Provide your vegetable garden with full sun for at least half the daylight hours. Plant it in well-drained soil, which can be kept moist and free of weeds. Then go one step further. Be sure that your vegetables have sufficient plant food at all times.
Of all the unfavorable factors which might spell failure in a vegetable garden, low soil fertility is the most limiting. Happily, it is easily corrected.
3 Major Plant Foo Elements
Your most efficient and economical source of plant nutrients is commercial fertilizer. By plant nutrients, I mean the three major plant food elements. For example, a bag of 6-10-4 contains six percent nitrogen, ten percent phosphorous, and four percent potash.
Under average conditions, an application of mixed fertilizer at 30 pounds per 1000 square feet on fertile soils, up to 50 pounds on light soils is satisfactory. In some cases, an additional application of straight nitrogen is advisable.
The most popular source of straight nitrogen is ammonium nitrate, with ammonium sulfate running second. Actual application rates for specific vegetables are listed at the end of this article.
Another key to growing vegetables successfully is soil pH. Briefly, a pH of 7 is neutral, below 7 is acid and above 7 is basic (or alkaline). A 6.5 (close to neutral) pH is as nearly alkaline as it is safe to go with vegetables, particularly on sandy soils.
If limed above this point, plants may show yellowing -due to the unavailability of some essential plant nutrients. Some vegetables, such as the white potato, should not be limed.
No Guessing Get A Soil Test
To determine if your soil needs lime, make a soil test. Without a soil test, a good guess would be that it may not need liming if your garden has been watered freely with city water. The water carries considerable calcium and magnesium, the two primary liming ingredients.
It is vital to a vegetable garden that the soil contains a high level of organic matter. Decomposing organic matter releases plant nutrients, increases the availability of some nutrients, improves aeration, encourages deeper rooting, and makes vegetables better able to withstand drouth.
Peat moss, leaves, and grass clippings are good sources of organic matter. Another way of adding organic matter to the garden is to sow rye, winter wheat, or oats at the rate of four or five pounds per 1000 square feet at the end of the growing season; fertilize heavily. Plow under in early spring.
What about the manure for the vegetable garden? It is excellent for increasing the humus content of the soil. However, a ton of it contains five to ten pounds of nitrogen, which isn’t nearly enough for good vegetable production.
The most economical method of getting enough plant food in the vegetable garden is commercial fertilizer. Vegetables produced with commercial fertilizers are just as high in nutritional value and healthful as those grown on soils fertilized with organic materials.
Plant asparagus and rhubarb in well-prepared soil beds, high in organic content. Incorporate manure and composts, add three to five pounds of 4-16-16 or its equivalent to 100 square feet of soil.
Radishes, leaf lettuce, garden peas, spinach, and green onions benefit from having three to four pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer (or its equivalent) broadcasted and worked into every 100 square feet of planting area.
Root crops such as beets, carrots, and turnips need three to four pounds of a 10-10-10 or equivalent added to every 100’ square feet of area. This fertilizer may be broadcast, worked in, or applied by banding (placing fertilizer near the plant row at planting time).
Banding is a highly efficient method, but it needs to take care of. To prevent it from injuring the seeds, place the fertilizer two inches from the seed in bands three to four inches deep.
Potatoes and onions will respond well to an application of four to five pounds of a 4-16-16 or a 10-10-10 (per 100 square feet) placed in bands at the sides of the rows.
Broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower should have three to four pounds of 10-10-10 or 4-16-16 per 100’ square feet, placed in bands or broadcast before planting.
Purple or pink tinges in the leaves of these vegetables may be due to cold, wet weather, or a phosphorous or nitrogen deficiency. Yellowing or browning of leaf margins generally indicates a potash deficiency.
Lettuce soil needs two to four pounds of 10-10-10 in bands; celery needs three to five pounds of 10-10-10 or 4-16-16 – per 100’ square feet of garden space.
Tomatoes and peppers benefit from using a starter solution high in phosphorous (one ounce of 6-10-4 to a gallon of water) applied at one-half pint per plant. Some gardeners apply a fertilizer such as 6-10-4 or 8-24-8 in a trench around the transplant at a generous handful per plant.
Over-fertilizing these two plants with nitrogen may reduce fruit production.