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Posts Tagged ‘soil amendments’

Like people, vegetable plants need certain nutrients to grow and thrive. The big three are nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. There are, of course, other nutrients needs like calcium and magnesium that help plants.

Most commercial fertilizers have some mix of the big three, plus other micronutrients. We have a small garden, so I’m always unsure of the proper amount to add even with directions provided. Also, it’s much easier (and makes me more comfortable) adding natural ingredients to our garden and not relying on mixes.

There are plenty of things you can add to help give the soil a boost and most are probably on hand. While I’m sure there is some scientific formula to figure out exactly how much of each nutrient these add to the soil, we’re focused on the primary one these contribute.

  • Nitrogen. This is a big need for almost everything and too much can be just as dangerous. We mostly use coffee grounds because they won’t add too much to the soil, and it’s easy to adjust. They stay separate from compost stuff anyway because it makes the container a soggy mess.
  • Potassium. Bananas are a great source of potassium for humans, and the peels can be just as effective for plants. We just cut up the peel and bury it a couple inches under the soil. As it decomposes, the peel will add this nutrient.
  • Phosphorous. So this isn’t really a natural additive, but matches supposedly work well. My mom told me my grandpa, who always had an amazing and productive garden, would put matches in each planting hole for his peppers. Don’t use the wooden matches, they have to be the cardboard sticks in a small matchbook. We forgot to put these in the pepper holes, so I buried a few next to all our pepper plants.
  • Calcium. We had a really big issue with blossom end rot on our tomatoes last year, and I later learned a lot of this could be attributed to calcium deficiency. One of the easiest ways to correct this is with eggshells. We rinse out the shells and let them dry in the sun. When they’re ready (or when we need them), they’re laid on newspapers and crushed, usually by stepping on them. Then, the powder is sprinkled around each tomato plant.

We’re trying this all for the first time this season. If it works, I’m sure it’s something we’ll keep doing each year.

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With all of the issues we had the past two summers, something had to give in our garden. In an earlier post I wrote that we’re going to switch focus from disease/pest management to creating good soil and growing conditions.

From all my research the obvious place to start was compost, commonly referred to as black gold.

So where do we begin? We needed a bin of some sort to store all the organic material because our property is a small city lot without much extra space. But after that, was it really as easy as throwing in food scraps and dried leaves? For the most part, it actually is.

Our kitchen collector is filled with everything from banana and onion peels to tea bags and vegetable scraps.

Our kitchen collector is filled with everything from banana peels and tea bags to vegetable scraps.

We’re lucky that our county offers free composting classes for beginners and has a great website to answer any questions. I attended a class last spring and walked away with a good amount of information on what makes a successful compost pile.

As an added bonus, we got a free countertop container for our kitchen scraps and a coupon to buy a discounted bin.

The basics are easy: mix nitrogen-rich material with carbon-based material and let the microbes or earthworms do the dirty work. I’ve read a few conflicting “recipes” on what ratio makes the best compost. We’ve generally been following 2:1 – two parts carbon and one part nitrogen.

Though different ingredients have different carbon or nitrogen ratios, we don’t worry about that. It’s basically one bucket of fruit or vegetable scraps to two buckets of leaves or shredded newspaper.

Nitrogen-based: grass clippings, fruit or vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, plant trimmings, etc.

Carbon-based: dried leaves, shredded paper, wood chips, etc.

So far it seems to be working. When we started our compost bin it was filled to the brim with food scraps, dead plants from the garden and shredded leaves. Now it’s roughly half the size, and more and more of it looks like finished compost.

We’re considering getting another bin to make more compost and let the other one keep cooking for the spring.

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