Plant-based fertilizers for organic vegetable production

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Jørn Nygaard Sørensen, Kristian Thorup-Kristensen

To ensure high yield and quality in organic vegetable production, crops often require additional
fertilizer applied during the season. Due to the risk of contamination of edible plant products
from slurry, plant-based fertilizers may be used as an alternative. The purpose of our work was
to develop mobile green manures with specific high nutrient concentrations (e.g., nitrogen [N],
sulfur [S], and phosphorus [P]) that are released quickly after soil incorporation and that are
easy to handle during storage and application. To distinguish from traditional green manures
that are grown to improve soil fertility, the term “mobile green manures” is used for green-manure
crops that are harvested in one field and then moved as a whole and used as fertilizer in
other fields. To further investigate mobile-green-manure crops for use as efficient fertilizers, pot
and field experiments were conducted with cauliflower (Brassica oleracea botrytis) and kale
(Brassica oleracea sabellica) supplied with organic matter consisting of a wide range of plant
species with varying nutrient concentrations. Further, field experiments were conducted with
leek (Allium porrum) and celery (Apium graveolens dulce) supplied with increasing amounts of
organic matter consisting of fresh, ensiled, or dried green manures. Results show that garden
sorrel (Rumex acetosa), dyer’s woad (Isatis tinctoria), and fodder radish (Raphanus sativus) harvested
with a high leaf-to-stem ratio resulted in high P concentration, and cruciferous crops in
high S concentration. Dyer’s woad, salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor), and stinging nettle (Urtica
dioica) showed high boron (B) concentration, whereas species such as dandelion (Taraxacum
officinale), chicory (Cichorium intybus), and garden sorrel showed high potassium (K) concentration.
Green manures with high P and S concentrations increased the nutrient uptake and yield of
pot-grown cauliflower and kale. Field experiments showed that the production of cauliflower and
kale decreased when the carbon-to-nitrogen (C : N) ratio of applied green manure increased. In
kale, for example, application of 160 kg N ha–1 in early harvested lucerne (Medicago sativa) with
a C : N ratio of 10 resulted in the highest kale production whereas application of an equal amount
of N in late harvested lucerne with a C : N ratio of 20 produced 34% less. Differences in vegetable
production were not due to the amount of N applied, but to the N availability. Field experiments
with fresh, ensiled, or dry green manure applied to leek and celery showed that the C : N
ratio has to be low to get a fast response. Further, these field experiments demonstrate the
importance of green manures, which can be stored and are easy to handle during transport,
crop application, and soil incorporation. It is concluded that it is possible to produce green manures
with high concentrations of S, P, K, and B, and low C : N ratios and that these properties
have a great impact on the value of the green manure for vegetable production.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)321-332
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2011

    Research areas

  • LIFE - green manure, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sultur

ID: 33747010