Saturday, October 17, 2015

Fertilizer - Repetitive Feeding?

I've fielded several questions about using manures on my gardens. One recurring worry is about being fearful of applying too much nitrogen. Many, many people have sent me dire warnings about using too much fertilizer. 

First of all, let it be known that I don't apply fertilizer in one hefty lump dose. None of that conventional style gardening where the fertilizer is tilled in or broadcast at the beginning of the season, seeds planted, and crops harvested at the end of the season. No. Nor do I apply a thick layer of compost or manure at one time. I have the habit of applying my fertilizers a little bit at a time throughout the growing period. Not a lot at all at once. By the way, my method developed because I had only my own few livestock's manure available. Each day they provided me with a little, which I promptly used. This dribbling allotting of the manure gave me such good results that I kept the habit.

And I'm aware that not all crops can handle constant feeding. Tomatoes are the most well known crop for being nitrogen sensitive. Too much and they produce very few tomatoes. But there are other crops that respond favorably to constant low dose feeding. I find that "greens" do marvelous. 

Back to those dire warnings I've gotten. I'm being warned that heavily fertilized plants are more susceptible to disease and pests. That lush plants will be devastated while non-lush plants will be spared. While this very well may be true for some veggies, or in certain regions, or certain soil types, I haven't found it to be the case in my homestead. On the contrary, the lush plants actually fare better. 

I grow quite a lot of sweet potato greens. Some for human use but mainly for livestock feed. This crop responds  very well to the extra fertilizer feedings. In the above photo, the sweet potatoes are constantly outgrowing the bed and spilling out into the driveway. That's fine with me. Makes for easy harvesting.

Here's another lush, vigorous bed of sweets. This one is growing in semi-shade and growing very well. Without the extra fertilizer feedings, sweets don't grow this thick and lush in the shade. 

Now here's a sad looking bed of sweets not more than 10' from the previous picture. This bed has NOT gotten the extra rabbit manure.....because I ran out. It just got the initial bed preparation with compost & manure. Without the extra feedings, the plants are growing much slower. On top of it, they are also being attacked by flea beetles, causing them to be stunted and sickly. By comparison, the lush bed 10' away has a very low population of flea beetles. The plants quickly outgrow any beetle damage. 

Here's another example of flea beetles causing severe damage to non-vigorously growing plants. I saved this bed by broadcasting a layer of rabbit manure, and two weeks later applying another light layer. The plants filled out, covered the soil, and outgrew the beetle damage. That volunteer pumpkin plant looks terrible due to flea beetles. The extra manure applications resulted in it pushing new growth  that survived the beetles. It's now blooming. 

Taro is another crop that responds favorably to constant low feeding, especially with manures. I will use a my routine compost to prepare the soil initially. Then when the plants are growing well about 2 to 3 months later I will begin applying light manure feedings on a regular basis. The plants quickly become lush. Rather than seeing pests flock to these lush taro plants, I see less pests. I don't know why, it's just what I happen to see going on. 

General greens grow great for me with small frequent feedings. Spinach. Kale. Chard. Broccoli leaves. Etc. These actually seem to survive diseases and pests better. 

Certain crops do NOT do better. The already mentioned tomatoes. Plus root crops which will produce excessive rootlets with too much nitrogen. They also tend to split when they get too much fertilizer. Potatoes tend to produce odd knobs and cracks. 

I'm sure that too much fertilizer is detrimental in some cases. But I'm finding that with SMALL frequent feedings, I'm not having any problems. Actually, my garden does fine. 

Now if I can only get it to stop raining so much this year, my garden would do a whole lot better! 

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