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Fertilizing the Vegetable Garden

One of the keys to successful vegetable gardening is to properly manage and understand your soil. Over a couple of years, vegetable gardening will deplete the soil of nutrients and organic matter and constant cultivation will destroy the texture of the soil. Future crops will be weak and more likely to attract pests. Replenishing nutrients is done by adding compost and supplementing with a granular fertilizer. Managing the soil's condition and fertility levels will ensure a bountiful harvest from year to year.

Compost should be added after harvest in the fall as well as when you plant in the spring. Compost will add organic matter and fibre to the soil. This is very important when we are demanding a healthy vegetable crop from a small plot of land. The soil would not naturally produce pumpkins suitable for the local county fair, so adding nutrients will help to make the soil more productive.

Compost contains a small percentage of the essential plant nutrients required by vegetables. Additional plant nutrients are added by applying granular fertilizers before planting, during growth and after harvest. A balanced vegetable fertilizer will keep the soil in good shape so that it can produce healthy vegetables from year to year.

There are many choices of fertilizers for vegetable gardening and it can be difficult to decide which one is the best for your situation. To thoroughly understand your soil, you are well advised to have your soil tested. This test will tell you whether you are deficient in phosphorous, potassium, magnesium and calcium. It will also tell you the pH, organic matter content and the ability of your soil to hold nutrients. Ask your garden centre if they provide a soil testing service. It is also helpful if they can interpret the results for you and recommend a fertilizer blend accordingly.

A couple of good all-purpose fertilizer blends are 8-12-6 or 5-10-10. Either of these should be used at planting time and every 3-4 weeks during the growing season. If the soil test indicates some major nutrient deficiencies, additional products can be added in the spring and fall to correct the soil balance.

Vegetables prefer a pH in the range of 6.5-7.0. It is in this range that the soil nutrients are most available for plant use. When the pH is low or acidic, limestone is added. Limestone usually contains calcium and magnesium, both of which are essential for healthy plant growth. This is often referred to as sweetening the soil. When the pH is too high, sulphur is added. There are many complex chemical associations which are affected by pH and the fertilizer recommendation you receive after a soil test will take these into account.

The nutrients listed on a container of fertilizer show Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potassium (N-P-K) in that order. The fine print will also show percentages of magnesium, iron, calcium and other minor nutrients.

A common mistake made by gardeners is to fertilize their vegetables with too much nitrogen. Lawn fertilizers are traditionally high in nitrogen since they are applied to make grass green and thick. Using lawn fertilizers on the vegetable garden is a mistake because leaves are not all that we are looking for. The nitrogen is important, but should be used to a limited extent.

Phosphorous is useful for flower production and root growth. It is especially valuable for tomatoes, peppers and plants from the cucumber family.

Potassium plays a major role in plant hardiness and vigour. It makes cell walls thick and able to resist stress and disease. The effect of potassium can be easily seen if wood ashes, which are high in potassium, are applied to the soil. Very healthy growth is the result.

If your compost supply is limited, another way to introduce organic matter to the soil is by planting a crop of green manure in the fall. After harvest, plant annual rye grass. This will germinate in the fall and protect the soil from wind erosion. In the spring, till in the rye grass and you have added an excellent supply of organic fibre.

Daisy Moore, 1998.

 

 

Other spring garden tips:

(click on the tip you want to read)

 

Designing Gardens

Fertilizing the Garden
Ready for Spring
Starting Seeds Indoors
Pruning Trees and Shrubs
Dormant Spraying
Planning the Vegetable Garden
Planting Early Vegetables
Early Season Care of Perennial Beds
Plants for an Early Spring Show
Cut Flowers for the Home Garden
Growing the Perfect Potato
Lawn Care in Early Spring.....GRUB DAMAGE!
Spring Lawn Care
The Garden in May
Gardening with Native Plants
Sources of Native Plants
Shade Gardening
Planting Gladiolus and Other Summer Flowering Bulbs
Weed Control
Crabgrass
Thatch in Lawns
Weeds or Wildflowers
Improving Your Soil
Marvellous Mulch
Selecting and Planting Shrubs
Planting Trees and Shrubs
Window Box Gardening
Growing Tomatoes
Fertilizing the Vegetable Garden
 

 

 

Home  |  Garden designs  |  Naturalized gardening  |  Help with your garden  |  Garden Tips Spring  Summer  Fall  | Contact Daisy

 

Daisy Moore 2005