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Fertility for fall gardens helps now and in the spring


Last updated 10/11/2007 at Noon

Rich soil pays off. In organic gardening, rich, healthy soil is the key to a bountiful garden. The secret is to feed the soil as well as the plants, and eventually the soil itself will feed the plants.

Fertility in the fall is as important as in springtime. The difference is the variety of plants and that the earth is drawing in during winter and moving up and out in the summer. Nitrogen is needed now, but with less importance than phosphorus, and potash.

We talked about this in the spring, but now I am going to discuss how it affects the plants this time of the year. Soil fertility, as we know, is the most important part of an organic system. We want to stimulate the life in the soil, the microbiology, at the same time producing great gardens.

Basic soil and plant fertility involve macro nutrients, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). We also have micro nutrients and we will get to them a little farther down.

Nitrogen promotes general plant growth size and speed. It promotes green leaves and chlorophyll, assists in photosynthesis (conversion of the sun’s rays into energy that the plant needs to live). This time of the year the need for nitrogen is lessened due to the cool temperatures. It is still needed but in less quantity. Sources for nitrogen are feather meal, blood meal, organic cottonseed meal and fish meal.

Phosphorus is vital to plant root development. This is where the main energy is going in the winter. It is necessary for the production of fruit and flowers, and creating a strong root system that gives good leaf production in greens. Soft rock phosphate (old ancient ocean bottoms) makes this a great source, as it comes with a huge amount of trace minerals. The other is bone meal.

Potassium is necessary to complete the photosynthesis process. It allows the plant to convert solar energy in a glucose type of sugar. This is the source of all life on this planet. This element helps to create sweeter fruit. This is equally necessary all year.

The micro nutrients are vital to the plants’ health, even though all together that represents only three percent of the total food the plant uses. Without them the flavor is weak and the plant is weak.

Kelp in its many forms – liquid, powder, granules – all are great and easy-to-come-by sources of most micro nutrients. Rock and volcanic dust are also really valuable but a little harder to come by and more of a long-term investment.

Alfalfa meal and humates can supply many minerals, plus they stimulate the plant roots to action. They should be an addition to any program.

These above materials can be purchased separately or in a pre-made formula. Either way is good. Add an equal part of compost to any fertilizer mix to have some biology go into the soil with the fertilizer to help it become more available to the plant.

All these fertilizers, and more, are available at area farm supply stores and nurseries. This is a great time to be an organic enthusiast since the popularity is exploding, giving us more supplies all the time. Keep repeating your winter vegetable planting to keep a fresh succession of produce coming all winter.


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