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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?

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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.