Organic Matter – Organic Fertilizer

Being able to grow  nourishing delicious vegetables (or beautiful plants) year after year depends on what you use as organic matter

and how much of this organic matter you put into your soil as organic fertilizer.

Using organic matter (or an organic fertilizer) is of prime importance because it . . .

1. improves the soil by preventing it from compacting and crusting.
2. increases the water’s holding ability so earthworms and other microorganisms can aerate the soil
3. slows down erosion and
4. in later stages of decay, organic matter is able to release nitrogen and other nutrients which help the crops grow.

Using organic matter is a technique which is old but is now making a come back.  Why?

The conventional method of using synthetic materials such as synthetic fertilizer and pesticides have ruined the soil and depleted it of organic matter to such a degree that the soil does not produce very well any more.

The soil contains fewer and fewer nutrients, the plants are less and less healthy, so insects abound and spraying insecticides is a must.   After some years, your vegetables are tasteless, lack nutrients, and just don’t grow well.

(You may want to read about the unadvertised ramifications when vegetables are grown with synthetic fertilizers rather than grown organically  as explained in Grow Your Own Vegetables.    Also,  scroll about three quarters  down the page to read David Suzuki ‘s warning about pesticide/insecticides on our food.)

Different Forms of Organic Matter Usable as Organic Fertilizer

Fresh Animal Manure

Believe it or not, the best form of organic matter comes from animal manure. The fresher the better because you can apply this directly to the soil.

HOWEVER fresh manure should be applied only in the fall or MINIMUM two months before planting and plowed down to give it adequate time for sufficient breakdown and ammonia to release before the planting season begins.

Caution:  Know Your manure!!!

While animal manure can be a great way to improve your soil, it is essential that you check where it’s coming from.

Manure from a non-organic farm is likely to be polluted with residues of veterinary products such as antibiotics that are fed to most intensively reared farm animals on a daily basis, or the remains of toxic worming products.  Get your manure from an organic farm or a local source that can provide guarantees regarding its purity so that you are sure that your organic matter will do the job of nourishing the soil and not contaminating it.

Dry Animal Manure

If you don’t have access to fresh animal manure, you can use the dried version that is being sold in nurseries and garden stores.  Cattle and sheep manure are  the most popular.  This dried version can be used immediately when you plant or transplant.

A good way to save somewhat is to dig the hole where you wish to transplant and mix dry manure with the soil you took out of the hole; then, use this mixture to refill the hole around your new plant.  If you are using seeds, use a stick to draw a line where you want to plant  and simply mix in the  dry manure with the existing soil along that line.  Then put in your seed as per directions on the package, cover, and water.


Not because organic is bad but because the use of the word can be.  Gardening items that are labelled as “organic” need only be of  “living origin”.  so your organic manure might be from battery chickens.

Only those products that are certified as organic by an official certifying body or carry the label “certified organic” are guaranteed to have been produced under strict organic standards and therefore qualify as proper organic matter for your soil.

Of course if your gardening center are pro organic, they will probably make sure their products are the real thing.  Just ask.

Here in Canada, as far as I know,, where the nincompoop which looks like earth but works like mulch originated,  seems to be the only one at this time (fall 2009) that carries the ” certified organic” label, and they sell their products through Home Hardware, Tru Serve, A&P, and Sobeys.

I’m sure that in the future, more companies will become “certified organic” as people become more aware of what is organic matter and will begin asking questions.


For those who don’t use manure, you can use compost instead. This type of organic matter can be made from lawn clippings, leaves, food waste and other plant materials. It is cheap but its nutrient content will depend on the  materials you have used to make your backyard compost.

The ebook How To Make Compost In Your Back Yard outlines hot and cold composting and what materials can be added to your compost pile plus two other composting methods in easy-to-understand step-by-step  explanations from A to Z.   Alternately you can simply browse through the composting explanations at blog

Green Manure
There is another kind of manure which is better known as green manure. No animal is used to create this excellent type of organic matter.

Green manure means growing a cover crop such as alfalfa in your garden and then plowing it under so you are adding organic matter to the soil. The best way to maximize this method is for you not to use the garden for one season.

Alternatively you can sow the seeds of the plant you are using for your green manure in the fall and then turn it under with a plow or a large tiller in the early spring — at least one month before planting. That way, you can use your garden normally while at the same time building up the soil.

organic matter - green manure

Alfalfa – best organic matter ~ istockphoto

Alfalfa is the best organic matter for green manure.  You can seed it in the fall and plow it under in the early spring before it comes to seed.  Annual ryegrass is also  good  for green manuring and covering.   If this is not available, you can use  rye or wheat.

One great advantage of planting green manure seeds is that it helps prevent weeds from growing. Remember though that in order for this green manure to be effective, you must plow it under at least one month before you  plant. . . AND NEVER allow it to flower and create seed.

Sewage Sludge

Sewage sludge is also a good source of organic matter. There are two types: digested sludge and dried activated sludge.

The digested sludge is relatively low quality. It contains from 1 to 3 percent of nitrogen and should only be applied during the fall. But BE CAREFUL:  it sometimes contain metal ions that are not good to use on vegetable gardens.

The second, the dried activated sludge, has been separated from coarse solids, inoculated with microorganisms and aerated. This activated sludge is better than the digested  sludge because it is filtered, dried in kilns and screened. It contains 5 to 6 percent of nitrogen and 5 to 7 pounds can cover an area of 100 square feet. (I’ve used the dried activated sludge  on my lawn and it worked well. I was a bit leery about putting it in my garden soil. I preferred the green manure.)

Take note that these two types are different from raw sewage. That being said, never use raw sewage to garden any soil.

Keeping your soil nourished and able to sustain and grow lush, nourishing, delicious vegetables can only happen if you use  organic matter or organic fertilizers — with compost and manure (animal or green) being the top best.


BIO: A gardener since the 70’s, Marcie Snyder knows that it is important to grow your own vegetables and plants organically.
You will find loads of great tips in her FREE ebook “The Complete Guide to Organic Vegetable Gardening” (OVG GUIDE), as well as a very comprehensive step-by-step ebook detailing 4 methods of composting. Check for more articles at

Please note: You can use my articles on your blog as long as you use it as is without changing any of the text and you include my bio with my website link.

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