Knowing if, and when, you need to add fertilizer to your veggie garden can be very tricky. It’s like knowing if you should prune your tomato plants; it's specific to your garden, climate, and plants.
The best way to know what your garden needs, is to do a soil test. I’m an avid gardener and have never done a soil test. I know where my dirt comes from, which of my plants need what, and because I live in Seattle my dirt is probably acidic and lacks nitrogen. (see this post for more information about why I know that)
I’d like to share with you the basics on fertilizing your plants, so that you can make the best decision for your garden.
Why you should fertilize, you've never done it before and everything turned out fine:
It may have turned out fine, but it probably could have been a lot better. There are 16 different elements that are essential for productivity, and every single one of them is important. A deficiency can be as severe as the plant dying, or simply the plant not producing as much as it could have.
Why your plants might need to be fertlizied:
- It rains a lot where you live (that’s you my fellow Seattlites). Nutrients get washed away by rain.
- Your garden is packed full of veggie plants, maybe a little too packed.
- You have a lot of heavy feeders growing. This includes tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, peppers, broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, spinach, and corn.
- Your garden consists of dirt that was dug up from your backyard. Regular soil does not have enough nutrients to sustain a vegetable garden.
- You use the same dirt year after year, but don’t add compost or fertilizer.
- You receive dirt in bulk from a recycling company. They said the dirt was organic and good for the garden, but who knows!
Why you may not need to fertilize:
- You have added compost, or mulches with organic materials.
- Your garden is new, and you purchased organic soil that was amended with nutrients.
- You don't see any signs of a nutrient deficient plant:
- Yellowing of the leaves (not from over or under watering) is a sign of a nutrient deficiency.
- The plant is not growing at the proper rate. (compare it to your neighbors).
Find an organic fertilizer that has 5-5-5 ratio or lower. The three numbers stand for the weight of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. Since you won't be doing a soil test, you should go with a lower ratio of each. Next follow the directions for "side dressing". I love the Dr.Earth solution above.
Now you have your weekend project!