The Q&A Archives: Plants Healthy But Produced Minimal Vegetables

Question: My garden soil is a mixture of light brown sand, peat, compost, leaves and grass clippings (alot of grass clipping lately). It drains well but this year the plants were very hearty but the green peppers were small if at all as were the carrots, pole beans and tomatoes, even the hot peppers which are typically a good size and quantity were small. Is my soil ph all goofed up?

Answer: It sounds as if you are doing the right thing to improve your soil by adding plenty of organic matter. You might want to have a soil test done to see not only what the pH is, but what other nutrients might be lacking. It sounds as if your soil has plenty of nitrogen (from those grass clippings) but may be lacking in phosphorous, which is needed for flowers and fruits to form.

You probably noticed that fertilizers have 3 numbers on the container. These numbers refer to the percentage of nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K) in the fertilizer. These 3 elements are referred to as macronutrients because plants need them in fairly large (i.e., macro) amounts to thrive. In general terms, nitrogen produces lush green growth, phosphorous helps strengthen stems and produce flowers (and eventually fruit), and potassium keeps the root system healthy.

Other nutrients that plants need, but in lesser amounts, are referred to as micronutrients and include: calcium, magnesium, sulfur, boron, chlorine, copper, iron, molybdenum, and zinc.

I suggest that you add either a balanced fertilizer or one with the middle number higher (phosphorous) to your soil.

Some organic sources of fertilizers are: Nitrogen: alfalfa meal, blood meal, coffee grounds, cottonseed meal, fish emulsion, seabird guano.
Phosphorous: bone meal, rock phosphate
Potassium: greensand, seaweed, kelp

To continually improve your soil, incorporate plenty of compost before every planting season. In sandy soils, compost improves soil fertility, water and nutrient retention. Add a 4-6 inch layer of compost and incorporate it about 12-18 inches deep. You can use manure if it is well-aged (6 months) or you won't be planting until it has lost it's heat and decomposed. Each planting season, add more compost. You may want to incorporate a balanced fertilizer (e.g., 10-10-10) or add organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion, bone meal, and seaweed/kelp. Follow package instructions.

After planting, add a 1-2 inch layer of mulch. Mulch is great to help retain soil moisture, reduce weeds, and as it breaks down it provides nutrients to the soil. Any organic matter can be used as mulch. Try compost, bark, wood chips, straw, or pine needles. As it breaks down, dig it into your soil and add more.

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