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Vegan-Organic Information Sheet #1 (60p)
Propagation and Fertilisers
Growing with concern for people, animals and the environment
Organic growing involves treating the
soil, the growing environment and the
world environment as a resource to be
preserved for future generations, rather
than exploited in the short term. Veganorganics means doing this without any
animal products at all, which is not difficult when you know how. All soil fertility ultimately depends on plants and minerals - these do not have to be passed through
an animal in order to work. Fertility can
be maintained by plant-based composts,
green manures, mulches, chipped branch
wood, crop rotations and any other
method that is sustainable, ecologically
benign and not dependent upon animal
The guidelines below do not attempt
to be fully comprehensive. The extent to
which you adhere to any system really depends on you, your conscience and circumstances. We can only do our best with our
available time and money. The VeganOrganic Network has now published
comprehensive Stockfree Organic Standards, which are available to commercial growers and can also be used as a
reference for home growers. Of course,
no one person or organisation knows everything about the subject, so constant
co-operation and updating of ideas and
information is needed.
Whilst conventional cultivation relies
on synthetic chemicals and animal products, traditional organic production also
generally relies on animal wastes and byproducts. Both involve the exploitation
of living creatures, and the inefficient use
of land, water and energy resources. Vegan-organic methods minimise these
drawbacks. Many people who are not
themselves vegan or vegetarian are coming to appreciate that animal-free growing is the most sustainable system: it is
the future of organics.
Make your own seed mixtures
Mixtures for seed raising and potting can
be time-consuming but are worth the
effort. Seed mixtures need to drain freely,
allow for aeration so that they can warm
up quickly and have the ability to retain
moisture. They need to be free from weed
seeds, pests and diseases. A fine texture
ensures that they make good contact with
the seeds. They do not need high levels
of nutrients, just enough to sustain the
seedlings for four to seven weeks.
Stéphane Groleau
Potting shed at Hardwicke
• Two units sieved green waste compost
(at least 12 months old).
• One unit perlite.
• They experimented with adding bark
as a peat alternative but found that it diluted the mix.
1. Basic soil-free mix for seedling modules:
• Two units plant-based compost.
• Two units peat or peat alternative (see
• One unit sharp sand or vermiculite
or perlite.
3. Basic mix for free-standing transplant
• Two units plant-based compost.
• Three units peat.
• Two units coarse sand or vermiculite
or perlite.
2. Tolhurst Organic Produce has had
success with:
Photograph by Stéphane Groleau
With home-made mixes it is impossible to be sure of the suitability of each
batch, as the ingredients will vary from
one season to the next. The following
mixes should be suitable for raising seedlings but have not been rigorously tested:
To the above three mixes you can add
the supplements of:
• 1/8 unit base fertiliser (see below).
1/8 unit seaweed meal.
1/8 unit lime.
1/8 unit colloidal phosphate.
However, seedlings will still grow without these supplements.
The ingredients must be mixed well to
form a uniform end product. First weigh
out the units in buckets. It will be necessary to sieve coarse materials. Spread the
contents on a clean, hard surface and mix
in the same way that you would with
cement using a spade or shovel, piling
them up in a heap and turning it in. For
larger quantities, it is worth using a cement mixer. Seed mixtures are better if
they are six months old.
To the above mix you can add the supplements of:
• 1/8 unit base fertiliser (see below).
• 1/8 unit seaweed meal.
• 1/8 unit lime.
• 1/8 unit colloidal phosphate.
However, plants will still grow without
these supplements.
Animal-Free Base Fertilisers
Base fertilisers are very different from
supplementary fertilisers in that the nutrients need to be released slowly so that
they are available to the plant throughout its development. Supplementary
fertilisers provide more readily available
nutrients, e.g. potash boost from comfrey extract.
The bean-based fertilisers listed in
Make your own potting mixtures
Potting mixtures are generally for plants
growing for a longer period (several
months before trans- Table 1. Bean-based fertilisers (NT = not tested)
planting e.g. asparaN
gus) or permanently in
Alfalfa (lucerne) meal 2.5 0.5 2.0 Slow
pots. They can have a
6.5 1.5 2.4 Slow to medium
coarser texture and Soya bean meal
2.8 NT NT NT
need short-term and Lupin seed meal
long-term nutrient Castorbean meal
3.0 NT NT NT
Faba bean meal
1.7 NT NT NT
Basic recipe:
• Two units mature
plant-based compost
or leaf mould.
• Two units garden
• Two units coarse
Field peas meal
Wood ash
Sugar beet extract
Seaweed meal
Colloidal phosphate
Rock phosphate
Very slow
Table 2. Seaweed fertilisers
Name of
Product descriptions
Contact info
Maxicrop original –
liquid seaweed extract
Maxicrop concentrate
- concentrated liquid
seaweed extract
Maxicrop Viva –
liquid seaweed extract
for seed dressings
Maxicrop seaweed
meal – soil
conditioner and
compost activator
Applying to the
soil for trace
elements and
additions to
Liquids are
foliar spray
and root
Marinure &
Marinure - liquid
seaweed extract
Maerit – concentrated
seaweed extract
As above
Foliar spray
and root
Glenside Organics
Ltd – contact J.
Robertson, Block 2,
Unit 4, Bandeath
Industrial Estate,
Throsk, FK7 7XY.
T 01786 816655
Seagreens agricultural
Seagreens agricultural
As above
Seagreens Ltd –
contact S. Ranger,
1 The Warren,
Handcross, West
Sussex, RH17
Meal – soil
Granules –
g, compost
Maxicrop (UK) Ltd
– contact M
Garner, P.O. Box
6027, Corby,
NN17 1ZH.
k T 01405 762777
Table 3. Potash fertilisers
Name of
Cumulus K
Additional info
Applying to the
soil for mineral
deficiency and
additions to
Kali vinasse,
sugar beet
industry byproduct
Contact info
WL Dingley –
contact B.
Urbanski, Buckle
St, Honeybourne,
Evesham, Worc.
WR11 7QE. T /
F 01386 830242.
Table 4. NPK base fertilisers
Name of
Cumulus 5-5-5
Cumulus 5-1-10
Cumulus 5–1-4
Applying to the
soil and
additions to
WL Dingley – contact B.
Urbanski, Buckle St,
Honeybourne, Evesham,
Worc. WR11 7QE. T / F
01386 830242.
Pelleted fertiliser
Applying to the
soil and
additions to
Fertile Fibre- contact
Matthew Dent, Fertile Fibre
Ltd, Withington Court,
Withington, Hereford, HR1
table 1 can be made at home by grinding
them into a fine dust. The process of
making alfalfa meal is described in peat
The base fertilisers in tables 2-4 are
available commercially and the manufacturers have signed declarations that they
are animal-free.
Peat Alternatives
Peat is to be avoided on ecological
grounds. The journal New Scientist reported that 455 billion tons of carbon is
sequestered in peat bogs worldwide. That
is equivalent to about 70-75 years of industrial emissions, making conservation
of peat bogs as important an issue as saving the rainforests. Coir dust, a mixture
of short and powder fibres, is a by-product of the coconut fibre industry. Most
coir (sold usually as blocks) comes from
India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Indo-
nesia and Central America and is not
encouraged because it is felt that this
valuable source of organic material
should stay within these countries.
Plant-based compost with additives
Plant-based compost is rarely used as the
sole potting medium since it is too porous and has too high levels of soluble
salts. Therefore it is prudent to add either perlite, vermiculite or sand (see the
Iain Tolhurst recipe above). You can make
the compost element yourself. Best
composting practice involves:
• using select ingredients, including
crop wastes, grass clippings, legume-rich
hays and straw;
• mixing plant-based ingredients: 2
part ‘greens’ to one part ‘browns’;
• composting plant-based materials and
leaf mould separately;
• building a heap of sufficient volume;
at least one cubic metre;
• turning the heap to assist with aeration;
• monitoring temperature rises;
• covering the heap or windrow to prevent it from becoming waterlogged;
• allowing for the compost to mature
(approximately one year).
increases air space, and decreases the
water-holding capacity of a mix making
it a suitable alternative to peat. Its pH is
generally 5.0 to 6.5, it is low in soluble
salts, and it will probably require more
nitrogen base fertilisers if used in a mix.
The product is available in B&Q’s animal-free multipurpose organic compost,
which is also GM-free.
Stéphane Groleau
You can also
Al f a l f a
buy J. Bower’s
New Horizon
Peat Free OrAlfalfa meal
ganic Comprovides nutripost as this is
ents, which are
available from
released slowly.
most garden
Alfalfa must be
centres and the
processed bemanufacturer
fore being
has signed an
used in growanimal-free
ing media.
Dried alfalfa
The product is
hay is ground
made from
and passed
green waste
through a 2
and has been
cm screen.
Salad tray, Growing with Grace
described as a soil conditioner as the Water is added and the alfalfa is allowed
quality cannot be guaranteed. However, to decompose for twenty days. It is then
the sieved product has been used success- air-dried for another twenty days before
fully by commercial stockfree-organic use.
growers in propagation.
Comfrey leaf mould
Composted pine bark
Compost breaks down through a largely
Composted pine bark has high lignin bacterial process, whereas autumn leaves
content, making it slow to degrade. Bark break down through a fungal process.
lightens the mix, increases bulk density, The compost heap is covered to provide
Stéphane Groleau
the ideal aeration and moisture condi- and is available from West Riding Ortions for the bacteria, but the leaf mould ganics in the product Moorland Gold.
bin is left open to the elements. Autumn Unit 3, Near Bank, Shelley,
leaves consist mainly of hemi-celluloses Huddersfield, HD8 8LS. T 01484
and lignins which, when broken down, 609171.
provide an excellent alternative to peat. Leaf
Plant feeds
takes about
I d e a l l y,
three years
to break
should obdown.
tain all
their remould
little in
from wellthe way of
soil fed
but finewith plantgrade leaf
b a s e d
that has
turning in
decomgreen maSalad
posed for
three years can be mixed to make com- mulching and/or chipped branch wood.
frey leaf mould, which is a useful ingre- However, you may find that your green
dient in seed composts. Fill a dustbin house crops, vegetables and pot plants
with alternative layers of 10 cm of leaf may benefit from supplementary liquid
mould and chopped comfrey leaves. feeding. We suggest various dosage rates
Leave until the comfrey leaves have dis- but you may wish to experiment - reappeared, which can take up to five member that you can apply too much
months. If the mixture turns soggy, turn and this will damage plants, e.g. adding
out the mix and build it up again, add- comfrey juice to seedlings can cause maging further dry leaf mould. If it is too nesium lock-up in older plants.
dry, add water.
Seaweed feeds
Filtered run-off peat
It is possible to make a liquid feed using
Peat filtered from reservoirs is acceptable seaweed meal.
weed leaves
or comfrey
• Nettles
give the best
multipurpose feed
and comfrey
alone will
give a feed
rich in potash, which
will be excellent for tomatoes, cucumbers and
with water,
cover the
and leave
for two to
Making planting cubes with compost
four weeks.
at Growing with Nature
Try a dilution rate of about one part brew
to three parts water and use it monthly
Seaweed meal contains all trace elements on house and bedding plants.
but some authorities believe the amount • Strain through a sieve or old stockof available nitrogen and/or potash is low. ing to keep back weed seeds and bits of
A richer feed can be made using green plant material, which will block your
leaves, but for indoor plants the prob- watering can.
• This feed, used fortnightly, is of
lem is it stinks.
course also excellent for vegetables but
needs to be diluted more: about ten parts
Plant tonics, e.g. comfrey liquid
• Take any size of container (e.g. a wa- water to one part leaves. VON members
ter butt with a tap) and fill with any or have found conclusively that liquid nettle
all of the following: grass cuttings, nettles, feed brings on vegetables at least as well
Stéphane Groleau
• Put three
flat tablespoons of
meal into
two litres of
water, preferably in a glass
• Leave to
marinate for
two to three
weeks or
• Every
month in the
growing season feed
plants with
one mugful
of this brew
in two litres
of water,
shake the
bottle well before use.
as chemical-based liquids when used at
the same rate.
The pong problem is not too hard to
work around, since once the brew is diluted and applied to the soil, the smell
disappears after a few days. So it is pos-
Table 5. Mineral deficiencies
Magnesium –
Very dark green
leaves with a
tendency to
develop purple
colours, stunted.
Yellow streaks in
the leaves.
Yellow drying
and reddening of
older leaves while
veins remain
Younger leaves
turn yellow and
then all the leaves
turn yellow.
Soil test canker/curd
Top leaves wilt
and do not
Preferred remedy
Tunisian rock
Calcined aluminium
phosphate rock
Wood ashes in the
compost heap.
Dolomite limestone.
Gypsum /calcium
Foliar feed epsom salts
(for acute magnesium
Magnesium rock
(including Kierite).
More compost less lime.
Seaweed meal.
Seaweed meal.
Iron &
Pale green leaves.
More compost less lime.
Seaweed meal.
Soil test.
Seaweed meal.
Soil test.
Seaweed meal.
Soil test.
Seaweed meal.
Same as copper,
may have a bitter
after taste.
Seaweed meal.
Last resort
Sulphate of potash.
Direct application
at 3g per m for
extreme cases only.
Direct application
for extreme cases
Direct application
for extreme cases
Direct application
for extreme cases
Direct application
for extreme cases
Direct application
for extreme cases
Direct application
for extreme cases
sible to feed pot plants outdoors and
bring them in the next day but ensure
that they will not be harmed by any
change in temperature.
Adding minerals
Mineral deficiencies (table 5) can be confused with plant diseases. The use of
mineral amendments is not sustainable,
because mining and the transportation
is fossil-fuel intensive and opencast mining destroys local environments. At the
same time, occasionally growers have to
make compromises to avoid crop failures,
which may justify one-off applications.
However, if other recommended practices are followed for improving soil fertility (plant-based composts, green manuring, mulching and chipped branch
wood), vegan-organic systems should not
rely on mineral amendments.
Good luck! Let us have any feedback or
ideas of your own.
Remember to use appropriate protective
clothing by the way; lime and comfrey,
for example, can irritate eyes and skin.
Readily available handbooks, which are not wholly vegan but provide good vegan alternatives are: The Organic Bible by Bob Flowerdew (ISBN 1856265951) and The New Organic
Grower by Elliot Coleman (ISBN 093003175X).
Weeds by John Walker is an earth-friendly guide to tackling weeds and making good use of
them. Published by Cassel (ISBN 1 84403 061 X).
The following books are available from The Vegan Society, Donald Watson House, 7 Battle
Rd. St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex TN37 7AA. Tel: 01424 427393.
Abundant Living in the Coming Age of the Tree by Kathleen Jannaway (ISBN 0951732803) –
towards a vegan, self-sustaining tree-based culture.
Forest Gardening by Robert A de J Hart (ISBN 1900322021) – turn your garden or allotment into a vegan-organic, permaculture-based mini-forest.
Permaculture: A Beginner’s Guide by Graham Burnett – apply the principles of sustainability
and working with nature to your land, your community and your life.
Plants for a Future by Ken Fern (ISBN 1856230112) – pioneering book that takes garden• 10 •
ing, conservation and ecology into a new dimension. Information about growing edible and
other useful plants.
The Animal Free Shopper (ISBN 0907337252) – The Vegan Society’s guide to all things
vegan includes a section on garden products.
Seeds and Supplies
The Organic Gardening Catalogue, Riverdene Business Park, Molsey Rd, Hersham, Surrey
KT12 4RG, UK. Tel: 01932 25366. Seeds and products such as
fertilisers and compost listed as organic and animal-free.
Suffolk Herbs, Monks Farm, Coggeshall Rd, Kelvedon, Essex CO5 9PG. Tel: 01376 572456.
Chiltern Seeds, Bortree Stile, Ulverston, Cumbria LA12 7PB. Tel: 01229 581137. Wide range of seeds including uncommon and unusual
vegetable varieties.
Tamar Organics, Unit 5A, Westbridge Trading Estate, Tavistock, Devon PL19 8DE. Tel:
01822 834887. Excellent organic seed supplier.
HDRA, Ryton Organic Gardens, Coventry CV8 3LG. Tel: 024 7630 3517.
Demonstration gardens and education centre at Ryton, which is presently being expanded.
Some of their advice is based on animal products but this can be adapted. Members receive
a quarterly magazine, Organic Way.
Movement for Compassionate Living, 105 Cyfyng Rd, Ystalyfera, Swansea SA9 2BT. Tel:
0845 4584717. MCL produces a quarterly magazine, information and books on cultivation, cooking, etc., emphasising locally grown food and crueltyfree sustainable methods, especially the growing and use of trees.
Plants for a Future, Blagdon Cross, Ashwater, Beaworthy, Devon EX21 5DF. Tel: 01208
872963. Researching ecologically sustainable vegan-organic horticulture; an
excellent resource and information centre. The website contains much useful information.
Spiral Seed, 35 Rayleigh Avenue, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex SS0 7DS.
Have publications, vegan-organic information and ideas including lots on vegan permaculture,
very useful as most ‘permaculture’ involves animal exploitation. The website is a mine of
• 11 •
The Vegan-Organic Network
The Vegan Organic Network is a registered charity (registered charity number
1080847), providing education and research in vegan-organic principles and has an
international network of supporters. VON supporters enjoy a wide variety of contacts and can obtain advice on cultivation techniques. The magazine Growing Green
International is sent to supporters twice a year. For more information and details of
how to join, please contact:
VON, 58 High Lane, Chorlton, Manchester M21 9DZ
Email: [email protected]
General enquiries and advice on growing:
Phone: 0845 223 5232
Email: [email protected]
Vegan-Organic information sheets
This is one of several sheets produced on various topics by the Vegan-Organic Network. These are aimed mainly at those with allotments, kitchen gardens or other
small growing areas, although many of the techniques will also apply to larger-scale
situations. We welcome feedback on this information sheet and any other related
topics. The information sheets currently available are: #1 Propagation and Fertilisers;
#2 Growing Beans for Drying; #3 Growing on Clay Soils; #4 Vegan-Organic Growing
- The Basics; #5 Fungi - FAQ: #6 Gardening for Wildlife; #7 Growers' Guide to
Beetles; #8 Green Manures; #9 Chipped Branch-Wood; #10 Composting.
These are available on request. Please send £5.00 per set, or 60p each (£6 and
75p respectively if outside the UK). The sheets are also available free on our website.
Issued March 2005. This advice is given as guidance only, with no responsibility for
any results, due to the nature of the processes involved!
• 12 •