Feeding the intensive vegetable garden can be an interesting experiment in growing science. There are entire text books devoted to feeding agricultural crops on full-sized farms. What differs in this case is not the needs of the plants but rather the economic consequence of failure or success.
Corn is still a greedy feeder of nitrogen no matter where you grow it and peas will still leave more nitrogen in the ground than they consume.
What matters here is what happens if you mess up and don’t get the feeding right. Your crop might be reduced but you won’t likely lose a lot of money in the home garden as would a farmer’s crop loss.
There are two ways you can deal with feeding your plants. You can learn the nutrition needs of every plant you want to grow or you can “cheat” a little bit and simply use the following easy, home-gardener system. Naturally, I’d recommend the easy system.
- In the early spring, compost the entire garden. Work in as much compost as you have, ideally 2 pounds per square foot (about ¼ to ½ inch). If you don’t have compost, use an organic matter such as peat moss. If you mulch rather rather than dig your garden, add an extra inch of mulch to replace the lost mulch of last year and don’t do any digging (my preferred method)
- Feed each plant section weekly (or at the least every two weeks) with a liquid fish emulsion fertilizer according to the heavy, light, soil building notes below.
This simple system will give your soil adequate nutrition for the season without having to figure out the particular demands of each crop.
Planting by Nutritional Need: A More Complex System
If you want to set up a system for planting by nutritional need, here are a few guidelines that will help you.
- Heavy feeders are those that demand a lot of nitrogen and these include plants with large leaf surfaces such as lettuce, corn, cabbage / cole crops and vine crops such as squash. Feeding them with fish emulsion is best done weekly.
- Light feeders are mostly root crops such as carrots and turnips (plants that have above ground foliage but that you eat the roots). They tend to prefer heavier applications of potash. These plants will be fine with a feeding every two weeks.
- Soil-building plants are the last group and these are plants that leave more nitrogen in the soil after they are finished growing. Beans, peas and peanuts would be three examples. These plants will appreciate a liquid feeding every two weeks.
I happen to think fish emulsion is the simplest system but there are indeed others. I’ll cover those in another section – this is the basic stuff.
Doug’s First Rule of Gardening
You only have to feed your plants if you want flowers, new leaves or fruit.