As if we don’t have enough problems with shortages, it seems there’s a global shortage of commercial fertilizers as well. These inputs are required to produce the amount of food needed to feed everyone. A lack of fertilizer will cut significantly into food production. That, of course, will lead to even higher prices at the grocery store.
In this article, I’ll discuss the reasons for the shortages and what fertilizer alternatives exist. It’s well past time to think outside of the standard supply chain, folks.
A quick primer on plant nutritional requirements
Plants need twelve essential nutrients: NPK, of course, but also calcium, magnesium, sulfur, iron, boron, zinc, copper, manganese, and molybdenum. Deficiencies in any of these will result in problems. Calcium deficiencies, for example, result in blossom end rot in tomatoes and melons. Nitrogen and iron deficiencies result in leaf drop, while a lack of boron will result in buds breaking and dropping off. Iron is a key part of the chlorophyll molecule, which is totally necessary for photosynthesis. Several of these nutrients assist in disease resistance and general plant metabolism. I could go on, but I think you all get the idea.
Where do we usually get these things?
From the store, of course. Anything from Azomite to Milorganite has been, for many years, readily available. The times, however, are a’changin’. Even if fertilizer is produced, transportation has become an additional challenge. Commercial nitrogen fertilizer is a product of natural gas, which is in short supply for many reasons. China and Russia have announced plans to limit or stop exporting nitrogen fertilizer, which is a problem for the rest of us.
Whether urea or DAP, farmers already struggling under higher production costs are now facing soaring fertilizer prices. With farms going under at a record pace, this isn’t helping matters. What little food is available is going to continue to rise in price. Of course, hungry people are even more motivated to do whatever’s necessary to find food.
So what can we, as preppers, do about this?
One method is stocking up. However, no pile of goodies lasts forever, and one has to defend that pile. Since it’s written right into the NDAA that our government can come into your house and take pretty much anything they want, including you, having a tasty pile of stuff could make you an attractive target.
There ARE several alternatives to commercially produced fertilizers. Many of them are readily available if you only know where to look!
For example, bone meal is simply ground-up animal bones and is an excellent source of phosphorus. Yet another use for leftover turkey or chicken bones!
Composted manure is just that: manure that sits awhile, just like other composted materials. Of course, this isn’t the best smelling stuff, and urban neighbors might complain, but it’s a complete fertilizer. If you have backyard chickens, let them run in the garden a bit. Fish emulsion is also a complete fertilizer; our ancestors added a fish carcass to their plantings to good effect. Be aware that fish can attract rodents, however, so bury it deep! Farmers realized early on that manure could increase their crop yields.
Common foods to use as fertilizer
Here’s another source discussing common foods that we can use as fertilizer.
Coffee grounds contain not only the big three (NPK) but several micronutrients as well. Some say they also act as a pest repellent, most notably against snails and slugs, but this is so far anecdotal.
How about eggshells? They’re a great source of calcium, along with small amounts of nitrogen and magnesium. They can be crushed up and added to the soil directly, which I do, or set in water for four weeks to make a liquid fertilizer.
Then there are banana peels! These will provide potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. Again, bury them with the plant or make a liquid fertilizer.
Got milk? Milk is another excellent source of calcium, in addition to the standard NPK. Again, as a dairy product, this could attract rodents, so it’s strongly discouraged in the compost pile. You can apply it either to the roots or the leaves in liquid form.
Homemade garden fertilizer
Don’t forget the grass clippings, weeds, beauty bark, and other organic matter! These materials contain varying amounts of everything plants need to grow healthy. Waste not, want not, right? I leave my grass clippings on the lawn, use them as mulch, and turn them into my raised beds to add organic matter at the end of the season. I do similarly with fallen leaves and even small branches.
I’ve written about adding Rhizobium and mycorrhiza to your soil before. These organisms have many benefits but are obligate parasites, meaning they need the plants to survive. However, it’s unknown how long they can last in soil, so why not give them a try? Some research has shown that they can survive in soil. Besides, if someone can cultivate them in the lab, anyone can cultivate them in the home, just like mushroom spawn. PDA (potato dextrose agar) is very easy to make. You don’t even need an autoclave as long as you can sterilize it, and I think the fungi will be OK with regular table sugar in a pinch.
And let’s not forget good, old-fashioned crop rotation!
While crop rotation can be a challenge on a small urban lot, it has the long-recognized advantage of allowing the soil to regenerate. While most plants, including food crops, require the same set of nutrients, those nutrients used by different plants are in different quantities. Many plants, such as beans and peas, are nitrogen fixers. Rhizobium binding with these increases nitrogen production. Rotating in various ways increases yields and builds soil over time.
Here’s a historical account of rotation systems that have been in use since the Middle Ages.
In addition to the need to adjust to supply chain problems, organic fertilizers have many benefits. They improve soil structure and are available to plants throughout the season. Because fertilizers are less soluble, there’s less runoff and, therefore, less loss to the soil. These fertilizers are also great for the micro fauna. Everything from beneficial worms to beetles that just love munching on those yummy leaves! Plus, they’re available using things we have around the house, namely food that would go to waste or isn’t edible anyway, such as the humble banana peel.
The best part is: these amendments are free for the taking! All we have to do is make use of them. Do you have any go-to fertilizers you would suggest? How do you think this global shortage shortage of commercial fertilizers will affect the already struggling food supply chain?
Another option is planting cover crops in the off season…buckwheat, vetch, mustards, etc.!
That will certainly help! My off season tends to reach -30 with 3′ of snow on the ground, but cover crops can still help if you use something that grows quickly. Garlic mustard takes over the universe though.
I read on the Internet several years ago about mixing urine and wood ashes and using that for fertilizer.With the cost of fertilizer going up i gave it a try.Granted,it is sort of nasty but I wanted to see if it worked out. It worked on the tomatoes and peppers,also the cukes, but not so well on the corn,not enough nitrogen I suppose.Oh,I forgot the poke ,purslane ,and mustard greens,they all did excellent. There was no strange taste or any other problems.We use other animals waste for fertilizer so I see no problems with using our urine.we all may be using the old ways very soon so give it a try before you really do need it,this could keep you from starving.
What a great idea! This was done back in the Middle Ages so why not? As you say it’s a bit nasty but this is no time to queasy out. Can you imagine what it must have been like to spread animal waste by hand, with no gloves? EWWW but it worked! And the Chinese used night soil, aka human waste.
Do you think it might have been too acidic for the corn?
If I was depending on my “garden” to support us we would all be dead. Yeah, I have two full Okra. Tomato plants are gone, haven’t been able to grow much of anything.
Bummer! May I suggest that you keep at it, and in the meantime take advantage of the other options for sourcing food locally: farmer’s markets, CSAs, and community gardens. Don’t give up!
There is definitely a learning curve with gardening, please don’t give up! This year for no apparent reason, my tomato yield was just so-so, but I had a bumper crop of peppers, which I almost gave up on. Several friends reported the same thing – who knows why! I have found that small, cherry type tomatoes consistently do better than the larger varieties. Maybe give that a try….
A decade ago, when my husband and I first moved to a semi-rural area, out of the city, I knew almost nothing about gardening. I used that first winter to read every book I could on gardening in my region. It made a huge difference in the spring. Learning when to plant things, which plants to put together, what type of drainage, how much to water, what organic matter to add to the soil, where mulch and wood chips were appropriate, the best ways to reduce weeds, etc., has made my garden go from something pitiful to something we now treat as an outdoor grocery store. It will take some determination, but you definitely can learn how to grow much of your own food. It will be worth it to take the opportunity, while you can, to find some books that are specific to your location, and use other people’s knowledge to your advantage. Happy growing!
Its important to not only feed your soil (we use compost, provided by a nearby horse. thank you sir.) but also to let the land REST. Remember in the Bible how they rotated crops AND land? Gotta let the land rest after you feed it. Let all the goodness soak in and let all the organisms do their thing.
Yup. Letting the fields lie fallow has been practiced for many years. I’ve noticed that even though I fertilize in fall, eventually the soil will exhaust itself even so. Last year’s garlic is a great case in point; my bulbs were much smaller than usual. So this year I’m trying them in containers, overwintered on my deck. Keeping my fingers crossed!
When my son was about 4 years old, he grew a giant tomato plant! Twice as big as any others in the garden. Eventually we realized he was going out and peeing on it every morning!
Also, we raise rabbits and ducks for their fertilizer (in addition to meat and eggs). It requires no composting – – can be used directly on plants.
That’s hilarious about your son! But whatever works, right? Happy gardening!
As what I would call a micro farmer here in Colorado. I raise Rabbits for meat and utilize the rabbit waste(aka poop) on my garden beds. The advantage of this is that Rabbit manure is what they call cold manure. As in you do not need to compost it first you can put it directly onto your garden. I then in the spring till it into the soil. I utilize the manure and hay bedding mixed together.
Also, Comfrey plants are about the ideal homestead plants! In addition to animal fodder and people medicine, Comfrey leaves are an excellent compost activator– throw the leaves I to your compost or on the garden with manure in the fall. The leaves can also be left in a bucket of water for a few weeks to become a liquid fertilizer. I also grow Comfrey as companion plants for each orchard tree.
Get Bocking (strain) 4 or 14 and they won’t spread by seed.
Comfrey is a very useful plant! I make a salve for my back pain, but I’m very careful using it because of the alkaloid poisoning. It’ll also take over the universe! I have volunteers all over my yard LOL
5 gallon bucket, fill 2/3rds with grass clippings, add water avoid brimming, cover, put lid on,, let steep 2 weeks. DDG Search-Grass Clipping Tea Fertilizer It Stinks and it works.
Strain out the grass after 2 weeks , hold your breath.
In the winter, we take soup bones we give to the dogs, and toss them in the wood furnace. Then take the ashes and toss them on top of the manure pile from the livestock.
Then let that manure pile compost for 2 years, then mix into the gardens.
Waste not, want not! 😀
thanks for that, I was wondering how to process bones.
I brought my tomato plants in before the frost and I’m trying to keep them going in the garage with a grow light. Has anyone had success with this before?
I’ve overwintered tomatoes in the house under grow lights, zone 5b. Mine didn’t flower or set fruit until I put them outside, but they grew just fine. You may already know this, but tomatoes don’t like night temps below 50F and will die quickly in the 40s. So keep that in mind.
We garden to grow as much of our own food as possible. I am always on the lookout for fertilizer as we don’t raise any livestock. We compost scraps, grass clippings, leaves and any manure we can collect. We do plant a cover crop as well . We also have fish fertilizer concentrate to help with gardening. Depending on your mix ratio, one gallon of fish fertilizer will become 32- 64 gallons of fertilizer to put on plants and vegetables. We look at fish fertilizer concentrate as a good thing to stockpile as we see more food shortages and ever increasing prices.
Seems to me that aquarium water would also be very usefully applied to the garden. When you clean out your fish aquarium, dump the water in the garden. Fish poo tea, ready made!
Geez, I need to stockpile chicken poop now?
If things keep going the way they are, ya just might be able to sell it at a premium.
Wait, you DON´T stockpile it??
Another good article encouraging us to think ahead and be prepared.
I live on the suburban quarter acre but am composting everything I can. I have even buried kitchen waste directly into the soil via a deeper hole/trench. Wait six months and plant above. My compost volume ability is very limited.
The effect this shortage will have on the major agro folks will be stunning. And I am already stunned by the current conditions. Yikes.
I am working on growing veggies with more calories. Perhaps I’ll grow sweet potatoes this spring, here in NE Florida. Collards, cabbage, onions, lettuce are in the ground now for the cool season. Wish me luck.
Thanks for the great article.
You’re welcome, and good luck! Believe me I feel ya. The potting mix I’ve always used for my containers is $16/bag this year, up from $13 if I can’t get it half off, and I usually use 10 bags. I’m not paying that if I can avoid it, so I’m composting everything I can as well and looking into alternatives. City regulations limit the size of both my garden and my compost pile. Phooey.
Have you considered growing squash? Huge variety, lots of calories. They take up lots of room but are very prolific.
Look into Bokashi, it’s a Japanese composting method. I’ve been doing it for 2 years and I’m a fan. I live in a dry climate and I just can’t seem to get a compost pile to work. I’ve been doing trench composting for years and Bokashi is a jump start for that.
Basically I use a 5 gal bucket layering kitchen waste with Bokashi flakes and keeping a tight lid on it (it’s an anaerobic process.) You can put pretty much anything in including raw and cooked meats, cheese, weeds. No careful balancing of green and brown like traditional composting.
It smells like pickles, not over whelming. You neighbors won’t know you have it. Once the bucket is full I set it aside for about 2 weeks and start a new bucket. After the two weeks (or more) I dig it into the garden like trench composting. Inside of a month very little recognizable material is left. It draws earthworms in as a bonus. I buy the flakes on Amazon and a 2 kg package lasts me about a year. You can also produce your own flakes.
I’ll look into that! Thanks!
For those who haven’t figured it out yet, (probably does not apply to those here) this is all intentional and part of the planned world genocide. Or democide, if you prefer.
I do keep trying. Moved from NC to FL. Started plants a couple weeks ago. The “plants” are growing (tiny things), but honestly I’ve gotten a huge bucket of nothing.
As this is about gardening and therefore food think it’s a great spot to post this.
Farmers’ Land Confiscated for ‘Carbon Pipeline’ through Corn Belt
by Ice Age Farmer | Nov 9, 2021 | Podcast
it’s included in the “infrastructure” (?) bill.
The reason that we’ve move away from “organic” farming is that it is inefficient at best, allows dangerous heavy metals to be applied (e.g., copper) at worst. Cover crops? Hit and miss at best. If you wish to discuss the SCIENCE of organic production, I am available to you. If you embrace “organic” production as a religion, then please go your own way in peace.
As someone with over 30 years of knowledge in all aspects of farming naturally, organically and conventionally, experience in the fertilizer business (organic and conventional) and with a soil chemistry background, I can honestly call this article “fear pornography.” Prices are going up for sure, exceeding the 2008 prices. You can still obtain fertilizer without much problem (Urea, MAP, DAP, Potash, secondary and micronutrients as needed).
If you wonder about soil fertility, download the Oklahoma State Soil Fertility Handbook at https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/print-publications/e/soil-fertility-e-1039.pdf It may be a boring read, but will provide a good basis of understanding for soil fertility and most importantly, the plants nutrient requirements, from East to West Coast, from Canada down through Mexico.
But to all, I wish you the best! The more you know…
I believe Gabe Brown from North Dakota would disagree with you. He has been using cover crops for a couple of decades and is making more money and no dependent on synthetic fertiziliers or herbicides. There are thousands going this route check it out.
So, CF industries didn’t close down their two plants in the UK?
I felt the article was insightful and prompted folks to look to alternative amendments for fertilizer needs and offered a basic prepper on plant requirements. Didn’t read the militant organic dogma I too find infuriating in other articles on the web.
IMO, as the links in supply chain (are) breaking, some consumers of fertilizer will have difficulty getting fertilizer. Larger bulk purchasers will be ok here in USA (for now) but small and mid-size operators will have to cut back on planting or find a different crop outside the CWB rotation with lowered NPK needs.
I’m planting 30 acres of buckwheat next spring. I’ll disk it under before flower as and use it as a manure crop. Then plant a 90 day corn.
Cover crops do work. Just have to understand the soil and plant needs.
Suddenly I feel the need to clean up my mom´s terrace and start building a recycled soda bottle setup of growing “beds”…
Sounds like a plan, my friend! If we can’t grow any more horizontally, then we grow UP! Square foot gardening and other intensive practices all use the vertical plane. And I saw an actual soda pop bottle garden this past summer. It was awesome!
Point of correction, and I apologize if someone already pointed this out. Chlorophyll does not contain Iron (Fe). The key element in the middle of the porphyrin ring is Magnesium (Mg). If you remove that Mg and replace it in the porphyrin ring with Fe, you get a Heme molecule. The same Heme that helps carry Oxygen in our red blood cells.
You’re right, and thank you for pointing that out! Here’s a link for anyone interested:
These inputs are required to produce the amount of food needed to feed everyone. A lack of fertilizer will cut significantly into food production. That, of course, will lead to even higher prices at the grocery store.