Just as vegans avoid animal products in the rest of our lives, we also avoid using animal products in the garden, as fertilizers such as blood and bone meal, slaughterhouse sludge, fish emulsion, and manures are sourced from industries that exploit and enslave sentient beings. As these products may carry dangerous diseases that breed in intensive animal production operations, vegan-organic gardening is also a safer, healthier way to grow our food.
In veganic growing situations, soil fertility is maintained using vegetable compost, green manures, crop rotation, mulching, and other sustainable, ecological methods. Occasional use of lime, gypsum, rock phosphorus, dolomite, rock dusts and rock potash can be helpful, but we try not to depend on these fertilizers as they are non-renewable resources.
Soil conditioners and fertilizers that are vegan-organic and ecologically sustainable include hay mulch, wood ash, composted organic matter (fruit/vegetable peels, leaves and grass clippings), green manures/nitrogen-fixing cover crops (fava beans/clover/alfalfa/lupines), liquid feeds (such as comfrey or nettles), and seaweed (fresh, liquid or meal) for trace elements.
A border of marigolds helps to deter certain insects, and they also have a root system that improves the soil.
A compost pile consists of food waste such as fruit and vegetable rinds, that is covered by course material like leaves or grass clippings. The object is to create layers of food material alternating with covering material to allow aeration. When a bin is full, the pile is flipped and covered by black plastic or weed mat to protect it from rain and create heat. It can be flipped again after a period of time, so the bottom becomes the top. Cover again and within a couple of months, depending on the climate, nature’s master recycling plan will have taken its course and you will have vitamin-rich soil.
Click here for more information on creating your own organic compost.
Green Manures (and nitrogen-fixing crops)
Green Manure is a cover crop of plants, which is grown with the specific purpose of being tilled into the soil. Fast-growing plants such as wheat, oats, rye, vetch, or clover, can be grown as cover crops between gardening seasons then tilled into the garden as it is prepared for the next planting. Green manure crops absorb and use nutrients from the soil that might otherwise be lost through leaching, then return these nutrients to the soil when they are tilled under. The root system of cover crops improves soil structure and helps prevent erosion. Nitrogen-fixing crops such as vetch, peas, broad beans (fava beans) and crimson clover add nitrogen to the soil as they are turned under and decompose. Cover crops also help reduce weed growth during the fall and winter months.
Liquid Feeds such as Comfrey or Nettles
Fill a container with grass cuttings, nettles, weed or comfrey leaves. Cover with water at a rate of one part brew to three parts water. Cover the container, and leave for two to four weeks. Preferably strain out (through an old stocking) the weed seeds and plant material that will block up the spout of your watering-can. Nettles give the best multi-purpose feed and comfrey alone will give a feed rich in potash.
Hay (and other) Mulches
Using a thick layer of hay to cover the earth feeds the soil with organic matter as it breaks down. It also suppresses weeds and encourages worms to live in your soil. When putting gardens to sleep over the winter, cover them with a very thick layer of hay mulch.
Seaweed (fresh, liquid or meal)
Used for trace elements. Seaweed is best harvested fresh from the sea as opposed to washed up and sitting on beaches. Some veganic gardeners use bulk spirulina or kelp meal (used for potash and trace minerals).
Worm Castings (Vermiculture, Vermicastings, Vermicomposting)
Re-establish natural worm populations in your garden. Composting worms love cool, damp and dark environments (like under black weed mat or a thick layer of hay mulch), and will breed optimally when these conditions are maintained. Worm castings are a rich, all-natural source of organic matter with lots of nutrients and moisture-holding capabilities. Earthworm castings are known to have an extraordinary effect on plant life. They improve the soil structure and increase fertility.
The primary purpose for using lime in the garden is to reduce the acidity of the soil, otherwise known as raising the pH level or ‘sweetening the soil’. Most plants prefer a fairly neutral soil for optimum growth. You can have your soil tested to see if it is acidic or alkaline. Lime also enriches the soil with calcium and magnesium. Calcium is essential for strong plant growth and aids in the absorption of other nutrients. Lime can also be used for breaking up heavy clay soil.
Gypsum (hydrated calcium sulfate)
Gypsum is also used where more calcium is needed, but unlike Lime, it enriches the soil without raising the pH level.
Bokashi is a Japanese term that means ‘fermented organic matter’. EM means Effective Micro-organisms and consists of mixed cultures of naturally occurring, beneficial micro-organisms such as lactic acid bacteria, yeast, photosynthetic bacteria and actinomycetes. It is a bran-based material that has been fermented with EM liquid concentrate and dried for storage. Add to compost to aid in the fermentation of the organic matter. EM Bokashi should be stored in a warm, dry place out of direct sunlight.
A soil amendment and fertilizer. It is mined from deposits of minerals that were originally part of the ocean floor. It is a natural source of potash, as well as iron, magnesium, silica and as many as 30 other trace minerals. It may also be used to loosen heavy clay soils. It has the consistency of sand but has 10 times the ability to absorb moisture.
Alfalfa meal, Flax Seed Meal, Cottonseed Meal and Soya Meal
Sources of nitrogen.
An excellent source of magnesium.
A finely ground rock dust which is the preferred source of calcium and magnesium.
Phosphorus is an essential element for plant and animal nutrition. It is mined in the form of phosphate rock, which formed in oceans in the form of calcium phosphate called phosphorite. The primary mineral in phosphate rock is apatite.
(Note: Rock phosphate was something we used in Shangri-la when we first started our gardens, because we were just learning about different veganic inputs and it seemed like the soil needed phosphorus. We have stopped using it since learning more about its extraction through strip mining, which produces massive amounts of toxic byproducts and devastates animal and plant habitats, not to mention the fact that many mining operations involve unjust labor practices and working conditions.)
Rock Dusts (stonemeal)
Used to re-mineralize soil that has become depleted through industrial and agricultural practices. It releases slowly into the soil and can be applied directly, in combination with other fertilizers, or added to the compost. These products have a highly stimulating effect on microbial activity.
Rock Potash (potassium or wood ash)
Potassium is an essential nutrient that enhances flower and fruit production and helps ‘harden’ foliage to make it less susceptible to disease. Rock potash is very slow-acting. It releases gradually as it weathers, which can take years. Use it when preparing soil before planting.