Saturday, March 26, 2011

how to feed your garden

What a great turn out at our meeting today.
Really nice to see some of last years gardeners return.  

We talked about how bad the compost is becoming.  It's hard to say why, more people gardening and higher demand? Or is it a monetary need that makes the companies package this compost before it's really composted? We will cover compost in another posting.

Lets talk about this issue of growing healthy crops a bit. 
It wasn't always the big conglomerate farms that produced our food.  Our country was once filled with family farms passed from generation to generation.  I remember the things that went into my grandmothers garden to keep it healthy, it wasn't chemical.  My grandmothers and my dad kept good gardening practice's and it protected the current and future crops.  This is what I would hope for your gardens, healthy gardening processes.

Here are some of the things I watch for in my garden before I act on a problem

Has it been too cool for the plant in trouble?

Has it been too hot?
I remember having to wait for spring planted beans until it cooled in the late summer, I nearly pulled the beans out when they didn't produce and as it turned out I got a bumper late summer crop.

When did I put the plant/seed out in my garden?
A seed sitting wet, or cold too long can produce a poor plant
A plant put out early without protection can be stalled in it's growth
Timing can make a difference. 

Are the tips yellow, did a branch start to die, or the whole plant?
If a cut worm gets a plant the plant starts to die off a bit at a time
a bit of yellow or off color on the ends of a plant can be uneven watering 
or lack of good food.  If a branch is dieing did we treat it poorly and brake it,
or the cat maybe. There is a thought process and a studying of all the factors, a great mystery to solve with each garden problem.

Are the blooms dropping, no fruiting bodies forming etc? 
This can be a lack of bees, or temperatures not allowing male and female plants to bloom together, dropping blooms can be lack of calcium in the soil.  The more I learn the more I have to compare my problems to solutions.

Do I see bite marks, tunnels between the layers of the leaves, eggs on the underside of leaves, or rotting centers, maybe white mold, etc?
Yes this can all be the act of other living animals and organisms.  It really helps to know when the bugs, butterflies, molds, worms and other things, that share our garden with us, are in their different life cycles.  I can reschedule when I plant their favorite treats for when they are in a different form that works better with my gardening goals.


This is just a start of how you need to look at the issues in your garden.

1. compost is our first and best way to feed our plants.  Remember mel says use as many different sources as you can for compost so that you get a nice balance for the plants.  If the plants looks like the compost didn't do the job and nothing else can explain the reason then acting quickly with fertilizers really help us out.

2. Soil amendments are used to improve the soil for growing.  You may be improving the pH or drainage or air pockets in your soil. This is an on going process if you are using your own soil.  With Mel's mix it is very easy because you start with a great soil combination and it only gets off if we do too much to it.

3. Fertilizers feed plants.  They can be Organic or Chemical.  They can be quick release or slow release.   I find it best to use organic as much as possible and there by keeping with a slow release.  Fast release can throw off the soils ability to have nutrition for the plants.  

How do we know what we are adding to our plants?  Learn the key nutrients first

These three letters are the key
The elements they stand for never change location in this order.


 click to enlarge these photos so you can see the numbers

 This box of kelp meal is 1-0.1-2

That means that this 3 pound box has
1 percent nitrogen-0.1 percent Phosphorous-2 percent potassium

 Try this cottonseed meal
Which is the higher presence in this 4 pound box?

Did you say Nitrogen for the last one?
How about this Greensand.


Everything we put on our garden will most likely have a three part number on it.  If you don't see it on the front of the package it will be on the back.  This is for organic items as above or chemicals.

When you add something what is it doing?
Nitrogen (N)=strong leaf growth, dark color and BIG, growing big
Phosphorous (P)=Root growth, early plant growth and good seed formation
Potassium (K) =plant vigor, disease and stress resistance, good flavor and color.

Just because you can grow a plant it doesn't mean it grew with the healthy vitamins and minerals you need to eat.
  So feed your plants and you will feed yourself. 

Secondary Nutrients include calcium, magnesium, and sulfur
Then there are trace elements and the list is long. 


First we give the soil compost, anything else you do to the soil can cause that 'reaction equal to your action' let's hope it's a good action

Next and most important I think is Foliar feeding. This doesn't change the soil but gives the food right to the plant in the best way.  So get a sprayer and make some teas and know that your plant is getting what it needs! 

My ears were under pressure from some pollen allergies I have and today I could not say Foliar at all!  Now I laugh I could barely hear myself. 

Compost the soil and Feed the leaves

If you think about your plant and the phase it is at and think about what part of the plant you will eat then you will know if your plant needs N-P-or K.  My advice is use a balanced fertilizer and all will work out.  Bloom drop is often a calcium issue and we know that garlic needs lots of N at this time of year.  

Heavy feeders: cabbage, beets (P), broccoli, Brussels sprouts, celery, corn (very), cucumbers, eggplant, kale, collards, Leek (+N), melon, potato, peppers, 
Tomato (-N +P,K), Asian vegetables

Light feeders: Carrots (-N)  Peas (P-K) Swiss chard, squash (-N), Lettuce, turnips, carrots, onions (-N +P,K) 

The plus sign means this plant likes it
The minus sign means this plant doesn't like it

Don't panic about any of this, if your garden grew last year then you are fine.  Only add extra if there is a clear need. 

Note: A big congratulations to the Myrups who built a salad table!  
I love mine most of all.  Hints to come.


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