Mulching and Fertilization in the Vegetable Garden

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This article will teach you how to use mulch and fertilized in your vegetable garden.
by Brett · All Zones · Organic Gardening · 0 Comments · August 24, 2010 · 12,362 views

Mulching The Vegetable Garden

Mulching serves several purposes in organic vegetable gardening including reducing weed growth, conserving soil moisture and nutrients, regulating soil temperature, helping prevent soil erosion, and reducing water splashing on plants, which keeps them cleaner and reduces the spread of disease.

Too, as it decomposes, mulch increases the amount of organic matter in the soil. Almost any organic matter can be used successfully as mulch. This can include things such as old hay, straw (I use wheat straw), leaves, sawdust, paper, or bark.

Some precautions...

  • Mulches should not be applied too early in the spring because this can delay soil warming. Wait until the soil has warmed up to above 60 degrees F.
  • Avoid materials that may have a lot of seed such as fresh-cut hay or overgrown grass clippings.
  • Fresh material, particularly sawdust, can rob your soil and thus your plants of nitrogen, so make sure it's aged.
  • Avoid material that may be contaminated with toxic chemicals or herbicides because these may damage your plants and end up in the food you put on the table.
  • If you use solid materials such as newspapers these should be weighted with soil to prevent them from blowing away.
  • Avoid putting the mulch too thick. Apply mulch at a maximum of 2 inches thick. Any thicker could prohibit water or applied nutrients from reaching roots.
  • Keep all mulches 2 to 3 inches away from the stems of plants.

Fertilizing The Vegetable Garden

Keep in mind that it's best to have accurate information about your soil in order to fertilize properly.

First, the soil pH and essential nutrient levels in the soil are very important. If the pH of the soil isn't right plants cannot readily absord the essential nutrients they need from the soil. Optimum pH for most vegetables is between 6.0 and 6.5. Irish potatoes are a notable exception with a desired pH of 5.0 to 5.5. Next, in order to determine proper fertilization of specific plants, it is important to know the nutrient status of the soil.

Soil testing is the only accurate method of determining the soil pH and whether or not there are any essential nutrient deficiencies or imbalances. Soil test kits are available at most nursery and garden centers or you can buy a soil testing kit online here. Your local Extension Service might also provide soil testing services. Such tests will offer recommendations on the amount of lime or soil sulfur needed to correct soil pH and the amount of nutrients required to bring the soil into balance. Regarding lime, which is often needed to "sweeten" the soil, approximately 1 ton of lime is required to raise the pH of an acre 1 point. This is about 5 pounds per 100 square feet of garden space. To determine square feet of a given area simply multiply the length of the area by the width of the area.

Click here to learn more about soil pH and how to adjust it

After receiving the results from your soil test you can apply recommended nutrients. You have a choice betweeen synthetic or natural/organic fertilizers. When it comes to plants or plant parts I plan on eating, I always go with organic fertilizers. You may not need to apply near as much of an organic fertilizer as you would a synthetic. Organic fertilizers are much more readily available and absorbed by plants roots than are synthetic fertilizers - just as organic vitamins are to people. Likewise, the nutrients in the organic vegetables you grow will be much more available to your body than those which have been grown non-organically (with synthetic fertilizers and toxic chemicals).

No Soil Test?

In the absence of a soil test, I would recommend fertilizing with an organic vegetable food as directed on the product label. If you garden in a region where soils are typically acid (such as red clay) I would recommend applying a fast-acting, pelletized limestone at the rate of 40 pounds per 500 to 1,000 square feet of area. There are new, specially formulated limestone products that cover 5 times the area as standard pelletized lime. Ask your local nursery and garden center about these products.


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