As a veganic gardener, your options for fertilizing the soil are different to those of an organic farmer, who uses just about everything under the sun as long as it is not chemical. I don’t use any blood and bone, any fish or animal guts or anything like that.
Compost is very good if you’re serious about growing food. But sometimes it’s not very convenient for a lot of people and it takes a lot of compost to grow vegetables too. So one of the things I discovered is a thing called EM-1 [Effective Microorganisms]. It was invented by a Japanese scientist in the 80’s, who was working on something to make plants healthier and stronger and more resistant to bugs and diseases. And he figured out that the roots of plants like a certain bacillus. He put something together and he called it EM-1. I suggest that if you’re serious about growing food, you should definitely get a bottle of EM-1.
Another thing I would suggest is bokashi. Bokashi is a grain that is inoculated with EM-1 and is anaerobically fermented for a little while and then put in the soil. If you just water around the plants or the soil generally, it grows a white mold that the roots of plants really thrive on.
These two things have been around for 30 years, but are fairly new to a lot of people. They work in all climates, wherever you are. If you have EM, you just mix a tablespoon or two in a gallon of water and then sprinkle it on your plants – just foliar feed your plants with it and you will notice that your plants are very healthy. And it’s good for bug problems. When I grow kale in Hawaii I have had a tremendous problem with bugs. But when I started using EM on the kale, the bug problem disappeared about 98% and I grew some incredibly healthy kale plants.
You can also make an extended version of EM, which cuts the cost down about ¼ of the cost – dilute a quart to make a gallon. I use it almost every other day and it keeps the plants vibrantly healthy. It’s one thing to grow veganically, but if your plants are not healthy you have to do something about that and EM is one of the things that anybody can buy and use.
The way I lay out my crops is a little different than the standard farmer way of growing in rows in a big field. I like to grow in raised beds and I travel so when I get to anyplace I have a garden and I immediately just plant everything I can in that garden. I have starts and EM is especially good with watering starts. And bokashi, if you sprinkle a little bit around the plants and then cover them up with some dirt or compost or even sawdust, you will see those plants grow at least twice as large as other plants that do not have that around it.
In Hawaii I’ve been growing in two or three gardens in the same area for about 17 years and I kind of depleted the soil so I go out of my way to get loads of topsoil and biochar (wood that’s rotted down and burned without oxygen – it’s very fertile and has a lot of worms in it), but I really do feel like EM is a major step in anything you do. But you have to add stuff in the soil and it just depends what is available. I’ve had to seek out things to replace bat guano or worm castings that you might find in a garden store. I have found a few products that are vegan, that have a high nitrogen content, and you add it to water and they really help the plants too.
Where I live in Hawaii, there is a spirulina manufacturing growing place that supplies spirulina tablets to places all over the world. I get the shavings from the spirulina tablets and it’s ag-grade and it’s a very high source of nitrogen and other minerals. And my plants just love that stuff, as long as I work it into the soil and keep it covered. But I don’t expect people to go to the health food store and buy it and use it in their garden – that wouldn’t be very cost-effective! But I sought that out and have been using it.
There are other things you can get, depending on where you are. You might have to go into a plant growing store and ask what they have in the way of the vegan line. There wasn’t that much 15 years ago but now there’s a lot more. I wasn’t a person who did foliar feeding for many years but now I love it because it’s a much better way for me. But it depends on your technique and how much time you have to put into your garden. I found if you want to grow good, really healthy food, you have to put the time in, and that the more time you put into your garden, the better your plants are going to be.