Organic Gardening Blog

Welcome to my organic gardening blog. At certain times of year I post gardening tips weekly and other times much less frequently. Sign up for my ebook over to the right if you want to get my best stuff :)

Dry Fertilizer

I’m a big fan of organic liquid fertilizer.

But there’s also an important use for organic dry fertilizer.

I use liquid fertilizers mainly to provide small amounts of 80+ nutrients directly as a plant fertilizer, and also as a soil fertilizer.

Doing this plays a big part in helping me grow nutrient-dense food.

And yet some nutrients we need in the soil more than others, the big three in the organic world being calcium (Ca), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).

We need to have enough of them in the soil, but not too much.

(I know that npk fertilizer is stressed in the conventional world, and yes, nitrogen fertilizer is sometimes useful too, but it’s really not all that hard to get enough nitrogen - calcium is much more important to get right, so that’s my focus today).

The benefits we get when we move those three minerals in our soil towards the ideal amounts are many: healthier plants, fewer pests and weeds, better soil structure, etc.

That’s where dry fertilizer comes in...

Click for video transcription

Before we get into products that you can purchase to bring into the garden that are microbial inoculants I wanted to talk briefly about how we can culture our own micro-organisms.

The easiest example of that would be to go into a nearby forest and get a little bit of soil, bring it into the garden or the compost pile and what you're doing there is you're bringing in a different set of micro-organisms. Or if you went also to a, like a pond - a marshy area- that would be a different set of microbes, too and you can bring that to your compost pile or just kind of spread it on your garden.

And that's a great way to bring in a different set of microbes. Now we don't want to be bringing in wheelbarrows full of soil from other ecosystems, but just a little bit is a great idea. What I want to show you today is something else that I've done a few times just for fun mainly, is to culture my own lactobacillus which is a very important group of bacteria that do a lot of good things in the soil.

I don't tend to do it that often because they are in the product effective micro-organisms along with another group, another couple of groups of microbes that are really important, really beneficial when you get them altogether. Whereas this is just mainly the lactobacillus.

But, I like to do it because it's just neat to show you how you can culture your own microbes and beneficial ones at that. It will also be useful for - it's great for kids - but it's also good if you don't want to bring in too many external inputs but you want to do something beneficial for the garden this is useful. So, what I'll do here is I'll turn the camera down to the table here. And I'll show you.

Ok. So what I'm going to do here - it's a couple of weeks it takes - but there's not much. The first step is to take a small amount of rice. I don't know I have about a quarter cup of rice here and I'm going to rinse it in a little bit of water. And I'm just rinsing it, getting all that, you know when you rinse rice it gets to be a nice murky water and I guess that's kind of a going to be a substrate for microbes to grow on also maybe there will be some microbes in there, on the rice, too.

And then what I'm going to do is strain that into another container - into this container here - and I'm just going to put it into a maximum of fifty percent full. I'll do more about twenty-five percent full so really you want the container to be fifty to seventy-five percent empty.

Now what I'm going to do is loosely cover it up, make sure some air can get in there and leave it at room temperature for about a week and then we'll see what happens next. It's been a week and there's some yellow showing up in the water which is the rice bran and I want to kind of separate that out and just take the underlying part and that's what I'm going to do now. I may need to strain it out, I don't have the best strainer.

And what I'm going to be doing is I'm going to be adding 10 times as much milk, so I guess I should have said at the beginning if you're vegan you're not going to want to do this. And my family none of us drink milk anymore so I had to go borrow some but what you probably want to do is put it in a  bigger container. What I'm going to do is just take not too much.

There that worked pretty well to strain that out. So what's going on now is we have various micro-organisms in here, some of them will be lactobacillus. When I add the milk it's going to - it's not going to feed the other ones - but it's going to feed primarily the lactobacillus.

I think you can use like skim milk, powdered milk things like that, but I think real milk is best. I'm guessing cows milk is best for this. So I'll stir that around a bit and then I'm going to leave this for another week or so.

Just again with a loose lid. Here we have the finished lactobacillus, it's only been a couple of days but it's pretty warm out so it happened really quickly and you can see what happens here is there's some white stuff floating on the top here, it kind of smells like cheese because that's lactic acid bacteria or the main micro-organisms in cheese and I don't really want that stuff I just want to throw that into the compost bin or something like that.

So what I'll do here is see if my strainer works, strain it out. Can you see underneath there's kind of a clear, yellow liquid? That's what I'm looking for. That's what I want to try and pour. I hardly even need the strainer. Nice. So now I just have that. And this is what I want.

So here's my lactobacillus and I can mix this week equal parts molasses, if I want to try and store it for awhile and use it over a longer period of time. Obviously that's a lot of molasses. You don't have to use the full amount of molasses but a little bit's nice.

The other thing is you can put it into the fridge and that will help it store even better but the molasses just helps to give some sugar to the microbes if you want to store them. In terms of using it, what I would do is I would take my lactobacillus or my lactobacillus/molasses mixture and put it into twenty parts water when I'm ready to use it.

And you know, in the past what I've done is I've actually used that, that one to twenty ratio, but I think what you're supposed to do is take that and further dilute it one to sixty if I'm understanding it correctly. So really, you're diverting this about one to twelve-hundred parts water, or, I guess simple would be a little less than a teaspoon in a gallon of water.

And then you can spray it onto your organic matter, your compost pile, lactobacillus are great at getting into any anaerobic pockets and decomposing, getting to the ammonium and really decomposing it, controlling odors and things like that.

Also just onto your mulch, onto your plants. Lactic acid bacteria create enzymes and hormones and antibacterial substances and all kinds of good stuff, they're just really microbes. I'll be talking about them more when we get into EM because they're in effective micro-organisms, too.

Incidentally when we do mix this with water we want to do it with non-chlorinated water, nice clean water and I'll talk about that a lot when I get into compost tea because that's really important for brewing compost tea, too.

Hopefully you get a chance to do this just as a, if not just as an interesting experiment but also a very, very inexpensive way to put some of the most important micro-organisms out there into your garden.

A garden inoculant is really just anything we use to bring beneficial microbes into our organic gardens.

These microbes are often deficient for various reasons, but if we can get more of them back in there, they:

  • Make nutrients available to plants and even feed them nutrients and water directly
  • Protect plants from disease both in the soil and above ground
  • Improve the structure of the soil so it has the right amount of air spaces, water spaces, nutrient availability, pH, etc.

Plus there’s a whole list of other services they provide for plants and soil. Pretty cool...

Watch For People Walking
I felt very lucky to spend this past week vacationing with my family on Hilton Head Island.

I recently started selling my favorite organic liquid fertilizers, the same ones I use at home.

But I also like to make my own homemade liquid fertilizer when possible, and that’s what I’m excited to show you today.

Many of our best liquid fertilizers come from the ocean.

But there are ways you can approximate them, if like me, you don’t live near the ocean.

All of these can be used as a liquid lawn fertilizer, liquid plant fertilizer and liquid soil fertilizer.

You might even make enough for multiple applications (such as monthly or weekly).

For all of these homemade fertilizers, I suggest mixing with at least 10 parts water before you spray.

That will allow the fertilizer to cover more area, and will ensure we don’t burn our plants.

And it certainly doesn’t hurt to mix with even more water...

My Organic Garden In Winter

This is what my organic garden looks like today.

Not quite ready to start planting yet, haha, but I’m gearing up for spring.

I’ve been making sure I have my seeds and organic fertilizers and microbial inoculants all ready to rock when the soil warms up.

(Speaking of which, I’ll have an exciting new announcement at the bottom of this post.)

Time for an update!

I'm super excited!

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t post so much here come fall and winter.

That's because most people aren’t really thinking much about gardening anymore.

And that’s okay by me because it gives me time to get into other stuff.

I can't begin to tell you how excited I am about this new project I’ve been working on.

I explain it in the video to the right, and then here's the link...

Click for video transcription

Phil: Check, check, check, one two. Check, check, check, one two.

Hey guys it's Phil from If you haven't checkout out my free online organic gardening course you can do that right on the homepage of

Today we're talking about permaculture garden design. What conventional garden design often focuses on is the aesthetic of the garden and the functionality of the garden so just where things go and how the garden looks. 

Which is fine for most people especially if you're a non-gardener you just want to have a tree that looks nice or a plant that looks nice. Like, I have a Redbud in the background here. It's not the best specimen which is why I actually took it and planted it.v

If the redbuds are in flower, people come out they want to buy that tree because they just want something that looks nice. That's entirely fine and that's a lot of what gardening is, just making something that looks nice.

What we're talking about today is making an ecological approach to garden design where of course we want it to look nice, we want it to work well, but we also want to look at nature and we want to think about it as a integrative kind of system where we're trying to improve biodiversity and clean up the soil and filter water, do a bunch of things that are just improving the health of our little space here.

And not only because we want to be good to the planet, because we want to have a garden that works really well and that doesn't always require our inputs that takes care of itself.

And so that's what we're getting into today with this permaculture design. Permaculture really got started or at least the term was coined in the 1970s and it was the combination of permanent and agriculture. So permanent is really talking about sustainability and something that can take care of itself sustainably and then agriculture is a lot about growing food. 

The principles in permaculture are going to look different in every situation. Sometimes there's a probably that I see in permaculture is where solutions that have maybe worked elsewhere are imposed into our garden because we think we need them. 

So an herb spiral is a way to grow a bunch of herbs in a small area and it's kind of a cool thing in the right situation but now a lot of people think they need an herb spiral because it's a permaculture thing, but with permaculture we really want to focus on the design, on the strategy and on thinking about the principles.

So, the principle is really trying to work with nature instead of trying to conquer nature we're trying to use the energies that are coming on our site, and trying to manipulate them just in such a way that it can help do some of the work for us.

A big thing with permaculture that we're trying to do is to observe and interact with our landscape. If we can somehow spend a few seasons looking at our landscape and observing it we can learn a lot and these are fairly common sense things.

It doesn't have to be difficult if I just look at my forest garden, this very young forest garden I'm putting in behind me, basically kind of a holistic orchard, I noticed observing, that there's a wet area down there seasonally during the spring and sometimes in the winter and so that's where I put - you can maybe see the white blossoms back there - my pear trees, my pear trees can take a little bit moisture whereas my apple trees aren't into that so I have an apple tree right here and another one off camera here, they're up on a high spot.

So that's pretty common sense but it's just things like that. Maybe you can see behind my redbud which has the nice purple flowers right now, there's a cherry tree. 

It's kind of right behind there, but it's a little bit marginal in this area and so I have in the sheltered part of the garden where it's protected from wind it's kind of nice and warm in there, so it's just a fragile tree and that's going to help with that.

So it's really just common sense all the time but it gives us a lot of clues as to how we can work with the landscape and it really can minimize our labor and the inputs we need to bring in and then the problems we encounter if we do this kind of working with the energies and all the things that are going on in our site.

So in nature nothing is lost and that's what we're trying to mimic in our landscapes, too. If we can look at all of the elements in our landscape and figure out how we can provide for them then we can do a lot of good.

And what I mean by elements are things like fruit trees like an apple tree or a veggie garden or my compost pile or a pond or a greenhouse or any kind of major part of the garden. That's an element and that element needs some things in order to be optimal and that element can give a lot of things to us, too, if we can learn how to use them. 

So that could be so many different things it can mean that under my fruit trees I'm trying to plant herbs and other beneficial plants that are going to help that fruit tree and we call that guilding a fruit tree, we call that a guild.

It could be that I put my compost bin somewhere where I can take the heat from that compost and do something with that heat - maybe it helps to heat a greenhouse - or maybe on the other hand maybe the greenhouse...if I put the compost bin in the greenhouse maybe the greenhouse helps to keep the compost bin warm throughout the winter.

So what we want to do is just keep looking at all these elements and on and on and on with the greenhouse I should be capturing water off that greenhouse maybe down in some plants that need a lot of water.

And so on and on we try to think about all these integrations. So what you really want to do is think about all the things you need in your garden all the products you want to get from it, all the things you need and also list all the major elements. 

So fruit trees, greenhouses, all the things I've listed...compost...and think about how those things can all integrate with each other and provide for each other.

[Phil's mom shouting] Hey Phil, how's it going?

Phil: Great, just filming!

This was just a brief introduction to permaculture today what it means is observing your site, working with nature, trying to learn from nature. How can we mimic nature in our garden so that our garden takes care of itself? So we don't have to do so much work and spend so much money and then we can go and start and permaculture somewhere else.

If you have any questions for me ask them down below and I will answer them. If you haven't signed up for my free online organic gardening course you can do that down below. You can join me over on Facebook with my sister at  

Before we even get to these permaculture principles today, it’s a good idea to take some time to choose your goals.

You may want fresh, healthy food, a space to relax and be inspired, impressive flowers to brighten up the street, a play zone for kids – the potential benefits are as diverse as people.

Conventional landscape design tends to look at gardens mostly in terms of aesthetics (e.g. bright fall color) and function (e.g. a privacy screen).

But this approach often doesn’t do a great job of designing the garden as a living ecosystem.

Click for video transcription

Phil: [singing] Oh when the sun beats down oh on the...something, something...ya....

Hey guys it's Phil from if you haven't picked up my free online organic gardening course you can do that right on the homepage of 

Today I'm talking about soil inoculants. Using a soil inoculant might seem kind of strange so I want to start with why you might want to do it. Now I talk about my two favorites are compost tea and effective micro-organisms.

I talk about them elsewhere and they're good soil inoculants but I primarily think of them as plant inoculants. Like a foliar feed that you spray onto your plants. Today I want to talk about soil inoculants.

The reason your soil may be lacking in biological diversity is just some of the things we've done over the years to it. It could be tilling, or past chemical fertilizer use, or pesticide use, or general landscaping practices.

Or it could be just the generally toxic environment we live in with air pollution and water pollution. Some of these things that make their way into your soil. Today I'm going to introduce you to two of my favorite soil microbial and the first is mycorrhizal fungi.

And I remember when I was in the amazon jungle making some videos for you I was talking briefly about the fungi and how when we're standing in a jungle all of the trees, or most of the trees, are going to be connected but this network of fungi underground. 

It's the same in our vegetable garden. And what these guys do is they effectively extend the root system of some of our plants so that they're bringing up nutrients and water, far from in the soil up to the plants and they're protecting the plants from plant predators.

And then the plants are giving them carbohydrates and other food in return, so it's this bartering system and this real cooperation that goes on. And not only that but then all the plants are connected through the same fungal network plants share nutrients and other products and even information.

What I could do to get this fungi is go into a forest and dig up a little soil and then put that soil wherever I want the fungi to be and that can work okay but what I prefer to do is to buy an inoculant online you can even get them on or other places online or in some garden centers and that way I know exactly what I'm getting, I know I'm getting the right fungi for my needs.

And so I'm going to show you what this fungi looks like, it's kind of windy out so I hope it doesn't all blow. There it is, this one is really micronized into a powder form and it will be on some kind of a carrier like humates or rock dust or something like that. 

And then this is nice because I can really get it down right around the seed or the plant roots because you don't want to apply this to the leaves - there's no benefit to that - this relationship occurs at the root level. So that's why the best time to apply it is when you're seeding or when you're planting or when you're growing.

Even in the nursery! If the nursery applied it that way it'd be great, too. So what I'm going to do - I'll show you - here's a tomato plant. And all I need to do is just take a tiny bit of this fungi, this is plenty, all I need really is half a teaspoon or less for this. 

And just put it on the roots, I don't have to get all the roots even if I just do one side that's probably fine - and that way that relationship can happen now.

Next I'm onto legume inoculants. So legumes are peas and beans and clover and vetch and these are really important plants in the garden because they partner up, we call them nitrogen-fixing plants, but really what they do is they partner up with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. 

So they help these bacteria create these little homes on their roots, and then the bacteria can go taking nitrogen out of the air, and turning it into a form that plants can use. And that process is the basis for other other life on earth really because it's these bacteria that get the nitrogen that allow us and animals and plants to build proteins and amino acids, enzymes things like that. 

So a really important process. If your legumes can't find the perfect bacteria in the soil to work with they'll try to work with other bacteria and if they can find some kind of nitrogen bacteria they can make it work okay, but it's not going to be optimal. 

Now you may just be thinking, well, maybe my beans and peas won't be that great - it's just one crop it won't be that big a deal, but to me it's a big deal because  just because of the importance of legumes in improving the soil in our garden.

It's especially a big deal because in every fall I like to seed a cover crop that includes legumes, so I really want them to have their perfect nitrogen-fixing bacteria partners at that point.

And so here I have some black beans as you can see and then some pole beans that are more beige. And what I can do with this inoculant - you can buy an inoculant again in a garden center or online especially online it's easy to find.

You can get it in liquid or more of a dry form. I have the dry form here and it's...there it is...and I just rub it on to all of my seeds at the same time and that's the fastest way to do it. If I were applying a mycorrhizzal inoculant to these seeds I'd do the same thing just sprinkle it right on there and now I have the inoculant on there and I can plant these.

So those are my favorite two soil inoculants: mycorrhizzal fungi and a legume inoculant. There are others that are becoming more popular like trichoderma fungi and there are other nitrogen-fixing bacteria that live freely in the soil not on plant roots and they're interesting but these are still the tried and true ones, so these are the ones I always recommend starting with.

If you have any questions about soil inoculants ask them down below and I'll answer them. If you haven't signed up for my free online organic gardening course you can do that down below. And if you haven't joined me and my sister over on Facebook you can do that at'

Using a soil inoculant may seem kind of unnatural, so let’s start with why it might be a good idea.

The most important life forms in your garden are too small to see.

Microbes cover every soil surface and even inhabit the insides of all larger organisms.

They have a dramatic effect on plant health and nutrition, as well as our own.

In most gardens, the microbiome has been thrown out of balance by things like tilling, chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

And also the generally toxic environment we live in with pollution, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals in our air and fresh water.

I don’t usually create many videos and articles once summer rolls around.

That's because you guys seem to stop tuning in as much this time of year and I often get into other projects of mine as well.

Of course I don’t stop gardening, but that doesn’t take much work once you have a garden that’s functioning pretty well, especially when you're focusing on perennial plants...

Friends' cottage overlooking Lake Huron.

Hey guys, I have a free article for you to download today about organic fertilizing with biostimulants!

Ongoing fertilizing throughout the summer can really help boost plant health/nutrition/yields.

But first, I haven’t posted here for 4 weeks, and I thought I’d catch you up on what’s been going on.

Click for video transcription

Phil: New location, it got cold again. Hey guys, it’s Phil from If you haven’t picked up my free online gardening course, you could do that right on the Home page of Today we’re talking about cover crops for garden.

The least expensive organic fertilizer in the world is cover crops because just for a little bit of seed, which costs hardly anything you can do your whole garden and there are a lot of fertility benefits to cover cropping. So what a cover crop is, is when you plant some seed out into your garden, usually during the offseason when you don’t have any vegetables or anything else growing and you're doing for various reasons but usually to improve the health of the soil and of the garden in general.

Cover crops have a lot of benefits. One of the main ones I often think about is with fertility. If you were to leave your bed without any plants in it over the winter, it will lose a lot of nutrition especially if you get a lot of rain during fall, winter, spring, but if you have a cover crop in there, it’s going to retain those nutrients up into itself and then we’re going to return that cover crop to the soil in some way and so those nutrients are going to stay there. Likewise, it’s also increasing fertility by getting nutrients out of the soil.

The next one is weed and pet control, which I was talking about a couple of weeks ago. With weed control, just by having a crop there that densely covers your soil, it’s going to shade out and crowd out a lot of weeds from starting in the fall and again in the spring, but also many cover crops exude these compounds, we call them allelopathic compounds; basically these toxins that stop other seeds from germinating, so it controls weeds that way. Then with predators, there are many different ways, probably through some compounds that it exudes, they're going to control some predators but also by attracting beneficial insects into your garden and the last one is with organic matter.

A cover crop is photosynthesizing and becoming big and taking in carbon and we’re going to return that carbon to the soil, it’s going to be organic matter. So there’s a lot of fertility increases with cover cropping. So there are many benefits of cover crops. I just listed some of the main ones there and really, they just are about improving our soil and improving plant health, improving garden health.

What I want to do now is list the two different main kinds of cover crops which are legumes and grasses. So legumes are nitrogen-fixing plants, which means, they house these little bacteria on their roots and those bacteria can take nitrogen out of the air and turn it into nitrogen that can be taken up by plants. So they will use a lot of that nitrogen on their own. They may give a little bit up to the soil while they're growing, but mostly it’s when we turn those cover crops in or do something with them before they’ve gone to seed that that nitrogen gets put back into the soil.

One of my favorites is called vetch, which you can kind of see over here and which I’ll hold up to the camera. It’s like this and it grows kind of like almost like a vine. It really grows around and it will grow up any kind of trellis or any kind of other grass that might be around it and it’s a really good nitrogen producer. It’s one of the best in terms of making a lot of nitrogen. This is a red clover, an annual clover that is another good nitrogen producer. A white clover is often a perennial clover and it will be used – it could be used in a lawn or it could be used in an orchard, as a crop it’s going to come back every year and continue to produce nitrogen.

It’s starting to rain here a little bit. Now we’re on to grasses. What I really like about grasses is that they grow big and fast. They create a lot of organic matter for the soil, they control weeds really well because they grow really big and fast and also because they exude these allelopathic compounds into the soil and they also are really good at holding nitrogen and other nutrients in the soil, whereas clover is about creating the nitrogen, the grasses more are really good at holding that nitrogen and keeping it from leaching out.

Two of the main grasses are cereal rye and annual ryegrass. And they’re both know for having these toxins that are really good at controlling weeds and they're just very commonly used throughout much of North America. There are others, I really enjoy oats. I really love oats. They're great for climate like mine, it’s colder and wetter. There are many others.

So the cover crop usually goes into the soil late in the summer or early fall, gives a little bit of time to establish before winter and then it will really grow a lot in the spring before we deal with it in the spring. When it comes the time to decide what you're going to plant, there’s often going to be some local knowledge for your area. The farmers will know, but really what you need to do is just go to your – do a little research online or go to your local garden center and they're going to have crops that are appropriate hopefully. It doesn’t matter that much. That’s why I always say – just pick something and get some kind of crop always covering your soil. What I like to do is mix a legume and a grass and then I get the benefits of both.

So I might do a rye with a vetch, or a clover with an oats, and when spring time comes, those crops are going to start growing again and you want to figure out when you’re going to be planting into your soil which you should always wait for that because we get these late cold spells like we’re having right now and I'm glad I haven’t planted anything in here yet, but what I would do is figure – and we’re going to work backwards and if I'm going to be seeding directly into the soil, a few weeks before that, I want to take out the cover crop.

Now farmers will use herbicides for this if they're conventional farmers. Organic farmers will use some kind of a plough and what organic gardeners will use is this trusty old thing we used to get weeds to, which is a hoe and what you do is just hoe them down – hoe down, hoe them down just like you would a weed, maybe lightly incorporate them into the soil.

I'm not a fan of tilling too much, but if I just lightly incorporate them into the top of the soil, they're going to break down faster and they're going to retain more nutrition, especially nitrogen as less of it is going to be leached if I can lightly incorporate it. Some of it can be left as a mulch too and if you have too much or for some reason you don’t want it to be a mulch, you can move it over into a compost pit and that’s fine too. So it’s just like this. And even just by hoeing it kind of incorporates a fair amount; gets a little soil on top of it.

If you have any questions about cover crops for your garden, you can ask me down below and I’ll answer. If you haven’t signed up for my free online organic gardening course, you can do that down below. You can also join me on Facebook at Phil out.

The least expensive organic fertilizer in the world is - cover crops!

Cover crops for gardens are simply plants that are planted to cover your soil, especially during the off season.

And they can also be used during the growing season, interplanted with food crops or even in ornamental beds.

But they do much more than just cover the soil. Garden cover crops: