Many of the most popular organic fertilizers and soil amendments contain animal ingredients such as bone meal, blood meal, and chicken feather meal, fish-based fertilizers, and manures. But never fear, there are plenty of vegan alternatives that will keep your garden growing healthy and strong.
Compost. Compost is the best material to add to your soil—it contributes nutrients and organic matter, provides habitat for beneficial microorganisms, and helps improve the soil’s texture. It is pretty much impossible to know what is in commercial compost, especially since more and more municipalities now compost food waste that includes meat and dairy products. Making your own compost ensures that you know exactly what it contains.
Alfalfa Meal. This plant-derived fertilizer is made from alfalfa—a leguminous plant full of nitrogen—and it works well as a substitute for blood meal. The nitrogen in alfalfa meal is quickly released when incorporated into the soil and is often recommended as a rose fertilizer, though I always mix it into the soil before I plant Brassicas (i.e. members of the cabbage family, including broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts).
Kelp Extract. Kelp is an amazing plant-based fertilizer because it contains tons of micronutrients and natural growth hormones. I consider it the secret ingredient to my successful garden. I spray my plants with liquid kelp once a month, and whenever a plant looks a bit piqued. It is amazing how quickly they perk up when dosed with a bit of kelp extract. Kelp extract is sold in both liquid and dry forms (which must be mixed with water). Many kelp fertilizers are also combined with fish products, so read the label carefully before you buy.
Down to Earth Vegan Mix 3-2-2. This great, all purpose granulated fertilizer is completely plant-and-mineral based and contains a good ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Thoroughly mix it into your soil prior to planting.
Willi Galloway is the author of Grow Cook Eat: A Food Lover’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening, and she writes about organic vegetable gardening and seasonal cooking on her blog, DigginFood.