscillating fan…easy!
Nutrients are the area where many growers get stuck. Partially, this is because there are so many different types of nutrients available for purchase. Any grower who is just starting out can be justifiably intimidated by the amount of choices to sift through, and end up waiting much longer to get started.
The confusion ends now! You’ll get up to speed on the basics of nutrients, and I (Sirius) will show you the nutrients I use in 100% of my grows! If you can’t make a decision after this article, you can just do what I do! EASY!
What Nutrients Do
Most people think that plants use nutrients the way humans use food…unfortunately this is an inaccurate analogy. If anything, light is to cannabis what food is for humans.
Nutrients for plants are more like multivitamins for humans. And just like a human body will start to break down without essential minerals (like Calcium, Magnesium, and Phosphorus), a plant will get sick and eventually die if it doesn’t get its needed minerals (like Nitrogen, Calcium, and Magnesium).
When these minerals are present, the plant can uptake them at will for use in some of the plants main functions like growing roots, producing leaves, fighting off disease or making buds.
In short, once enough light is present, nutrients give your plants the tools she needs to build her necessary parts.
Choosing Your Nutrients
Picking which nutrients to use can be difficult with the sheer amount of choices out there, but you can definitely make it easier by narrowing down your choices.
Here’s how to narrow down your choices: If you’re having a hard time making a decision, keep these factors in mind and you’ll probably end up with a more manageable number to choose from:
- Are you on a budget? Even if you aren’t it doesn’t matter, because there’s no reason to pay high prices for nutrients! I’ve tested many brands on the same strain I’ve grown many times (White Widow) and have noticed no significant difference between the high-priced and lower-priced nutrients! You just have to know which brands work well for growing marijuana in your setup.
- Your Growing Medium
- You can’t use soil nutrients in DWC, and vice-versa. Hydro nutrients and soil nutrients should only be used in the growing medium they were made for. Some brands of nutrients are made only for one medium, so you can eliminate those if they won’t work for you.
- Do you know someone who grows and has verified experience with a certain nutrient brand? Try it! Not only will you be getting a good recommendation from someone you trust, but you’ll probably also get some good pointers for its use!
- If you’re lucky enough to live in a city with hydroponic stores, you can ask one of their more knowledgeable representatives. Even if you don’t want to go with what they recommend, you’ll have more information about what you want or don’t want. Of course don’t mention the name of your crop! Just say you’re “growing tomatoes” and explain about your setup (growing medium, lights, etc), they’ll know what you mean if they work in a hydro store.
2-1-6? 5-0-1? 0-5-4? What do the numbers on nutrient bottles mean?
You will see three numbers on pretty much any bottle of nutrients you purchase. If you’re just getting into growing, you can ignore these numbers for now.
Nebula: I’ve been growing for years, I know what the numbers are for, and I still ignore them!
Sirius: That makes two of us…
Those three numbers stand for: (N) Nitrogen, (P) Phosphorus, and (K) Potassium respectively.
These are elements that plants use for vital functions, and the numbers on the bottle are indicating the percentage of each element contained in the bottle.
Using the picture above as an example, this bottle contains:
- 2% Nitrogen
- 1% Phosphorus
- 6% Potassium
- (not shown – 91% filler)
Although this information is useful, it can be confusing for new growers.
Choosing the right nutrient system for your setup, plus correct feeding, monitoring, and general plant care will reduce or eliminate the need for studying and really understanding this information in small-scale grows.
Nebula: Of course you need to understand what these numbers mean if you want to mix your own custom nutrients, but very few small-scale growers do this themselves. Buying a nutrient system formulated for marijuana is just easier and cheaper for most personal grows.
Which Nutrients Do We Use?
Regular readers of the newsletter might have already known this, but I use General Hydroponics Flora Trio exclusively (except when testing a new nutrient).
As a hydro marijuana grower, General Hydroponics Flora Trio has performed as well if not better than all of the more expensive nutrient systems I’ve tried, and a little goes a long way.
In fact, I end up using about half (or less) of the recommended dosage to keep my plants happy without giving them nutrient burn. This ends up giving the added benefit of not having to buy nutrients as often which means more money in your pocket!
I can’t say enough about this brand, so let me just say that if you don’t know which nutrients to use, do yourself a favor and go with General Hydroponics Flora Trio. It’s easy, cheap, and effective!
Nebula: I should mention that despite how much Sirius loves General Hydroponics Flora Trio, they won’t work for you if you’re growing in soil. More on that below…
Using Your Nutrients
Every nutrient system will have its own feeding schedule, so you’ll want to follow that schedule, but treat it as a maximum.
Most plants will end up needing far less nutrients than a feeding schedule will tell you to use, so it’s a good idea to start by putting in 1/4 of the recommended dosage per feeding. From there, you can increase the dosage to 1/2 and higher as needed.
In my experience, MOST plants will get nutrient burn if they get the full recommended dosage of nutrients from the brands respective feeding schedule (if used with every watering).
It’s better to start with a low amount and then raise it over time to prevent nutrient burn. Nutrient burn won’t kill your plants, but it will damage them in a way that makes them less efficient at making buds in addition to taking away from their natural beauty. The plant pictured here has nutrient burn at the tips of the leaves.
Which Nutrients Do YOU Use?
Do you feel like your favorite brand is better? Did you want more variation? Don’t worry, we have a full page with information on other types if you don’t want as much hand-holding!
If you’re looking for the best marijuana nutrients for…
- Coco coir
- Plus the best supplements…
Additionally, feel free to let us know if there’s a brand that we need to revisit. We‘re always learning at GrowWeedEasy.com, and I wouldn’t mind at all if someone changed my mind about what nutrients are the best!
Keep Your Hydro Cannabis Setup In Shape With The Best Nutrients!
General Hydroponics Flora Trio:
Available on Amazon.com
“The standard against which all other hydroponic nutrients are measured. This is the only nutrient formula I use in my garden.” -Sirius
Learn more about marijuana nutrients and easy picks for new growers.