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9 ways to add nitrogen to your garden soil

 
gardener
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Nitrogen is a key plant nutrient but often in new gardens it’s lacking. When this happens there are several different approaches to add nitrogen to your garden soil.

This week’s blog post—How to Add Nitrogen to Your Garden Soil (9 Ways)—covers different approaches to add nitrogen to your garden.

Some of these methods are short term boosts while others are meant to build nitrogen levels over a longer timeframe.

And in the long run you can ensure your plants have enough nitrogen and other nutrients including water by promoting soil life.

But all of the methods covered in the post are organic and don’t use toxic chemicals.

9 Ways to Add Nitrogen



My new garden beds have been showing signs of nitrogen deficiency. This isn’t really a surprise given that they were lawn in February.

In the short run I’ve been using manure tea and diluted urine to give individual plants a nice boost.

But in the long run I’m using mulch, cover crops, and compost to feed soil life and create the conditions where vegetables and other plants can thrive.

These are just a few examples of 9 ways you can add nitrogen to your garden soil. Here are all 9:

Instantly Add Nitrogen to Your Garden Soil
1. Blood Meal or Alfalfa Meal
2. Diluted Human Urine
3. Manure Tea

Build Nitrogen Levels in Your Garden Soil Over Time
4. Compost
5. Chop-and-Drop Mulch
6. Nitrogen-Fixing Plants

Add Nitrogen to Your Garden Soil Indirectly
7. Stop tilling
8. Polyculture
9. Mulch

You don’t need to use all these methods and some of them may not be appropriate for your specific situation. But they can all be used to build nitrogen levels in your garden soil—especially when used in combination.

Ultimately It’s All About Soil Life



Methods 4 through 6 can all add nitrogen directly to your garden soil. But they do take time to work—especially chop-and-drop.

7 through 9 are more about supporting soil life and creating conditions where they thrive as opposed to directly increasing nitrogen in your soils.

And 1 through 3 are meant to give struggling plants a quick boost to help them get established.

But in the end the goal should be to build healthy soil that is filled with life. Nitrogen isn’t the only nutrient your plants need. And soil life can help make all those nutrients accessible to your plants.

This is why I’m always focused on promoting soil life over worrying about any one specific nutrient in the soil.

If you want to learn more about these 9 methods please check out the blog post. And let me know which of these 9 you use and if you’ve got any other methods you prefer.

And while your over on the blog post if you leave a comment and you’re the first to do so you will get a piece of pie! The pie will get you access to some special features on perimes, discounts at some vendors, and you can use it to purchase some products on the permies digital marketplace.

If you leave a comment on the blog post make sure to leave a post here on permies too so I can easily give you the slice of pie.
 
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Good tips Darren, and even better pictures. That harvest platter is tops.

There are two other methods I'd add to your list. The first is another instant boost and that's vegetable manure tea. Using fast growing green leafy plants like comfrey, nettles, or even lawn clippings you submerge the chopped up leaves in water for anywhere.from a few.days to a month (until it really starts stinking) and then strain and dilute that liquid anywhere from 20:1 up to 200:1. If you can dilute and then aerate, all the better.

The second is my favorite off site input and sits somewhere.between your first  two groups. Its sealife hydrolyzate, made from fish, crab, shrimp, squid, etc... By products. It feeds nitrogen in more.complex amino acid structures that are excellent food for the higher order soil life that are instrumental in establishing  a  rich nitrogen cycle in you soil. If you live on the coasts you can easily get the ingredients to make it yourself either from commercial fishermen or from you and your friends sport harvest adventures. Even in healthy soil I like to use it to help young plants get established
 
Daron Williams
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s. lowe wrote:Good tips Darren, and even better pictures. That harvest platter is tops.

There are two other methods I'd add to your list. The first is another instant boost and that's vegetable manure tea. Using fast growing green leafy plants like comfrey, nettles, or even lawn clippings you submerge the chopped up leaves in water for anywhere.from a few.days to a month (until it really starts stinking) and then strain and dilute that liquid anywhere from 20:1 up to 200:1. If you can dilute and then aerate, all the better.

The second is my favorite off site input and sits somewhere.between your first  two groups. Its sealife hydrolyzate, made from fish, crab, shrimp, squid, etc... By products. It feeds nitrogen in more.complex amino acid structures that are excellent food for the higher order soil life that are instrumental in establishing  a  rich nitrogen cycle in you soil. If you live on the coasts you can easily get the ingredients to make it yourself either from commercial fishermen or from you and your friends sport harvest adventures. Even in healthy soil I like to use it to help young plants get established



Thanks for sharing! Those are great additions to the list And yeah I do agree about helping young plants get established. I often use worm tea from my worm bin to help water in my young plants to give them a bit of a boost. Thanks again!
 
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s. lowe wrote:The first is another instant boost and that's vegetable manure tea. Using fast growing green leafy plants like comfrey, nettles, or even lawn clippings you submerge the chopped up leaves in water for anywhere.from a few.days to a month (until it really starts stinking) and then strain and dilute that liquid anywhere from 20:1 up to 200:1. If you can dilute and then aerate, all the better.



I kind of do this, using annoying weeds that have gone to seed, or have set immature seeds that I don't want to risk setting seed in the compost heap. I soak them in a bucket. I've only started doing this recently, and it stank really badly, more like vomit than like poop, so I kept straining some out and pouring it on mulched bed, and adding fresh water. I don't know how much nitrogen it has relative to other nutrients, but it sure seems to be rich stuff.
 
s. lowe
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Rebecca Norman wrote:

I kind of do this, using annoying weeds that have gone to seed, or have set immature seeds that I don't want to risk setting seed in the compost heap. I soak them in a bucket. I've only started doing this recently, and it stank really badly, more like vomit than like poop, so I kept straining some out and pouring it on mulched bed, and adding fresh water. I don't know how much nitrogen it has relative to other nutrients, but it sure seems to be rich stuff.



I have been told that different plants and plants at different life stages will provide different levels of nutrients. The recipe I was taught specifically for nitrogen was to use comfrey and/or nettle in the spring before they flower and are just growing super fast and lush. I've also heard of people doing it with budding or flowering plants to encourage fruit set, its something I am hoping to play around with more in the future. The comfrey/nettle mix that I've used produced very lush growth
 
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Another amazing article!  Thanks Daron.

I wish I would have had this knowledge when I built my new beds this spring. I basically used what I could find on site and ended up with a nitrogen deficiency.  I did add blood meal when building the beds and mulched with leaves but still had problems. After adding grass clippings, diluted urine and comfrey tea, the beds have finally started producing.  I should have compost ready by the end of the season as well.  

The comfrey tea does smell like cow crap.  As a matter of fact my husband made the comment that the neighbors must have put manure on the fields after I applied some of the tea this spring.  My squash and cucumbers were off to a slow start but perked up after watering them with the tea.  
Staff note (Daron Williams) :

Thank you for the comment on the blog post! You were the first from permies so pie for you!

 
s. lowe
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Michelle Heath wrote:

The comfrey tea does smell like cow crap.  As a matter of fact my husband made the comment that the neighbors must have put manure on the fields after I applied some of the tea this spring.    



If you have the.ability to aerate it, diluting the stinky stuff and then aerating for a few hours yields a fresh, sweet smelling brew that is just as effective in my experience
 
Michelle Heath
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S. Lowe, what do you use to aerate it?  I know I have an old aquarium air pump somewhere. Would that work?
 
s. lowe
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Michelle Heath wrote:S. Lowe, what do you use to aerate it?  I know I have an old aquarium air pump somewhere. Would that work?


Ya that should.work for a couple gallons. There are formulas you can find to figure out how many gallons your pump can aerate based on its cfm. But most any pump should be able to do a 5 gallon bucket
 
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Thanks, S Lowe and Rebecca Norman for the vegetable manure tea idea.

I have a "rot barrel" to anaerobically kill weed seeds (especially noxious ones). It's way better than burning. But I never realized the stinky liquid would have value as fertilizer. Brilliant!
 
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"Give me head with hair, long beautiful hair
Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen
Give me down to there hair, shoulder length or longer
Here, baby, there, momma, everywhere, daddy, daddy"
-- Hair

Hair my friends is a good source of slow release nitrogen. Sloooooow, like a year or two. The trick of course is supply. Your barber/stylist should be your best friend Permies.
 
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john mcginnis wrote:
Hair my friends is a good source of slow release nitrogen. Sloooooow, like a year or two. The trick of course is supply. Your barber/stylist should be your best friend Permies.



Very true. I raise wool breeds of rabbits and like to use the damaged/soiled fiber in the gardens as mulch, under or mixed with the wood chips. It's a good slow release source of nitrogen that also helps to retain moisture.
 
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Pond water is my go to for nitrogen and a soil life boost. I currently have a pond with goldfish that have bred prolifically from the initial introduction by the prior owners grandkids. I have also used Muscovy duck pond water with great results, and the ducks provided a good amount of phosphorus too. I would usually make this the base of an aerated compost tea.
 
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Placing a poultry run upslope of your garden can work well, too, if you get any regular rain at all.
 
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Whether it be compost tea, vermicompost tea, fermented infusion of weeds or diluted urine, how do you apply it? I am of the view that only rainwater can be sprayed all over the plant while others - including greywater and other concoctions - should never be sprayed or showered but directed at the base of the plant or nearby. How does one decide which concoction can be used as foliar spray? I am seeking answers ever since I saw in some video that when transplanting tomato plants, any leaf that has dipped and touched the ground should be plucked off since it might have picked up some disease. Any thoughts about the Geoff Lawton{is he taboo here? - I am new here} one-year sealed aged humanure? I am guessing that all the nitrogen would have escaped by then.
 
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Thank you for the thorough list and breaking it down into short term boosts, over time and some indirect methods. My wife and I just bought a house outside of Fresno, CA and brought about 25 trees, vines and bushes that were still in the pots. We're in the process of planting them, so this post is very timely. I'll be making sure to treat these plants with lots of nitrogen care and this post is a nice one stop shop of info.
 
s. lowe
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Edward Lye wrote:Whether it be compost tea, vermicompost tea, fermented infusion of weeds or diluted urine, how do you apply it? I am of the view that only rainwater can be sprayed all over the plant while others - including greywater and other concoctions - should never be sprayed or showered but directed at the base of the plant or nearby. How does one decide which concoction can be used as foliar spray? I am seeking answers ever since I saw in some video that when transplanting tomato plants, any leaf that has dipped and touched the ground should be plucked off since it might have picked up some disease. Any thoughts about the Geoff Lawton{is he taboo here? - I am new here} one-year sealed aged humanure? I am guessing that all the nitrogen would have escaped by then.


I am of the opinion that there are a number of things that can be beneficially applied as a spray to plant leaves. Plants can absorb all sorts of minerals through their leaves. On top of that there are hormones , enzymes, and biology that are extremely beneficial to living plants on their leaves. I've seen amazing results spraying compost teas on plants, both in terms of growth and pest resistance.

As far as nitrogen though, commercially I have only seen amino acid compounds used with good success but I also don't think its worth the extra effort when you can just build a healthy soil nitrogen cycle with. Much less effort
 
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strategic grazing by any of its many names also is a tremendous soil builder.  And for people with no inclination to be involved with livesock, the grazing action can be replicated by cutting the top third to half off of tall green plants... grasses and forbesmore than woody shrubs and trees.

When a significant portion of the top is lost, the plant is stimulated to exude CHO substances  from the roots.  This ios a form of communication which stimulates the soil symbionts to bring specific compounds the needs to regrow... and one of the  results is incrementally richer soil.

There are lots of people teaching elements of strategic grazing, how big to let the plant get between grazings/cuttings is one that would apply,what time of day to graze (for higher brix and faster gain) might not be as important.
 
Daron Williams
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Rebecca – Thanks for sharing how you use it!

s. lowe – It would make sense that different plants would provide a different set of nutrients. Seems like a mix could be generally best. But it would be interesting to learn which plants to focus on for specific nutrients.

Michelle – Thank you! Good to hear that you were able to get your beds going by using different sources of nitrogen. I’m building compost too that I’m going to add to my beds this fall.

s. lowe – It does make sense that the smell would be caused by a lack of oxygen since compost also smells bad when it runs out of oxygen. Thanks for sharing info about how to aerate these teas!

Douglas – Glad this conversation is helping you! 😊

John – Interesting! Good to know!

Kc – Another good tip – thank you!

Ben – Great tip – thank you!

Peter – Yeah, that is a great way to use what could be considered a pollutant to cultivate abundance!

Edward – I don’t tend to use foliar sprays. For my teas I just pour them out around the base of the plants. But in general I would use foliar sprays with well aerated teas. When the teas are well aerated the risk of bad microbes will be reduced. But in general my approach is to get the beneficial organisms in the soil with the assumption that they will find their way to the surface of the plants on their own. But as s. lowe mentions there are benefits to using foliar sprays too.

Armando – I’m happy that the post was helpful for you! And best of luck with your new house!

Thekla – Thanks for sharing! Your right about that being a great way to build soil.
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