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5×5 – When/How Do I Fertilize

May 7th, 2014

This week in our 5×5 Garden Challenge series we’ll be talking fertilization. When and how to fertilize is something that can be daunting to new gardeners. There are hundreds of products claiming to be the right thing for your garden and most of them will be unnecessary for your small garden. You will need to add organic matter and nutrients to your garden to optimize plant growth and to make your vegetables as healthy as possible.
5x5 garden
One way to fertilize your garden is to add a topdressing of compost before each crop. In spring you would add a layer of compost before planting, then again in summer if you plant another round. It’s also a good idea to add a layer before you put your garden to bed in the fall.
Generally compost won’t be sufficient for the home garden unless it includes some animal manure. Depending on the source, compost can be deficient in some vitamins/minerals. In my garden I use a liquid kelp/seaweed for my fertilization needs to help add micronutrients to my vegetables, compost and soil. Neptune’s Harvest is the brand I purchase most frequently. Dr Earth brand products are also great and very convenient to use.
neptunes harvest
You may wonder why I chose a liquid fertilizer? Because I find it works best for me. The plants absorb some of the nutrient through their leaves so it works faster than the granular fertilizer that you mix into the soil. Soil microbes play an important role in how plants take up nutrients and they can be deficient in a garden that has been tilled or worked. This will affect how quickly your plants can use fertilizer mixed in with the soil. This is not the case with foliar feeding through liquid fertilizers, they are absorbed very quickly.  I also like using this method because I can fertilize some plants more than others.  Heavy feeding vegetables like cabbage and broccoli can be fed more often than vegetables that require less feed like beets.  In a small garden like the 5×5 it can beneficial to be able to feed some plants and not others.  Of course you can just as easily feed every on an every other week or once a month schedule if that works best for you and you don’t want to think about which plants need more nutrition that others.
Liquid fertilizer is also valuable to your plants when the soil temperatures are low. The lower the temperature of the soil the more difficult it is for the plants to take up nutrients through their roots. A foliar feeding is recommended if you are growing early spring greens or late fall crops.  They can languish in cold soil unable to take up enough nutrients to for proper growth.
One note of caution if you choose to use liquid feeds. Never mix them up more concentrated than the packing recommend or you can burn your plants. It’s also not advisable to water your plants with them in the morning on a hot sunny day, this can cause burnt foliage. I prefer to water with a liquid kelp/fish food in the late afternoon so the leaves dry by nightfall and the plan has time to adjust before the sun comes out again.

What type of fertilizer do you use most often?

10 Comments to “5×5 – When/How Do I Fertilize”
  1. daisy on May 7, 2014 at 6:02 am

    I use a 20-20-20 mix recommended by my garden coach. Fertilizing was the one thing I never did right before I had guidance. It makes a huge difference. I’d like to get back to using fish emulsion. Good information about the foliar feeding. Your plants sure seem to love it!

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  2. Laura @ Raise Your Garden on May 7, 2014 at 6:53 am

    One of the challenges of suburban gardening is that the neighbors don’t particularly like the manure aspect of compost when it goes downwind =)

    I haven’t fertilized much in the past save lyme for my eggplant and peppers.

    When my back is turned my husband goes to town with the Miracle-Gro. I have tried to stop this without much success!

    Love the idea of kelp and seaweed. Will have to try to get some!!!

    Reply to Laura @ Raise Your Garden's comment

  3. Jennifer Fisk on May 7, 2014 at 7:11 am

    From mid Nov until mid April, my rabbits reside in my basement. I use Feline Pine in their waste trays. When I clean the trays I put the contents right on my garden. Sawdust, which is what Feline Pine is made of, requires nitrogen to decompose and takes it from the soil. I water my plants with a solution of bat guano which is very high in nitrogen. Other than rabbit, poultry and goat waste, bat guano is all I use.

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  4. GretchenNC on May 7, 2014 at 7:29 am

    So, what about using my chicken droppings for compost. Right now I have a plastic garbage bin with holes in it and a lid to receive ongoing kitchen scraps and I add the chicken poo and some leaves and stuff here and there. Is this the best use of my valuable chicken poo? Then I’m not sure what to do with this mixture when it’s done. This is really my first time doing a compost with kitchen scraps. Any suggestions from anyone would be great!

    Reply to GretchenNC's comment

    • Susy on May 8, 2014 at 9:26 pm

      This is a great use for chicken poo, composting it is helps it work.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  5. Nebraska Dave on May 7, 2014 at 8:14 am

    Susy, up to now all I’ve used is compost. I have had thoughts of using a horse manure tea to side dress the plants especially the sweet corn. I have an unlimited source for horse manure but just haven’t capitalized on that resource yet. I don’t think I would foliar spray that on the leaves. I’ve never really fertilized during the year. My rejuvenated raised beds have been loaded with compost and partially composted compost so I suspect those will not need any extra fertilizing. Next week will be mega planting time.

    Have a great fertilizing day.

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  6. Luci McKeown on May 7, 2014 at 8:38 am

    We use copious amounts of homemade compost in our vegetable beds. As a new chicken owner, I’m looking forward to using the aged manure next year. An older neighbor cleans out her horse barn in the fall and throws it all on top of her beds at the end of the season then tills it in the next year. Her garden is amazing!!

    Reply to Luci McKeown's comment

    • Susy on May 8, 2014 at 9:26 pm

      Animal manure really makes all the difference.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  7. PennyAshevilleNC on May 7, 2014 at 8:38 am

    This post was perfectly timed! I just planted the starts I got at our farmer’s herb market sale and was wondering what/ when to fertilize….if at all?

    I thought I could add some of my compost around the base of the plants. Now I am leaning toward a kelp/fish or something emulsion. I think the liquid would work into my routine better.

    Am I too late to fertilize? Is it too soon? Thanks!

    Reply to PennyAshevilleNC's comment

  8. Marina on May 7, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Top dressing with compost, I often don not get to any more than that. I find Neptune and chicken manure attracts skunks.
    On anothewr note, I need to replace an ancient watering can, and I love the look of yours. They look well balance.
    Can you provide a link please?
    Thank you,

    Reply to Marina's comment


This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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