Feeding Your Vegetable Plants

We always wanted to grow and feed our own vegetables organically in our home garden. We know that rich soil is the best food source for any vegetable crops. We’ve been improving our garden soil over the years by keep adding compost from our own composter and other organic matter like cow’s manure. So far we’ve been reaping great harvests without adding fertilizer. The organic matter we apply once or twice a year feeds the soil microorganisms, which release nutrients that plants use to grow.

Fertilizer can give crops a boost but won’t replace basic soil care. Feeding your crops is a plus when:

  • You’re starting a garden in soil that hasn’t been adequately prepared. This can happen when you move to a new home or when you expand your garden.

  • You grow crops that benefit from extra fertilizer. Heavy feeders like broccoli and tomatoes love a feeding at planting or a booster feeding later in the season.

  • Your crop’s condition makes you suspect the soil is in worse shape than you thought. If your crops grow slowly or look pale, booster feedings may help them get through the season.

Fertilizing at planting time simply calls for adding an extra step in your routine. You can dig in fertilizers just before you plant or place directly under a seed row or a transplant – a technique called banding.

Both compost and blended dry organic fertilizers are easy to apply in bands. Before you broadcast dry organic fertilizers, read the label and compute the proper amount to apply. Compost is usually a precious commodity during the growing season. Your plants will get the most benefit from compost if you apply it in bands.

To band fertilizer or compost in a seed row, open a furrow 2 inches deeper than the required planting depth. Spread the fertilizer or compost in the furrow, cover it with 2 inches of soil, and then plant the seeds. For transplants, dig a hole of the appropriate size for the plant. Then shovel out 2 more inches of soil lay in the fertilizer or compost, replace the extra soil, and plant the transplant.

Give booster feedings like dry fertilizers, liquid fertilizers and custom-feeding. One effective green way we have done so far is digging into the soil or around the plants all the fish clean-outs we have from fishing.

Dry Fertilizers: Popular dry fertilizers include blood meal, bone meal, composted manure, cottonseed meal, and rock phosphate. Apply these dry materials by side-dressing – working them into the top inch of soil next to, but not touching the plants. It takes about two weeks for nutrients from side-dressed fertilizers to become available to plant roots. Most organic fertilizers are slow-acting and won’t burn plant roots but some of them like blood meal contains high enough concentrations of nitrogen that caution is observed. A rule of thumb; don’t apply more than ¼ ounce of actual nitrogen per square yard. Blood meal is 13 % nitrogen. One pound (16oz) contains about 2 oz of nitrogen. Therefore, you should not apply more than 2 ounces of blood meal per square yard.

Liquid Fertilizers: Liquid fertilizers are good choice for booster feedings. The nutrients in them are quickly available to plants. You can water them into the soil or spray them directly on the leaves. Use diluted liquid fertilizers, such as seaweed extract or fish emulsion. You can also make and try the compost tea.

“You can make a nutrient-rich beverage for your plants by adding compost to water and allowing it to steep for three days or more. A good proportion is about 2 cups of solid matter to a gallon of water. Filter the mixture through burlap or cheesecloth, and return the trapped solids to the compost pile or garden. Place the strained liquid in a small sprayer or watering can.”

“You can also make manure tea from chicken or steer manure. However, mature tea can be more nitrogen-rich and can burn plants. After straining manure tea, be sure to dilute it with more water to a weak tea color before using.”

Spray liquid fertilizers directly on leaves for a quick acting boost. Just remember that fish emulsion can attract cats! Also, the odors of fish emulsion and manure tea may linger on harvested parts of crops that were sprayed too close to harvest time. That’s why it is advisable to spray a week before you think you will harvest the coming week.

Some gardeners spray their vegetable crops every two or three weeks with dilute seaweed extracts, which contains micro nutrients and growth hormones in addition to basic plant nutrients. Foliage feeding is also one of the best ways to supply nutrients to fruit trees and bushes.

Custom-feeding: If you want to get ultimate performance from your garden, then you may want to take the time and effort to custom-feed individual crops. For example on beets, when the first true leaves are fully expanded, drench the plants with compost tea. Repeat weekly until the plants are 2-3 inches tall.

If your crops are suffering from a nutrient deficiency, it’s rarely possible for you to recognize and reverse the problem in the already-growing crops. Vegetables grow so fast that it will be too late by the time you see symptoms.

If your crops have deficiency problems, fight back by working harder to improve overall soil fertility. Include a soil test in your plans for next year. Test results will help you plan a program of amendments and cover cropping to revitalize your soil.

4 thoughts on “Feeding Your Vegetable Plants

  1. The thing that I have come to learn over the years is that if the soil isn’t good, you can waste many months trying to get your garden to grow with little or no results. Preparation is the key to a healthy garden and without it, you won’t be growing much at all.

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  2. Is there much difference in results between the dry and liquid fertilizers? I have always used a liquid but notice that the dry is much cheaper by volume and thought about trying it.

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