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How to add phosphoros, potassium, calcium... naturally

Paulo Bessa

Joined: Jun 15, 2012
Posts: 336
Location: Portugal (zone 9) and Iceland (zone 5)
Hello all,

We often have some lack of nutrient in our gardens, which reduces our yields.

The challenge is finding local resources and ways of repleshing those lacking nutrients.

Recovering nitrogen is easy, just lay grass clippings, manure, liquid compost, nettle feed, or even diluted urine, or even better, growing nitrogen fixing species.

It is in finding the other nutrients there it comes a challenge. Especially, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and other micronutrients.
(I do understand that with time, and with deep rooted species, the soil will gradually correct itself, as plants bring those minerals from the bed rock parenting the soil. But I want to look for faster corrective alternatives; I cannot wait years for that)

I grow in a poor and shallow soil, to which I added compost (my own), and organic matter (hay, dead leaves, etc), but so far this is not enough! The neighbour adds manure and fish meal and grows much better than me. Well, they actually nearly add more new soil (rich in fish meal, minerals and manure) that what is already here. To me this is a easy fix but it's not sustainable practice, because those are not local resources. I am stubborn in that I only want to use only local resources (that I have easy access to). I don't wish to import large amounts of organic matter here, and neither buying rock phosphate, bone meal or fish meal. Only what occurs within 1km around my garden.

The resources I have around: poplar, birch, sorrel, nettle, yarrow, horsetail, moss, clay, volcanic rocks, pumice, volcanic sand, wood, and kitchen waste.

I have added generous organic matter, phacelia, mustard, lupins, broad beans, lentils, hay and grass clippings, and mixed my bed with the harvested herbs that was referred above. But I think this was not enough. First I only added last summer and this winter and spring, and to the 15cm shallow sandy soil I added about 15cm of organic matter and compost , which is not enough, it seems.
What I have seen is that adding dried yarrow and the poplar leaves is what brings the most significant improvement.

I also don't wish to destroy the existing soil by digging it again, so I only want to grow my soil upwards. Because I also have now potatoes, onions and sunchokes growing (and green manures) which all seem very healthy. It's the brassicas that are not. It's very important to have a perfect soil, because Iceland climate is already harsh, so one difficult factor is enough, if all others are perfect, then the garden will grow very well, as does in many neighbours.

I guess I might have to add at least 50cm of organic matter, perhaps making the soil more alkaline (any alternative to imported minerals?) and figure out how to add also extra phosphorus and potassium, by using only local resources. Maybe a good option could be to smash the local occurring rock, sand and clay and add it to the soil.
Sorry for my stubborness in going so local.

Any ideas?

Our projects:
in Portugal, sheltered terraces facing eastwards, high water table, uphill original forest of pines, oaks and chestnuts. 2000m2
in Iceland: converted flat lawn, compacted poor soil, cold, windy, humid climate, cold, short summer. 50m2
Bo Bryant

Joined: Apr 14, 2012
Posts: 4
I'm a huge fan of Natural Farming methods (Korean Natural Farming, KNF) for addiing specific micro-nutrients. You can find out how to make Water-Soluble Calcium (WCA) and Calcium Phosphate, Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ) from local ingredients anywhere online. I make these things, if you happen to live around Whitefish MT I have a booth at the farmers market.

Then there are Nutrient Accumulating species, such as Comfrey for Phosphorus. Toby Hemmenway lists many Nutrient accumulators in his book, which I don't have with me.
Andrew Kay

Joined: Apr 25, 2012
Posts: 31
P = i use fermented camelia for fast P, bone for slow. There are no dead animals within 1km?
K = ash.
Ca = egg shell, dandelion.
Jordan Lowery

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
Plant lots of flowers. Not only do they unlock, accumulate and turn phosphorus into available P. It will bring lots of insect life from orher places than your property. which will bring more minerals to your place.

Also dynamic accumulator plants help.

Mycorrhizal fungi will help make more use of what P there is too.

The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. - Masanobu Fukuoka
Tyler Ludens

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5756
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
Listing of dynamic accumulators:

Idle dreamer

Leila Rich

Joined: May 24, 2010
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
Paulo, good on you for your 'keep it local' convictions! It certainly makes for some interesting challenges
I'm importing stuff to get my soil minerals/nutrient levels healthy, then I'll try and close the loop, at least for mined inputs.
I'm currently using ground basalt and calcium, but once my micronutrient and C levels are better, I'll rely on growing plants and seaweed.
I know Iceland has good kelp stocks; what's your situation regarding using seaweed? I think it has nearly everything that's missing from the soil. Not surprising, since the soil's washing out to sea...
I'm on millions of m3 of sand, and as far as I know, unless there's rock decomposing down there, there's nothing for the plants to 'mine' and I'd just be continuing the same deficiencies unless I add something from somewhere else.
You have volcanic rock That sounds like a heck of a resource, if it can be finey ground. Grinding rocks finely sounds pretty...interesting... though!
Many animal manures are high in p; I have to be careful about adding it as my soil's p levels are already high.
Do you burn wood? That's a great k source, and it's very alkaline, so would help increase your ph.

Gordon Hogenson

Joined: Aug 25, 2009
Posts: 22
If you have bird attracting plants (berry and seed producers, such as Eleagnus, mulberry) and nearby perches, such as posts on a fenceline, you'll get phosphorus-rich bird droppings. Also, add a birdbath or other water source, bird houses, and bird feeders.
luke allen

Joined: Jul 09, 2012
Posts: 8
I am finding yarrow to be just amazing as well. I also use a lot of comfrey.
The best so soil fixer and balancer i have found so far is making an active microbial tea from worm castings and herbs. Usually you use a little molasses, as a food source for the aerobic bacteria you are brewing up. But if you don't have any local you can use a small amount of other sweetness. Make an aerated tea with worm castings and comfrey and yarrow. I usually use kelp and fishmeal in the tea also. You said you don't have a local fish source… i am guessing that means you don't have a local kelp source either…
You don't need it, but it helps a lot.
Paulo Bessa

Joined: Jun 15, 2012
Posts: 336
Location: Portugal (zone 9) and Iceland (zone 5)
Thanks for the suggestions.

To the indoor plants, which are containers full of compost, I often water them with diluted urine, coffee grounds, kelp tea (from supermarket), yarrow tea and also often liquid compost. That works wonders. Yarrow and kelp are especially quick in their effect. Urine is also very rich fertilizer but its has too much nitrogen, so I only add a little.

Outside, because it is a wider area, it´s more impractical to do this, although sometimes I also add diluted urine, kelp tea over there. I guess I will have to go the coast (I am further inland) to pick some kelp. But I have a local source of wood ash (200 meters away from my garden). I am also now dumping the compost directly to some of the beds, to not lose the fertility when it rains over the compost, so it will the kitchen waste compost directly over the garden (under some grass clippings (I know this temporarily robs of some nitrogen but it´s ok). To that mulching I will add then the kelp, nettles, more yarrow and the ash, and also if I can, grounded volcanic rock and a mix of local clays. I will post how this will work out throughout the next months.

I still wonder which other herbs would be comparable to the yarrow and the nettles in their fertilization power (we don´t have comfrey here).
I agree. Here's the link:
subject: How to add phosphoros, potassium, calcium... naturally