What Fertilizers Are Used in Organic Farming? | 3 Categories

With the new healthy and environmentally conscious philosophy, it is no surprise that organic fertilizer is becoming more and more popular. I was recently working on improving my home garden and lawn, and I wanted to know how to do it completely organically. So, I did some in-depth research and called a few pros, and this is what I found out.

There are 3 categories of organic fertilizers: Mineral, animal source, and plant. Commonly used organic fertilizers include manure, fish emulsion, guano, alfalfa meal, and seaweed. However, other “homemade” organic fertilizers, typically in the form of compost, are also being employed by gardeners.

Now let’s discuss the various types, applications, and benefits of organic fertilizers. We’ll even give you some ideas on a few homemade options that you can get started with today.


Organic vs. Inorganic Fertilizer

First, let’s establish the differences between organic and synthetic fertilizers. As you already know, fertilizers are commonly used as a type of support to aid in the growth, fertility, and productiveness of plants and crops.

Organic fertilizer is composed solely of materials that come from either plants and/or animals. Most commonly, these materials are gathered from compost, manure, leaves, and naturally occurring processes.

With its natural content, it is not uncommon for a farmer (either commercial, local, or even amateur) to adopt a more environmentally friendly approach when implementing fertilizer to their crop.

Inorganic fertilizer, also known as synthetic fertilizer, however, is created by processes that involve artificial manufacturing and synthetic materials. These processes inevitably create unwanted gas releases that are harmful to the Earth and our animals.

Commercial Organic Farming

To assure a consistent understanding, the United States Department of Agriculture has developed standards that must be met before a product may carry the USDA Organic label.

Farmers, industrial agriculture companies, and fertilizer manufacturers thus have the option to produce products within or without regard to organic standards.

Types of Organic Fertilizers

  • Mineral- Guano, peat, fossil products including greensand, limestone, and phosphate
  • Animal Source- Manure, blood meal, bone meal, fish meal, fish emulsion, feather meal & chicken meal
  • Plant- Compost, humic acid, amino acids, seaweed extract, alfalfa meal. Also, natural enzyme-digested proteins and decomposing crop residue (green manure).

Fertilization vs. Soil Amendment

To produce organically certified produce, the entire treatment given for the prior three years must be managed.

As crops grow, fertilizers are applied to feed needed nutrients from sowing to harvesting. Soil amendments are applied and often turned into the soil to prepare or replenish the nutrient levels prior to sowing.

The quantities of various organic fertilizers and soil amendments to apply are governed by the production required, the growing conditions, and the residual impact on the natural land and water resources.


Organic fertilizer may be produced in solid or liquid form. Application of the fertilizer is directed by the type of fertilizer and the desired result.

Solid Fertilizer Application

  • Broadcasting- At the time of sowing, to mix with soil. Or, top dressing for closely sown crops.
  • Placement- Fertilizer is placed in a specific position without regard to the seed.
  • Band Placement- Fertilizer is placed in bands throughout the field based on the crop.
  • Pellet Application- Pellets of nitrogenous fertilizer our buried 2-5cm deep among paddy crops.

Liquid Fertilizer Application

  • Starter Solutions- Applied at transplanting to aid seedlings, labor-intensive.
  • Foliar Application- Solution is sprayed onto the foliage of growing plants. Good for micronutrients, caution must be used to avoid burning of the foliage.
  • Fertigation- Water soluble fertilizers are introduced via irrigation water.
  • Injection- Liquid fertilizer is injected beneath the surface to introduce nutrients directly to the root system.
  • Aerial- Liquid fertilizer is deployed via a small fixed-wing plane or helicopter.

Related must-read article: How Long Does It Take for a Plant to Grow? | Complete Guide.

Organic Gardening

Organic fertilizers are also available to the home gardener who wants to be environmentally conscious and/or diet concerned.

Benefits of Organic Fertilizer

Organic fertilizer significantly increases the quality of your soil. Higher-quality soil directly leads to improved water retention. Ultimately, a hydrated plant will perform throughout the year, and yield desired outcomes for a longer period.

Additionally, the raised levels of activity in regard to bacteria and fungal properties in the soil will also promote healthier and stronger plants, all achieved without synthetic material.

Environmental Benefits

Too often are, synthetic fertilizers consumed by animals and even people. Most commonly, because of their toxic nature, they can be extremely harmful and even lethal if consumed in large quantities.

Organic fertilizer, however, is completely safe for the environment, your family, and even your pets. Furthermore, if your farm is located near bodies of water, rest assured, any runoff into them is completely harmless.

Types of Organic Fertilizers for Gardening

The following is a list of popular organic fertilizers, along with their nutrient makeup, available to all gardeners:

  • Alfalfa Meal – 2.5% Nitrogen, 1% Phosphorus, 1.5% Potassium
  • Bat Guano – 8% N, 6% P, 1% K
  • Fish Emulsion – 9% N, 0% P, 0% K
  • Cotton Seed Meal – 6% N, 3% P, 1% K
  • Seaweed – 1% N, 2% P, 5% K
  • Cow Manure – 2.5% N, 1% P, 1.5% K
  • Poultry Manure – 3.5% N, 1.5% P, 1.5% K
  • Greensand – 1% N, 1% P, 5% K
  • Compost – 2% N, 1.5% P, 1.5% K
  • Soybean Meal – 3% N, 0.5% P, 2.5% K
  • Blood Meal – 12% N, 1.5% P, 0.5% K
  • Bone Meal – 4% N, 20% P, 0% K
  • Feather Meal – 12% N, 0% P, 0% K
  • Fish Meal – 10% N, 5% P, 4% K

Price Difference Between Organic and Inorganic Fertilizers

Although significantly more costly, an organic fertilizer will inevitably promote its value over time due to its multitude of benefits. These benefits include:

  • Continuous soil improvement
  • Improved soil texture
  • Increased soil composition

Inorganic fertilizer might cost less in the beginning, but due to its properties, repeat purchases will have to be made. This fact possibly makes the cost higher over time compared to an initial investment of organic fertilizer.

17 Common Homemade Fertilizers to Get Started

It can be tempting to begin your fertilizing by going to the nearest department store and purchasing the ready-to-apply products. However, you can save on the initial cost by trying out your own organic fertilizer using items already located within your home.

In fact, most of these items are typically discarded. With the following list, you can begin storing your own organic fertilizer for a fraction of this price while being environmentally friendly and repurposing waste:

  1. Grass clippings
  2. They are rich in nitrogen (crucial for producing sugars from water and carbon dioxide during photosynthesis) and act as a natural weed blocker.
  3. Tree leaves
  4. These are perfect for attracting earthworms and contain a copious amount of trace minerals.
  5. Kitchen scraps (compost) to include: eggshells, lemon wedges, banana peels, vegetable pieces, and cooking water.
  6. Due to their slow release of nutrients, compost not only promotes moisture retention, it is also essential for gardens to thrive during brutal summer days.
  7. Used coffee grounds
  8. Coffee grounds’ acidic properties make them ideal to help your soil acidify. It especially works best with plants such as blueberries, roses, and tomatoes.
  9. Aquarium water or “dirty fish water”
  10. With its high content of bacteria, phosphorus, potassium, nitrogen, and trace nutrients, there is no question why this power water is beneficial to your plants. However, if the water has been exposed to chemicals for treatment, do not use it as it is not as healthy as an organic mixture.
  11. Corn gluten meal
  12. With nitrogen being an important element to plant growth, corn gluten meal will provide 10% nitrogen by weight as protein, slowly releasing to the soil and decomposing over a couple of months.
  13. Green tea
  14. It contains acidic properties similar to the used coffee grounds. Additionally, it raises oxygenation levels and helps roots become stronger.
  15. Wood ash
  16. This is an exceptional source of both lime and potassium. Additionally, wood ash contains trace elements essential to a plant’s growth.
  17. For best results, combine the wood ash with compost–this will avoid the production of lye.

All of these options are readily available in most homes and is an inexpensive option to get started. They are nutrient-rich and provide moisturizing properties to help your plants acquire all the nutrients they need.

Federal Code & Certification

In the United States, the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) houses the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (Title 7 Agriculture, Subtitle B, Chapter I, Subchapter M, Part 205, Subpart G – Administrative).

Through the National Organic Program (Part 205) the USDA authorizes accredited certifiers and a dozen states to certify produce as organic and allow said product to carry USDA organic-certified labeling. Produce can be certified organic if no prohibited substances have been applied to the ground for three years prior to harvest. Most synthetic fertilizers contain prohibited substances.

Banned Organic Substances

The following non-synthetic substances are also banned from organic farming (ref. §205.602 CFR):

  • Ash from manure burning.
  • Arsenic.
  • Calcium chloride, brine process is natural and prohibited for use except as a foliar spray to treat a physiological disorder associated with calcium uptake.
  • Lead salts.
  • Potassium chloride-unless derived from a mined source and applied in a manner that minimizes chloride accumulation in the soil.
  • Rotenone (CAS # 83-79-4).
  • Sodium fluoaluminate (mined).
  • Sodium nitrate-unless use is restricted to no more than 20% of the crop’s total nitrogen requirement.
  • Strychnine.
  • Tobacco dust (nicotine sulfate).

Some synthetic products are allowed during organic crop production as outlined in §205.601 CFR. The use of these products can not contribute to the contamination of crops, soil, or water.

Final Thoughts

I hope this article has helped give you the info you need to decide which types of fertilizers to use. Let me know which you go with and how you are using it in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

For more, don’t miss How Many Acres Can One Person Farm by Hand? | Key Factors.

Anne James

Anne James has a wealth of experience in a wide array of interests and is an expert in quilting, cooking, gardening, camping, mixing drinks (bartending), and making jelly. Anne has a professional canning business, has been featured in the local newspaper as well as on the Hershey website, and has been her family canner for decades. Anyone growing up in the South knows that there is always a person in the family who has knowledge of the “old ways,” and this is exactly what Anne is. With over 55 years of experience in these endeavors, she brings a level of hands-on knowledge that is hard to surpass. Amazingly, she doesn’t need to reference many resources due to her vast wealth of experience. She IS the source. Anne wants nothing more than to pass on her extensive knowledge to the next generations, whether that be family or anyone visiting her website, her YouTube channel, or survivalfreedom.com.

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