Purposes for Feeding, Sidedressing
General well being – Compost is the best general feed. It is rich with nutrition, has great water holding capacity, especially needed in summer and drought areas. Here are some possibilities. Pull back your mulch, scatter and lightly dig in a little chicken manure. If you prefer organic granulated fertilizer sprinkle it around evenly. At the same time, and/or lay on a ½” of tasty compost, topped with some worm castings. Or you can water on some fish emulsion. Water well and gently so things stay in place. Pull your mulch back in place. See more
Up production, extend harvests – Again, compost is a great pick-me-up. It’s gentle, balanced, and free if you make your own. Plants you have from saving seed are adapted to your special blend and just keep getting better! Some gardeners dig it in a bit, no deeper than the top 6″ for most summer veggies. Others simply pull back the mulch, lay on an inch of compost, water, then recover with the mulch. No need to cover an entire area if you are short on compost. Do only out to the dripline.
Less leaf/more blossoms – Studies show the ideal ratio of nutrients for flowering plants, tomatoes, squash, beans, peppers, melons, eggplant, is an NPK of 3-1-2. (That’s 3% Nitrogen, 1% phosphorus & 2% potassium.) So look for that ratio on the label of packaged fertilizers; anything close to a 3-1-2, a 6-2-4 or a 9-3-6 does the job. If you are getting way too much leaf, few to no blooms, no fruit, water like a fiend to wash away the too much N (Nitrogen) your soil has. Plus, though N makes for beautiful leaves, too much inhibits flowering and fruiting. You can add fertilizers high in Phosphorous for blooms, but at this point it needs to be super easy for quick uptake by your plant.
More foliage – Lettuce, chard, kale can use more N. They are doing nothing but make leaves and for those plants we don’t want flowers! They are good with higher ratios of N. Liquid fish and seaweed mix is good if you don’t have predator animals frequenting your garden! Fish and kelp have a nice balance of the basic nutrients and lots of essential trace elements. Pour some into your watering can, dilute it as directed and water it into the soil around the root zone to the dripline. If you prefer granulated stuff, pull back your mulch, sprinkle the granules around evenly, about 6″ from the plant stem. Lettuce thrives on chicken manure scratched into the top 2″, does wonders, especially in summer when your plants are working hard. Cover your mix or scratched in manure with compost or soil for faster uptake, and water in. Put your mulch back in place.
Green up the leaves – a super quick fix is to give your plants a tad of blood meal. It is easy for your plant to take up, and leaves get back to their beautiful Nitrogen rich dark green asap! Blood meal is an expensive high nitrogen fertilizer, 12-2-0, a very high number for a natural product, as are fish meal (and fish emulsion), horse and poultry manure ie chicken manure. Use it sparingly because it can burn flowers and foliage due to the ammonia content. And, remember, too much N inhibits flowering and fruiting. Blood meal is also toxic to animals.
Disease and Pest Resistance! Worm castings are tops! Raise your own worms or buy castings in a bag or fresh and potent at a local organic nursery!
Foliar Feeding – Leaves
Not everyone can always get down on their hands and knees and dig about under their veggie plants. Maybe making compost, worm casting and/or manure teas will work for you! There are various methods, some simple, others time consuming and complex. Either way, they work! If you take the easy route, all you do is mix a handful of castings, a handful to a cup of compost, handful of manure, stir and let them soak overnight in a bucket. In the morning, swoosh it around in the bucket one more time, let it settle, then strain the top liquid into your long neck watering can, the one with the up turning rose. If you don’t have predators like skunks, stir in liquid Fish Emulsion, 6 tablespoons per gallon of water/Kelp, ¼ to ½ teaspoon per gallon of water, mix, and drench your plants! That’s a mix they won’t forget! Get a watering can that has a rose (spray end) that will swivel upward so you can apply that tasty mix to both the undersides and tops of the leaves, the whole plant. Since it has been found foliar feeding is in some cases more efficient that soil feeding, it makes good sense!
Teas have no drawbacks. They can be applied to good avail every couple of weeks if you wish.
Peppers, Toms, Eggplant & ROSES respond really well to Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom Salts) foliar feeding. Apply it when they are seedlings, when you transplant.
- Magnesium is critical for seed germination and the production of chlorophyll, fruit, and nuts. Magnesium helps strengthen cell walls and improves plants’ uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur. Magnesium deficiency in the soil may be one reason your tomato leaves yellow between the leaf veins late in the season and fruit production slows down.
- Sulfur, a key element in plant growth, is critical to production of vitamins, amino acids (therefore protein), and enzymes. Sulfur is probably the oldest known pesticide in current use. It can be used for disease control (e.g., powdery mildews, rusts, leaf blights, and fruit rots), and pests like mites, psyllids and thrips. Sulfur is nontoxic to mammals, but may irritate skin or especially eyes.
CAUTION Sulfur has the potential to damage plants in hot (90°F and above), dry weather. It is also incompatible with other pesticides. Do not use sulfur within 20 to 30 days on plants where spray oils have been applied; it reacts with the oils to make a more phytotoxic combination.
- Epsom Salts are easy to do! Buy some Epsom Salts, what you soak your feet in, at the grocery store, mix a tablespoon per gallon, foliar feed! Foliar feeding is simply sprinkling leaves with your solutions, and works better than applying to the soil! Get a long snouted watering can that has a turnable sprinkler head. That long spout comes in handy, reaching well into your plant! Turn the head so the water shoots up under the leaves then falls back on the tops! The long arc of the handle gives lots of maneuvering ability and saves your back! Feed your plants once when they bloom, and again ten days later. The results, attributed to magnesium in the salts, are larger plants, more flowers, more fruit, thicker walled peppers! I use this mix on all my Solanaceaes: eggplant, pepper, tomato, tomatillo. Roses love it too!
Plants have lots of little feeder roots near the surface of the soil, at least out to their dripline. When you cultivate or scratch up the soil, those little roots are broken and they can no longer feed your plant. Scratch up the soil on two sides only at most. Leave plenty of undisturbed soil so the feeder roots can continue to feed your plant. Your plant may even slow down after a feeding until it grows more feeder roots back. Give it a little time for recovery.
Seedlings need to be fed close to the plant because they don’t have an array of feeder roots yet.
Lettuces love a bit of chicken manure, but ixnay for strawberries. They don’t like the salts.
If you enjoy making those tea/fish/kelp mixes, and want to feed your plants but minimize damage to their roots and soil structure, get yourself a spade fork, or if you have a lot of territory, a broad fork like in the image! Push it down into the soil, rock it back and forth slightly to make holes, pour in your soup! You will hear the soil organisms dancing!
Know your guanos! Besides being expensive, bat and Seabird Guanos are not a quick fix; they take awhile to break down. Some say they are better applied as foliar teas, but still, the release time per Colorado University Extension is FOUR MONTHS even for powdered guano! Guanos vary hugely in NPK percents! Adding guanos high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time helps your plants continue to bloom late in the season! Jamaican bat is high P phosphorus (blooms) 1-10-0.2. But Mexican bat is high N (leaf growth, plant vigor) 10-2-1. Peruvian seabird is high in N and P (leaf and bloom) 10-10-2.
Worm castings?! OH, YES! Though they are not nutrients they do cause seeds to germinate more quickly, seedlings to grow faster, leaves grow bigger, more flowers, fruits or vegetables are produced! Vermicompost suppresses several diseases on cucumbers, radishes, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and peppers, according to research from Ohio State extension entomologist Clive Edwards. It also significantly reduced parasitic nematodes, APHIDS, mealy bugs and mites. These effects are greatest when a smaller amount of vermicompost is used—just 10-40% of the total volume of the plant growth medium is all that is needed, 25% is ideal!
Up production, extend your growing time, enjoy seeing your plants’ radiant health, and be blessed with scrumptious meals!
See also Soil Building!