Fertilizing is an important part of maintaining a vibrant, healthy and fertile garden. A regular fertilizing schedule helps plants start off strong and grow well all season. Vegetables grow bigger when they are fertilized and flowers bloom brighter. Natural fertilizer adds organic matter to garden soil and organic matter is the backbone of soil nutrition.
Fertilizers were traditionally made from garden and farm wastes such as animal manure, kitchen scraps and piles of dry leaves. Gardeners often threw dishwater and leftover coffee grounds directly on the flowerbed or vegetable garden. Synthetic nitrogen based fertilizers came into widespread commercial use after World War II and farmers were encouraged to give up traditional organic practices. The result is nitrogen overload that "has begun to overwhelm the natural nitrogen cycle with a range of ill effects," according to the the World Resources Institute website.
Plants in the garden need to be fertilized through the soil. Natural organic fertilizers add living microorganisms to the soil, which in turn feeds the plants. It is the microorganisms in soil that create nutrients for plants. When synthetic fertilizers are used, the soil is depleted even when plants receive a nitrogen boost for growth. Depleted soil is lifeless, gray, subject to erosion and dependent on petroleum-based synthetic chemicals for fertility.
Gardens love to be cared for with natural fertilizer and compost. The Cornell University Extension gardening program recommends that gardens have organic matter added at least once a year to maintain optimum soil health. Compost and natural fertilizer are made up of organic matter such as bone meal, feather meal, sea kelp, soft rock phosphates, bat guano, chicken manure and worm castings.
Fertilizer can be applied to the garden at the beginning of the growing season in spring. The microbes that are added to soil from organic fertilizers encourage strong plant growth and disease resistance. Adding fertilizer as a side dressing during summer's strong growth phase ensures continual soil improvement. Healthy garden soil has more than 4 billion microorganisms in one teaspoon.
Organic fertilizer use, along with a composting program and natural, organic pest management, ensures the garden's fertility over time. Beneficial microbes continue to reproduce and add nutrients to the soil, and therefore, to the plants. There is a cumulative effective on soil fertility when natural fertilizers are used. The Environmental Protection Agency also recommends compost "to regenerate poor soils."