Vegan gardening
March 23, 2021 7:07 AM   Subscribe

I have a small urban community garden plot to grow veggies. I'm looking at ways to enhance and nourish the soil without using products that contain animal ingredients (most of the organic fertilizers have bone meal, blood meal, and chicken feather meal or fish-based ingredients). If you garden with non-animal based products, I'd love your recommendations for specific organic vegan brands of fertilizers and soil amendments that can be purchased online. Links especially appreciated!

Bonus: links to vegan gardening websites, videos, info guides would be awesome.
posted by Pineapplicious to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I use liquid seaweed fertiliser in my garden. As I'm in the UK, I buy a brand that isn't available in the States but if you search for liquid seaweed or liquid kelp you'll find plenty of options. It's very rich in nutrients and enriches the soil.
posted by essexjan at 7:13 AM on March 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I worked at a grow store for a bit and got some free samples of mycorrhizae. It made my plants super happy.

For general resources, try the terms stockfree or veganic gardening.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 7:15 AM on March 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

You may not need to buy anything at all. Used coffee grounds or used tea leaves are a couple things that can be used as a fertilizer; 100% vegan, and a great way to keep stuff out of a landfill.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:20 AM on March 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

Do you know that your soil is lacking fertility? Intensive fertilizers are only necessary if your soil is heavily degraded, eg through many years of bad gardening. Most urban soils are fine for growing veggies, and everything you need for next year is the scraps you compost from this year.

Compost is the the normal/free method for enriching soil with nutrients and organic material. You can buy that from any landscaping center or nursery if you can't wait. But unless you have a soil test or an expert with eyes on the area telling you that your soil is bad, it's reasonable to assume it's fine, in my experience around the US in a variety of states and cities.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:40 AM on March 23, 2021 [10 favorites]

Best answer: A longer term approach is to grow a cover crop of clover or another crop over the winter to add nitrogen and organic matter. You can also use human urine to add nitrogen. Know anyone with a wood stove or fireplace who burns cordwood? not pallets or other junk. Wood Ashes -> potash -> potassium and lime. Many small farms make manure available, if that's acceptable to you. Coffee shops may have grounds in quantity. These things work better if they are composted, manure must be composted.

I recommend composting; many community gardens have a pile, see if it's vegan and start a vegan pile if not. Would you consider manure acceptable? Many farms, esp. small ones, make it available. When I started my raised bed, I used a base of scavenged newspapers and cardboard with tape and clay-coat paper removed, and many big paper bags of leaves. I've since found a good source of grass clippings, which speed the compost. I never turned my compost until I scavenged a rolling composter, and it just takes longer that way. I never worry about the brown:green balance.

Gardening is local. In the US, connect with the Cooperative Extension Service for resources. In my area, there's at least 1 local company producing excellent organic compost and other garden amendments. I don't recommend having stuff shipped any distance because it's a poor use of fossil fuel, but you may have a similar local source.
posted by theora55 at 8:22 AM on March 23, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I just buy compost from my local community composting initiative, which makes it from garden waste etc.
posted by penguin pie at 8:24 AM on March 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Hugelkultur and permaculture might be what you're looking for. Rather than practices that require or call for routine amendments to supplement depleted soil ecology, you instead rebuild the soil ecology. Bury organic material, char, etc. and let the soil ecosystem rebound, repopulate, and do the work. Many, many, many reference texts in your local library, and there is quite possibly a demonstration garden in your area that has locale-specific information. When I moved to San Francisco, I just so happened to move in next to one of these demonstration gardens. It was very cool. I never used a lick of fertilizer or soil amendments, but I did create a bunch of buried-wood-etc. mounds, especially along the edges of my property (which also kept rainwater from sheeting down the slope into neighbors' yards) and enjoyed the bounty of a garden that got lusher and more wildlife-y every year. I just moved away from SF a few weeks ago, and at my socially-distant going away shindig, so many neighbors came by to say how much they'd enjoyed watching my yard go from wasteland to eden over the eight years it was mine. Dang, I miss that yard already.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:29 AM on March 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I really love Down to Earth supplements. They have a bunch of single ingredient fertilizers for different uses, I would email and check they don't have animal product extras, but they do have a mix that is specifically vegan here.
posted by emotionalmotionsickness at 10:34 AM on March 23, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks for the info/suggestions/recommendations so far. Some info that might be helpful for anyone else who comes in to answer:
-my plot is 3 feet x 6 feet. A raised bed in an urban community garden in NYC. This is my 2nd year planting.
-Last spring and summer I regularly scattered small bits of spent coffee grounds around the plants
-I was pleased with what the garden gave me as a complete novice to gardening
-Now that this is my second year, I want to do more!
-In January I topped the soil with Christmas tree mulch
-I will need to add soil (the soil is both depleted and we have gardeners who steal soil from other plots. ugh)
-I'm very interested in having healthy soil and happy plants
-My garden does not do composting, though I am planning on obtaining compost from other local sources.
posted by Pineapplicious at 10:36 AM on March 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Mushroom compost (the lowest cost vegan compost I've found for commercial purchase) or home-made compost from *somewhere* as a soil amendment, and a thickish layer of your chosen mulch (I usually go with wood chips, lucerne, or sugar cane) is quite sufficient.

The compost will give the soil an immediate boost and the mulch will benefit the soil over the longer term.

For the next growing season, give it all a good turn, replenish stolen soil (I agree with your ugh), dig in more compost, plant, add more mulch, and off you go.

I'd personally steer clear of liquid fertilizers as you're basically paying for water to be shipped from one place to another. If you're keen on liquid fertilizer buy it dry and mix it with water on-site.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:26 PM on March 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've used alfalfa meal as a vegan nitrogen supplement.

You can pile a ton of old leaves on in the fall and let them break down over the winter. If you want to grow things in the winter, pile some dirt & compost on top of the leaves. Either way, you'll get an increased volume of soil (note, however, that leaves will lose most of their volume as they break down) and a bunch of extra carbon matter and trace nutrients. Adding a nitrogen-rich fertilizer may accelerate decomposition, too.

Strawbale gardening could work for you too: get strawbales, apply high-nitrogen fertilizer until they start to decompose, and plant directly into the bales. By next year they'll probably have decomposed into decent (if somewhat straw-y) soil. Just get bales with minimal seeds, otherwise you'll be growing a lot of grass!

You can probably compost at home if you want to. Worm bins usually fit under a sink, and bokashi composters are even smaller.
posted by sibilatorix at 3:28 PM on March 23, 2021

Do you know that your soil is lacking fertility? Intensive fertilizers are only necessary if your soil is heavily degraded, eg through many years of bad gardening.

If you really want to know what's going on in your plot, get a soil test. Honestly, everyone should do this because 1) fertilizers are expensive 2) can be ecologically damaging 3) should be applied for specific reasons and for specific outcomes, and the tests will tell you that.

Meanwhile, cover crops are great, you can't really go wrong there. Compost is highly variable: steer manure, for example, can be very salty if it comes from feed lots. Mushroom compost can also be very salty- you definitely never want to use it for germinating seeds or very young seedlings, and it can also have residual chemicals from products used to treat fungus gnats in mushroom growing operations. Try to find organic compost from garden waste if possible.

Don't add wood ash unless you know your soil is acidic: in soils with a pH of 6.5 (which is optimal) wood ash increases the alkalinity of the soil and disrupts uptake of nutrients by plants, particularly things like iron.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:41 AM on March 24, 2021

Oh, human urine: also salty. If you use it in an arid environment this is an issue; not so much if you water regularly or it rains often. For vegetable gardening it is usually fine because irrigation is consistent. However wait until plants are established before adding nitrogen. Nitrogen pushes top growth at the expense of a balanced root system.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:46 AM on March 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

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