Making Homemade Liquid Fertilizers

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Homemade tomato fertilizer

In 2010 I used up my last of a bottle of organic liquid fertilizer concentrate, and I haven’t bought any since. Instead I have been making homemade liquid fertilizers and using them on everything – young seedlings, plants growing in containers, and sweet corn and other veggies that benefit from a midseason booster feeding.

The material I use as a starter is locally-produced poultry manure product with a nutrient analysis of 5-4-4, which is quite similar to many of the chicken manure pellets sold in UK garden centers. I also have experimented by brewing up fertilizer solutions from several national brands of granulated organic fertilizer with excellent results.

Cayenne peppers growing well with homemade fertiliser

This adventure began when I was writing an article for Mother Earth News magazine on making homemade liquid fertilizers, based on research commissioned from Woods End Laboratories. The next season I started experimenting on my own using the procedure from the Woods End study: Mix a nutritious substance with water, stir, wait two to three days, and pour off the liquid. Then you mix the fertilizer concentrate with an appropriate amount of water. This is quite similar to how many gardeners make fertilizer from comfrey, only faster. Note: It is possible that steeping comfrey for more than a week is overkill. With grass clippings and seaweed, the Woods End study showed that most nutrients had leached into the water after three days.

Making your own homemade fertilizer is straightforward enough, yet I have learned much through trial and error work with three of the materials studied in the Woods End report – processed poultry manure, grass clippings, and urine. You may wince at the latter, but except for being high in salts (which can burn plant roots), freshly collected urine mixed 1:20 with water makes an excellent high-nitrogen fertilizer of which we all have a constant supply. By the time it is properly diluted, urine fertilizer loses most of its smell.

Homemade fertilizers made with poultry manure, dry organic fertilizer or grass clippings provide a wider range of nutrients, and you can be as creative as you like in choosing materials. Grass clippings contain quite a bit of soluble nitrogen, so I often add a few handfuls when making liquid fertilizer by the bucket. Depending on how much you want to make, I have given two "recipes" below. After the liquid extract is poured off, the gunk left behind can be dumped into the compost.

A quart batch of homemade fertilizer

One Quart Batch

For the past two springs, my seedlings have grown beautifully using this simple recipe. Place 4 tablespoons processed poultry manure or blended dry organic fertilizer into a quart jar, and fill with lukewarm water. Screw on the lid and shake vigorously, then keep at room temperature for two days. Pour off the liquid and dilute with water to the strength desired. For seedlings I use a very dilute mixture, one part extract to four parts water. With experience, you will be able to estimate the strength of the solution based on its color.

One Gallon Batch

Once summer gets going and I have many plants in need of booster feeding, I make bucket-size batches of homemade liquid fertilizer. One batch per week meets the needs of my large veggie garden. To make it, I put one cup of processed poultry manure or blended organic fertilizer into a pail along with a few handfuls or grass clippings or chopped comfrey or stinging nettle leaves. Then I fill the pail with a gallon or so of water, stir well, and place it in the shade covered with an old towel. In two days the solution is ready to strain through a colander into another pail. I mix the concentrate with water in my watering can, diluting with about five parts water.

A gallon batch of homemade fertiliser

About the only things you can do wrong when making homemade liquid fertilizers is to use an overly strong solution, let the mixture ferment too long, or splash it on plant leaves instead of drenching roots. Always err on the side of a weak solution, because excess salts in an under-diluted extract can lead to injured roots and browned leaf edges. As for the brewing time, an unpleasant smell begins to develop after two days, and becomes downright awful after four. At this point the mixture has gone too far, and it’s time to dump it out and start over. Homemade liquid fertilizers are too biologically active to be saved or stored, so it’s best to make small batches so you always have a fresh supply. I think wild-fermented concoctions that include manure belong in the soil, not on plants, because of their heavy load of bacteria. I am careful when drenching vegetables with the stuff, and I avoid getting it on edible plant parts altogether. Going into my third season making homemade liquid fertilizers, my garden and I couldn’t be happier.

By Barbara Pleasant

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Comments

 
"My daughter has chickens (not organically raised) but she does have an organic garden. Can she use her chicken poop as fertilizer in her garden and still be organic? I don't think so but just thought I would ask you. Thank you"
Joan on Friday 12 April 2013
"You say use 'processed' poultry manure. What is this ? I keep chickens, can I use their bedding [shredded paper] and manure in the mixture, maybe with comfry and nettles ? Thanks Sarah"
Sarah Keast on Friday 12 April 2013
"Joan, chicken manure makes great compost because of its high nitrogen levels, and I think compost is the best use for the fresh stuff. Mixed with pulled weeds and other garden waste, chicken manure and bedding makes a smoking hot compost with a high nutrient value -- great for crops and soil. Fresh, uncomposted chicken manure can be dug into soil, but then time must be allowed for degradation -- 6 months under organic standards in the US."
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 13 April 2013
"Sarah, processed poultry manure products are very well dried, which radically reduces their bacterial load. If you wanted to collect a few nuggets during coop cleanup and keep them in a very dry place, they could be used to add nitrogen to comfrey or nettles brews, which are often low in N. But I think composting your chicken manure and bedding is the best use for it. If you mix composted chicken manure into planting holes, you won't need liquid fertilizers."
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 13 April 2013
"I rot down the perennial weeds from my garden in a tubful of water before putting them on the compost heap;the liquid is like soup and smells dreadful! Can I use it as liquid fertiliser, or should I just keep it for rotting the weeds as i do at the moment?"
Paul Stevenson on Tuesday 16 April 2013
"All rotting liquids are not alike. I rot down a few weeds myself, but dump the residue in the compost. It is more likely a pathogen soup than a fertilizer. Note the short (three days or less) sitting time for homemade liquid fertilizers."
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 17 April 2013
"I have some comfrey growing in my allotment and have thought about using this for a liquid fertiliser. Do you have any guidance on how best to do this, quantities, etc?"
Sue on Friday 19 April 2013
"I heard that water removed from fresh water fish tanks is also very good for plants. I change about 50 gallons of water per week, but sadly it goes down the drain. I'm thinking of running a hose to go out the window into a container outside. Would this mixed with some grass clippings do the trick for a liquid fertilizer? "
Beeker on Friday 19 April 2013
"Sue, there is a post on this subject and many interesting comments here: http://www.growveg.com/growblogpost.aspx?id=87 Good luck!"
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 19 April 2013
"Beeker, many people use water from freshwater fish tanks on ornamentals, especially houseplants and orchids. It is estimated to be a one-third strength liquid fertilizer. I would be concerned about the fresh fish poop on edible plants because of the likelihood of E coli and other pathogens, but this is not a concern with ornamentals, indoors or out. "
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 19 April 2013
"Thank you for your reply, Barbara. Now you gave me a different idea. Can I use my fish water on a patch of comfrey, and then feed the comfrey to my vegetable garden?"
Beeker on Friday 19 April 2013
"I have access to non-organic dried horse manure. Can I use that instead of the dried poultry manure or does the poultry manure contain more nutrients because of the bugs poultry eat? "
Cindy Swanson on Friday 19 April 2013
"Beeker, that's a great idea. With so much water, you could put in a little rain garden of pollinator-friendly plants. "
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 19 April 2013
"Cindy, you can use the dried horse manure, but you will need to experiment with dilution rates. I think you would not need to dilute nearly as much because horse manure has so much less nitrogen. Historically, when doing this with horse manure you put it in an old pillowcase and steep it in a bucket like a giant tea bag."
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 19 April 2013
"Thank you so much, Barbara! I love your recipe!!! "
Cindy Swanson on Friday 19 April 2013
"Can I make this tea with 3 year old cattle manure? I have mixed it in my raised beds but have a lot left over."
Sandy on Saturday 11 May 2013
"Sandy, if the manure has been kept dry you can certainly use it. If it's been out in the rain, most of the nutrients will have leached away, and making fertilizer from it won't be worth the effort."
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 11 May 2013
"Can u confirm how long to ferment grass clippings or comfrey when making fertilizer as I've seen 3 days and up to 5 weeks in the case of comfrey "
Ken Sheehan on Wednesday 15 May 2013
"Ken, long fermentation times are traditionally used with comfrey in Great Britain, but I would never do it myself -- too stinky. The Woods End research referenced above indicated that nutrient leaching from grass clippings is done in two to three days. After that, you are probably brewing up bacteria so why go there?"
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 16 May 2013
"I love organic gardening!!!"
James on Tuesday 25 June 2013
"Can I use this on indoor potted plants or is it going to smell bad?"
Solly on Wednesday 26 June 2013
"Can I use this on indoor potted plants or is it going to smell bad?"
Solly on Wednesday 26 June 2013
"Solly, I have used homemade bioactive fertilizers on indoors plants, but the smell is a concern. Let the mixture sit for only one day to reduce odors. In general, a commercial fertilizer works best indoors because of the smell issue. "
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 26 June 2013
"I fertilize all my plants with dilutions of my urine(vegetables and herbs diluted 1 urine:10 water for most, outdoor flowers 1:20 for most, houseplants 1:20 for some, 1:30 for others, orchids without buds or flowers 1:30). The smell issue is no problem. Perhaps I am used to it and therefore do not notice it but whatever the case it disappears quickly. Urine contains a lot of nitrogen however and some plants, such as Geraniums, need to be fertilized with low nitrogen fertilizer. Does diluting urine with a greater proportion of water make it low nitrogen fertilizer I can use for my Geraniums or else what other easily made low nitrogen liquid fertilizer can I make? I can use plants such as Comfrey, Stinging Nettles, Lucerne but do not have access to any animal manure, acquarium or seaweed."
Edwin Reffell on Friday 5 July 2013
"I've just had a pile of cattle manure delivered - should I cover it and how should I use it? "
diverte on Wednesday 21 August 2013
"First chop through the pile and add water if needed to moisten it lightly, and then cover your manure pile (to prevent leaching by rain) and let it rot. In spring as you prepare beds for planting, use the rotted manure to enrich planting holes and beds."
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 21 August 2013
"I have had some flower clipping in a bucket with water and used that on some of my plants. Is this not a good idea? It did have a foul smell but the plants seemed okay. Just used it on flowers, do not vegetable garden. also can you use the clippings again with more water?"
Wanita on Saturday 24 August 2013
"Please someone post a recipe for homemade, from plants, low-nitrogen fertilizer."
Edwin Reffell on Saturday 24 August 2013
"There is a long thread here on using comfrey (a vigorous perennial that grows in partial shade) to make homemade fertilizer, but it is a foul-smelling process with unproven results. It's fine to pour out vase water laden with fungi and bacteria into soil once in a while, but nature generally does not do this. I see above that you are a fellow urine user. A very low N alternative to try would be the soaking water from beans. A strained solution from cornmeal/water might be worth trying, too. "
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 24 August 2013
"For those who were looking into the fish water try looking at home aquaponics it is the study of aquaculture mixed with hydroponics there are many site out there with information on this if you want some direct links let me know. Also thanks for all the great q and a im am currently in South Korea and finding organic fertillizer is hard when you cant read the lables."
Raymond Ead on Saturday 30 November 2013
"Thank you Barbara for the tip about water used to soak beans in. I am very interested in using up the cornmeal I have. How much cornmeal and how much water? How is it done?"
Edwin Reffell on Saturday 30 November 2013
"Cornmeal makes such a good dry fertilizer that I wouldn't ferment it into a messy liquid. It's also great to use for surface marking of new fence lines or planting holes, like other people use spray paint. In warm weather, cornmeal added to compost can help heat it up, a lot. I suggest continuing to store your corn meal dry and using it up as you need it. "
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 2 December 2013
"Cornmeal mixed to a powder is a great source of feed for indoor compost worms. Red wigglers, European night crawlers."
Scott M on Wednesday 12 February 2014
"I would wish to experience how making my own liquid fish fertilizer from my own fish. After fishing I have been giving the leftovers to the wild live to eat. http://bit.ly/1jKbIKk"
zubair on Monday 19 May 2014
"It takes two weeks, but to make fish fertilizer you mix equal parts chopped fish and fish parts, "brown" compostable materials like leaves or sawdust, and water. Then cover with a heavy cloth to keep out insects, and stir every day or two. This very smelly paste ferments for two weeks; a little molasses can speed decomposition. Once it has fermented into brown goo it can be stored in a dark place and mixed with water as needed for liquid fertilizer. Or, you can simply bury the fish parts in your garden. "
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 19 May 2014
"I have a horse corral that I have tilled twice a year for 5 years and it is some of the blackest soil once tilled. This was a great way to beef up our sandy/loamy natural soil. I do steep this through a pillow case. I had slightly less than a court of urine and my grass clippings. At the end of 3 days...my garden gets this. This is all done in a 5 gal bucket with all the non liquid materials in the case."
Cara Tapken on Monday 26 May 2014
"Barbara, My neighbor has plenty of chicken poop and she gives to be in dry form when she cleans the coup. My question is, how long do I need to let it continue to dry before making my liquid fertilizer, and also, do I need to add grass clippings or can I just use the poop and water only? "
Mark on Wednesday 9 July 2014
"Mark, as long as the chicken nuggets are thoroughly dry, you can use them as a basis for a high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer. I would place the pieces in a bucket, smash them with a blunt object, and stir in water. Dry conditions kill salmonella and e coli, but I would still dilute and use the mixture on roots only after one to two days, no more. Start with a 1:10 concentrate to water ratio and adjust from there. Meanwhile, compost most of your chicken manure in your compost pile."
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 9 July 2014
"Some very handy hints in the q and a above. I'm currently brewing a batch of compost tea. I am using a cup of mushroom compost, a 1/2 cup of garden soil that has composted leaf matter in it, 2 tablespoons of molasses to feed the micro-organisms. I'm bubbling air through it all for 24 hrs in about 15L of rainwater and I added a splash of fish emulsion. What are your thoughts on how long can the brew be stored? Is there anything else I should be doing? Thanks a lot ...."
Mike on Wednesday 19 November 2014
"Can i ask, if a raw cabbage has a potential of making liquid fertilizer by the process of blending its leaves and undergoing the process of distillation? "
Jovinor Lucidos on Sunday 21 December 2014
"what would you suggest as the mixing ratio? I mean how much water should one use per unit of chicken manure?"
Blessed on Wednesday 28 January 2015
"All chicken manure is not alike, so you should experiment, but for the initial brew I suggest a 50:50 mix of chicken manure (with bedding) or chicken manure pellets, with water. Strain after two days, and dilute the concentrate at 1 to 10 water at first, then go stronger if the plants respond well. Right now I am using exactly this recipe to get my onions ready to set out in the garden."
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 4 April 2015
"I wonder if you have experiment the liquid fertilizer for growing vegetables in hydroponic system or have you heard anyone doing it. Your feedback is greatly appreciated."
Ahmad on Tuesday 16 June 2015
"Hydroponic systems require more exacting measurements than you could expect with homemade fertilizers like those described here. I would be inclined to look at more standardized products such as the new fish fertilizers being produced by inland recirculating fish farms. "
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 20 June 2015
"Many thanks Barbara for all the responses, been learning a lot. I would like to ask if I can use my poultry droppings that has wood shavings and wood dusts as bedding materials, which had been collected and bagged for over a year now directly in planting holes. They're almost becoming sand in the shed. Also, at that state, can they be used to sidedress plants? If applied as sidedress, does watering it helps in releasing the nutrients faster? Many thanks. Uthman from Nigeria. "
Uthman Olatunji on Sunday 19 July 2015
"Have you ever come across high ammonia/nitrate content in your liquid fertilizer that may poison your plant. Thanks for your attention."
Ahmad on Monday 14 September 2015
"Ahmad, you would probably encounter problems if you did not dilute homemade fertilizers, just as you would with commercial products. "
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 14 September 2015
"is the grass clipping green or dried how much of decomposed cow manure is mixed for the 3 day period why the stuff should not be fed to edible vegetables"
vijay manke on Tuesday 22 September 2015
"Vijay, please click on the first boldfaced phrase above, that says Mother Earth News, to read more details based on lab work that has been done on these fertilizers."
Barbara Pleasant on Thursday 24 September 2015
"Is it possible to mix cow dung n chicken droppings with water to make liquid fertilizer and apply on a watermelon field/plantation"
Erastus Obonyo on Tuesday 20 October 2015
"Yes, Erastus, you could do that, but I would try it on a small scale first."
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 21 October 2015
"Can the mix be diluted ahead of time? For example, in this recipe: 4 tbsp per quart for seedlings, then dilute 1:4 (which ends up being a gallon of diluted liquid). Can I just simply go ahead and put the 4 tbsp in a gallon and then I won't have to dilute it later since it will already be at the right proportions? Is there any reason not to do it this way? Am excited about trying this recipe. My husband had just bought pelletized chicken manure to use to plant fruit trees, so I'm going to start a batch today. But would like to be able to "dilute" ahead of time to skip a step, if you see no reason not to."
Marie on Friday 18 December 2015
"I do not know what will happen with the mixture chemically if you continue to age it, but I am sure it will become quite stinky. It would be best to make small batches as you need them. "
Barbara Pleasant on Tuesday 29 December 2015
"No, I don't leave it sit around a long time. I use it all on the second day. I don't let it sit around longer. I mix the quart recipe in a gallon container with a gallon's worth of water so that it is already diluted, and then I use it all at the same time on day #2. That way, I don't have to go from a quart to a gallon and dilute the second time. Which brings up another point... How often do you water your seedlings with the liquid fertilizer? Right now they are in the trays, and are growing quite nicely since I started to water them with the mix. I've watered twice, once a week, as I didn't know if watering every other day would be too much. How often can you use the diluted mix without it being too much? Thanks for your assistance."
Marie on Tuesday 29 December 2015
"Hi Marie, Good question! The answer depends on your location, and how soon you can expect an abundant light supply from the sun. Where I live, in Virginia, the winter days are so short until mid-February that I use very little fertilizer until then. I do feed hardy veggie seedlings started indoors under lights in March, when they spend mild days in cold frame, and start growing rapidly. My indoor-grown leafy greens seem to get ample nutrients from fresh potting soil, so I never feed them. Hope this makes sense. You're trying to feed plants to in sync with the light energy they are receiving. "
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 30 December 2015
"A LOT OF THANKS FOR ALL UR TIME ENERGY KNOWLEDGE AND COMMITMENT.NOW U HAVE SHOWN THAT THE DRYING OF THE POULTRY MANURE IS TO KILL CERTAIN ORGANISMS IN THE MANURE.CANT I SIMPLY HEAT UP THE MANURE IN A POT ON FIRE STIRRING OCCASSIONALLY TO DO THE KILLING?"
ola olayanju on Wednesday 13 January 2016
"Good question, but high temperatures (above 160F) are known to trigger changes in high nitrogen materials, so I would not try it. It would also stink! Drying is better. Good luck!"
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 13 January 2016
"could you please advise me on poultry manure fertilizer tea? I have been cleaning out our small chicken house daily of droppings and putting them straight into a large plastic container which is open to the sun and rain. As it's winter here we don't have a fly problem. However I am hesitant to use it as I am unsure if the solution could be bad/harmful to both plants and our health, incase pathogens have grown in it. I've used fresh droppings not aged. Could I just add this mixture of liquids and solids to my bare vege patch or would I be best to discard it? Thanks for any advise you can give me."
Claire on Friday 1 July 2016
"Claire, because you are concerned about pathogens, the best solution is mix the poultry mature with two parts organic matter and compost it. I would wait until warm weather returns so the process will go quickly, probably a couple of weeks. You will get the most amazing rich fertilizer!"
Barbara Pleasant on Tuesday 12 July 2016
"Can we use Ipomoea aquatica to produce a liquid fertilizer."
Harshani on Wednesday 7 September 2016
"Ipomoea aquatica is a plant type that absorb heavy metals very well. So that cannot be used for human consumption at some occasions. So nice, if we can produce a liquid fertilizer from it. But the problem of the plant is heavy metal absorption. If we use this plant as a fertilizer, will it be a problem, or can we make use this plant by adding some additives as a mixture with this plant? I kindly request you to give me a reply since I'm suffering from this problem."
Harshani on Wednesday 7 September 2016
"Water spinach that is grown in clean water can be eaten and composted, but I would not do either with plants used for bioremediation of polluted water. The plants are "hyperaccumulators" of cadmium and lead, so you would cycle high amounts of these and other unwanted metals into your garden. "
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 7 September 2016
"Thank you very much for your advice. I am a student of a Sri Lankan university related to agriculture. We have to submit a research proposal within a week. I am interested in doing a research on liquid fertilizer. But I don't have a good topic yet. Could you please suggest me a topic for my research. Thank you ever so much."
Harshani on Thursday 8 September 2016
"Harshani, the liquid fertilizer nobody likes to talk about is human urine. There have been some recent research projects, so the topic is not as extreme as it once was. "
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 12 September 2016
"Thank you very much madam, I'll try on that topic. We are very lucky to have resource persons like you in our world. "
Harshani on Tuesday 13 September 2016
"A fascinating read. Thank you, Barbara! "
Nanci on Saturday 7 January 2017
"I think that gardening is such a cool thing. I love it when people are self reliant. I don't know much about farming but I want to learn about it. I didn't know that you need fertilizer but I'm realizing that there are so many different kinds of fertilizers! "
Pam Lassila on Thursday 23 March 2017
"Hi, I love your article! I have a bunny and was wondering if the bunny manure would work, too. It's pretty dry already and comes mixed with an unbleached paper bedding with bunny urine. "
Sandra Russell on Thursday 20 April 2017
"Most gardeners use "bunny berries" dry, by working them directly into soil, but you also can make "bunny brew" as a liquid fertilizer. Place the manure in a cloth bag and steep it in a bucket of water for 3 days, then compost the leftovers. I would dilute this by half or more to start, and adjust dilution from there. Good luck! "
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 21 April 2017

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