Fertilizing: Cultivating Nutrition (from the ground up!)
While many understand the need to keep a garden well-watered, the astute gardener also understands the importance of keeping a garden well-fed. Sometimes in our haste to provide sustenance to our plants, though, we forget about the vital connection between the health of our plants and the health of our soil. Healthy soil is a living system, and by caring for that living system we can better care for our plants, and ourselves.
Using soil health practices like keeping the soil covered with a mulch like compost or shredded leaves, adding organic matter, leaving roots of healthy harvested crops in the ground, and other practices can reduce the overall need for fertilizers in your garden. Even with those practices in place, a proper dose of fertilizer at the appropriate time can improve your yields and cultivate greater soil health through the growing season.
Fertilizers: Organic or Conventional? Bigger Isn’t Always Better
The vast majority of fertilizers will have three numbers listed on the packaging. 5-5-5 or 10-10-10 can be common, but there are many different formulations available. The higher those numbers are, the bigger the dose of nutrients available, but there’s a catch! While organic fertilizers rarely achieve high nutrient formulations (an organic 10-10-10 is not likely to be natural/organic), they do something that conventional fertilizers boasting big numbers don’t do.
Organic fertilizers feed the soil, while synthetic fertilizers are designed to feed the plants themselves. Synthetic fertilizers may deliver big results, but they do so at the expense of the long-term health of the soil. This is one of the key reasons we strongly urge folks to use organic and not synthetic fertilizers.
Cracking the Code: Making Sense of the Numbers
The three numbers stand for N-P-K, Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium. All plants need these three elements (along with many other micronutrients) but they need them at different ratios at different times in their lives, and that varies widely between crops.
Nitrogen helps your plants grow stems and leaf material. This can be found organically in the form of compost, cow manure, and bone meal among others. This nutrient is highly important for your leafy greens, but also vital for the fruiting plants like tomatoes. The key is to have the appropriate ratio of n-p-k for your fruiting plants. An overabundance of N will give you a massive, leafy, green tomato plant with very few tomatoes.
Phosphorus is vital to the plant process of turning sunlight into useable sugars and compounds within the plant leaf. It also contributes to root growth, bloom promotion and structural strength of the plant. Common sources of P also include compost, manure, blood and bone meal.
Potassium is responsible for many plant processes. It is often referred to as the “quality” element, because it contributes to improving many traits like taste, color, size and shape of the crops. A lack of potassium will lead to stunted growth and low yields. Common sources of K include wood ash, banana peels, manure and compost.
Trellis for Tomorrow Recommendations
Trellis for Tomorrow only uses organically certified fertilizers, and that is what we advise you to use. Fertrell, Espoma, Dr. Earth, and Jobes are common, good quality brand names that you’ll see. Each of these products will have recommended rates of application on the packaging.
We like to fertilize at the time of planting, and then again, every 4-6 weeks throughout the summer. For plants that are already established, you can broadcast fertilizer on the surface and cultivate it into the soil at a depth of a couple inches. Make sure that you’re using the appropriate fertilizer for the appropriate plant- high N fertilizers for leafy greens, and high P-K fertilizers for your fruiting crops