Zach O'Brien
Zach O'Brien
India 2013-2014
Namaste! I am a native Californian with a love for new experiences, meditation, and asking questions. I'm traveling to an Indian ashram called Amritapuri to join an environmental conservation project and study Sanskrit and yoga. Read More About Zach →

Gardening, Part 3: DIY organic fertilizer!

Yesterday in the garden we fertilized the tea plants.


We have two fertilizer mixtures we use, and we try to set aside one day each week to use one or the other.  I’m going to share both the recipes with you so you can use these organic fertilizers in your own garden!

The first fertilizer is called Jivamritam (wish I knew what this translates to in English). The recipe is for 200 liters, and we usually make several batches.  For the average backyard gardener this recipe may need to be significantly reduced.  Just make sure to reduce all the ingredients proportionately!

Here’s how you make it:

•5 kg dried dung

•1 liter composted cow dung

•1 liter fresh worm compost–worms removed 🙂

•1 liter Neem Cake

•1 handful of good soil

•1/2 liter EM (efficient microorganisms)

•1.5 kg gram flour

•1 kg compost

•5 liters cow urine

•Several handfuls of sugar (use only if you want a bacterial soil. If you want a fungal soil, leave the sugar out!)


  1. Fill 50gal/200liter bucket 1 quarter of the way to the top with water.
  2. Mix in ingredients with stick (be especially careful with the flour as it tends to clump together—mix it in slowly!)
  3. Add water to within 6 inches of the top of the bucket while you’re mixing.
  4. Once everything is fully mixed in, let bucket sit with a cloth covering the top.
  5. Stir in the morning and the evening. Stirring method is such that you should stir clockwise, then counter clockwise, then in figure 8’s.  Change from one to the next stirring direction once you see you’ve got a good current going in one direction.
  6. After 48 hours of this, jivamritam is ready to use.
  7. Pour 0.5-1 liter on wet soil at the  base of each plant you want to fertilize.  Do not pour on plant leaves. If the soil is sandy or very hard, it can help to poke a few holes around the plant before you pour (don’t poke too close or you’ll damage the roots!) Don’t water plant for 12 hours after applying jivamritam.


The next fertilizer is my favorite.  It’s called a “compost tea”.  It doubles up as both a fertilizer and a completely safe/organic pesticide!

Here’s how the compost tea is made:

•1 handful Sheena Kona leaves (or really any fresh green leaves that are high in nitrogen).

•1 kg fresh compost

•1/2 kg fresh vermicompost

•1 handful raggi flour

•1 handful soil from around a healthy plant

•1 handful leaf mulch

•1/4 liter EM


  1. Put all the ingredients except for the EM in a gardening tea bag.
  2. Put the EM into a 25 gal/100 liter bucket, and fill a quarter of the way up with water.
  3. Add teabag to water. Pump bag in water, sloshing vigorously.  Work contents with hands.  Do this for 10 minutes.
  4. Add fresh water to the top of the bucket.
  5. Apply right away (the sloshing procedure is supposed to create an aerobic environment—this discourages growth of anaerobic bacteria which are generally bad for the soil.) Pour half a liter on the plant’s leaves and half a liter at the base of the plant.  The tea should be very liquidy. If you get to the bottom of the bucket and the tea becomes a bit sludgy, add a little more water before applying, because the sludge will hurt the plant leaves.


Learning how to make and use fertilizer is just one of the neat things I’ve been learning while working in the garden.  The more I help growing tea, the more I realize how scientific agriculture can be.  Currently my supervisor is having me read a book called Teaming With Microbes. Basically the book is about the organisms that live in healthy soil, and how to cultivate a soil that is conducive to a healthy and sustainable food web.  The cool thing is, we actually make gardening decisions on a daily basis using the scientific information contained in this and many other books and articles. For instance, the reason I included the bit about only using sugar in the jivamritam recipe if you want a bacterial soil is, we noticed a lot of annual weeds growing in the tea garden.  We found some research indicating that annual and short-term plants do well in bacteria-dominated soil while trees and bushes like tea do better in fungus-dominated soil.  Since sugar encourages bacteria growth, we decided to stop using it in the fertilizer.  If we start seeing perennial instead of annual weeds sprouting up, we’ll know we gaged things correctly—fingers crossed!

Anyway, growing plants is a fun process, and I hope any gardeners out there reading this post can make use of the organic fertilizer recipes I’ve included.

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