Before we talk about vegetable fertilizer, especially if you are new to growing vegetables and just can't wait to get started, put on the breaks before you jump right in and start planting.
Okay... prove me wrong, you decided instead to grow peas, peppers, or some other great vegetable. Well... Whatever your vegetable of choice let me quote an old saying. "If you feed the soil the soil feeds the plants." And for that... you need a balanced soil and vegetable fertilizer.
This is where we put on the brakes before rushing out to buy your vegetable of choice, digging a hole, plant, and wait in anticipation for your veggies to do a "Jack-in-the-bean-stalk thing."
So how does that soil look? Have you grown anything before? Does it have any nutrients for your vegetable plants? Did you use vegetable fertilizer last year?
How about where you're planting? Will your vegetable plants get enough sunlight?
Wait! Don't run away and give up. Answering these questions is not going to be that difficult as you will find out as we continue. So read on, you're plants are going to love you.
Before we get to the soil, location is important so make sure your area of choice will get at least six hours of sunlight every day. Less sunlight than that and you're plants will be screaming "uncle."
For those of you who say "no problem for me, I used this spot last
year and had a great vegetable harvest." Good for you, but how about
this year? Does the soil still have sufficient nutrients your plants
We hardly ever think about it, but your soil really takes a beating looking after your plants. Soil suffers as your vegetable plants grow, when you harvest your crops, leaching, soil erosion, as well as the amount of nutrients plants remove from the soil.
Good soil for growing needs nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and not be too acidic or too alkaline. If the soil is too acidic the pH level will be 5.8 or lower. If it is too alkaline the pH will be 7.2 or higher. If you're not sure the condition of your soil and most people aren't, now is the time to check your soils condition.
A pH Soil Test Kit will tell you the amount of nutrients and pH level in the soil.These kits usually measure pH levels on a scale from 0 to 14. A measurement of 0 indicates your soil is very acidic and a measurement of 14 the soil is too alkaline.
So what does this mean exactly? Simple! With a near 0 or a near 14 measurement your vegetable plants won't like you and you won't be a happy gardener. So to make you and your plants happy, aim for a pH level in the middle of zero to fourteen somewhere around a seven which means your soil on an average will be neutral.
Check with your local garden nursery as most carry these kits. They can also be purchased at most Lowe's and Home Depot Garden Centers or from hardware stores such as Ace Hardware.
Most of these soil test kits offer an "on average" mid-range reading because soil condition vary from location to location and state to state.
Another option and one I strongly suggest for complete accuracy is to take a soil sample and send it off to a soil testing laboratory for analysis. While you're at it, do mention the type of vegetables you intend on growing and usually they will provide fertilizer recommendations and any other amendments your soil needs. There is a small fee to cover the lab tests but you will receive accurate information about your soil. Check with the agricultural dept of your local government or the agriculture dept at a University near you to find out how to go about sending a sample for analysis.
It looks like we covered some pretty good ground about garden soil (pardon the pun), and now finally we get to talk about vegetable fertilizer.
If you get together with vegetable gardeners eventually the talk gets around to what is the best vegetable fertilizer for your garden?
It seems individually, everyone is a bit of an
expert on what is the best vegetable fertilizer to use.
This kind of reminds me of a mom overheard saying at a parade. "Look! My Johnny is the
only boy in-step and everyone else isn't." And so the gardener's debate continues with no clear outcome. That's because there is no clear outcome or right or wrong vegetable fertilizer. It comes down to what is best for you and your personal garden space.
Over the years, I have discovered gardening comes down to location, experimentation, luck, and a good dose of know-how and experience. And just when you think your method is fool-proof, Mother Nature throws in a little climate change to keep you off your stride.
Whether its experience, luck, or a mixture of both, you got to love gardening to do it. Hey! ... Don't we All?
Now that I fell off my pulpit, let's get back to vegetable fertilizer.
Basically there are two categories of fertilizer. They include organic vegetable fertilizer and synthetic (also called chemical) fertilizer. Your vegetable plants really don't care which you choose as both types of vegetable fertilizer will offer your plants the nutrients they need.
Well that was simple, here we have a whole article about what is the best vegetable fertilizer to use and we summed it up in the above paragraph. I'll repeat it again, "your vegetable plants really don't care which category you choose as both types of vegetable fertilizer will offer your plants the nutrients they need."
So what's the difference between organic vegetable fertilizer and chemical fertilizer?
The primary reason to choose an organic vegetable fertilizer is to condition your soil for the long haul. When it is mixed in your soil it adds lots of organic material causing the soil to remain loose, oxygen rich, and hold more moisture, trace elements, and nutrients.
Organic fertilizer also allows microbe organisms to produce and increase soil fertility which in turn promote a stronger healthier plant root system. In general, organic fertilizers release nutrients over a long period and your soil will be healthy and plant friendly.
Don't use fresh or also called green manure in your vegetable garden when you plant because it usually contains disease-causing bacteria and organisms. You can however, apply it to your soil after last year's harvest to give it time over the winter months to break down for next year's planting. On the other hand it is OK to use organic fertilizer purchased from a garden outlet because it is already cured and ready to use.
The main disadvantage with organic fertilizer is how long it takes to enrich your soil. Because it is organic, like Mother Nature, it takes time to work. A little planning ahead will easily take care of this disadvantage. If you planted crops last year, mix in new fertilizer after you harvest. This will give your organic fertilizer all winter to condition your soil and be ready for next spring's planting.
If you haven't planted before take a cue from last year's gardeners and do the same.
If you leave fertilizing until spring, it won't have time to release sufficient nutrients required by your plants when they need it most.
And this leads us to-
If you are a week-end gardener with limited time to devote to your vegetable garden, then this type of fertilizer is probably for you. It is fast acting releasing
nutrients your vegetable plants need the moment they are planted. Do keep in mind never apply the fertilizer directly to the plant as this will harm them by burning the plants tender roots.
Mix the fertilizer four to five inches from the vegetable plant and let the roots grow to the fertilizer nutrients. Be sure to read the manufactures instructions before use.
Unfortunately, most chemical fertilizers don't include trace elements that your plants also need. The reason I say "most chemical fertilizers," is because I understand some manufacturing companies are now adding trace elements to the mix. Before you make your purchase, read the contents to see if trace elements are included. If not, you can purchase them separately.
Again, before use be sure to take time to read the manufactures instructions.
Like most things in life that seem too good to be true, there are draw-backs associated with chemical fertilizers. With continued use, over time chemical fertilizers will deplete what organic matter your soil had causing the soil to become compact, lifeless, and less able to hold water and nutrients. When this time comes, even chemical fertilizers won't help your plants and you will have to replace the soil.
So on one hand, you save time now, but in the long run spend more time replacing the soil in your entire garden patch.
Did You Know
During World War II ammonia gas (mostly nitrogen) was manufactured by several companies to be used to make explosives? However, after the war ended to stay in business it was used in fertilizer.
For more information on fertilizer, I suggest you read this article from Colorado State University.
See you in the garden.
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