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Vegetable Gardening Hints, Issue #038
April 12, 2011

Simple ways to improve your garden soil..

Few of us have ideal garden soil however there are easy ways to improve what you do have. Adding in soil amendments and soil fertilizers will improve the structure and texture of your soil and provide useable nutrients for your plants.

Adding organic matter to your garden soil will add bulk which is needed for sandy soil, or will help with drainage if you have clay soil. It will can better moisture retention, help improve the ease in which soil can be tilled, and will add some nutrients to your soil.

I recommend adding in 3 - 4 inches of organic matter to your garden beds each year. This will give you a healthier and more productive vegetable garden. The following soil amendments will help you in building healthier soil.

Here are some common organic soil amendments:

  • Compost will add in organic matter to your soil and can be made in a compost bin in your backyard, in worm composting bins or purchased.
  • Peat moss will help increase moisture retention and improve sandy soil.
  • Animal manure will add some nutrients and bulk to your soil. Use well rotted manures; fresh manures will burn plants. Best time to apply is in the fall or very early in the spring and dig it completely under to prevent any seeds that may be in it to sprout.
  • Seaweed will add nitrogen, potash and trace minerals to your soil. Fresh seaweed can be collected from the beach. It is usually more plentiful in the fall however be aware of how much you take as it contains organisms that are important for sea life. Dried seaweed is available in most garden centers.
  • Sawdust, wood chips or straw will add bulk to your soil. Best suited for clay soil to make it lighter.
  • Green manures are plants grown in the fall and tilled under in the early spring, often called cover crops. Some examples are buckwheat, clover, fava beans, fall rye, field peas, hairy vetch, and oats. The will add bulk to your soil which can improve drainage and aeration. Some varieties will add nitrogen to your soil.
Soil fertility is constantly changing due to digging or tilling the soil, plants using up nutrients, leaching from rainfall, and blown away with the wind.

There are two fertilizing categories organic and inorganic. There has been a lot of debate regarding which is better. The choice of which you use is a personal preference. I personally believe and have had best results by following organic practices. To me this is the only way to go.

Here is the difference:

  • Organic soil fertilizers:
    1. some examples are cottonseed meal, blood meal, bone meal, rock phosphate, greensand
    2. each of these are high in one of the major nutrients in your soil
    3. takes longer to reach your plants, however they are improving your garden soil.

  • Inorganic soil fertilizers:
    1. called chemical fertilizers
    2. are slow or time released
    3. can reach the plant quicker than organic fertilizers, however they do not improve your soil fertility.

Here are the 3 main nutrients needed by your veggie plants and they usually need to be added every year. It is best to add them in the spring before you start planting your seeds or transplants. Dig the fertilizer into the soil to a depth of 6 to 12 inches so the nutrients are available to the plantís root system.

Nitrogen (N)

  • promotes leaf and stem growth
  • gives plant the green color
  • controls oxygen levels in plants
  • plants need and use a large amount
  • leaches with rainfall

Sources: bloodmeal, cotton seed, fish meal, cocoa shells, animal manures

How much to add?

  • low nitrogen add 5 pounds per 100 square feet
  • average nitrogen add 2.5 pounds per 100 square feet
  • maintain good nitrogen add 1 pound per 100 square feet

Phosphorus (P)

  • promotes seed germination, fruit growth, flowering and healthy roots
  • gives winter hardiness to fall plantings
  • plants need this in reasonable amounts

Sources: bone meal, rock phosphate, animal manures, fish emulsion

How much to add?

  • low phoshorus add 6 pounds per 100 square feet
  • average phoshorus add 2.5 pounds per 100 square feet
  • maintain good phoshorus add 1 pound per 100 square feet

Potassium also known as Potash (K)

  • promotes young leaves and buds, root growth and seed production
  • it improves the flavor of fruit and vegetables

Sources: potash rock, wood ash, greensand

How much to add?

  • low potassium add 10 pounds per 100 square feet
  • average potassium add 5 pounds per 100 square feet
  • maintain good potassium add 2.5 pounds per 100 square feet

If you do not want to got the route of purchasing and fertilizing with several different items there are some great organic fertilizers on the market.

Vegetable gardening books written by Catherine Abbott, Your Vegetable Gardening Helper.

Please contact me
with your comments and suggestions.

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Welcome to the world of vegetable gardening!


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