The Q&A Archives: Gardening Organically

Question: I am planning to have an organic raised bed garden this year. what do i use to make my garden soil truly organic. i am not quite sure if the bags of dirt and compost that i purchase are organic. also what other nutrients should be added to the soil. thank you

Answer: If a product is labeled "organic" it is free of chemicals so you can try to find organic topsoil or you can make your own by using your own soil and adding organic amendments to it. Adding compost is one of the very best things you can do to improve your soil. Compost improves soil structure, making it more workable, it improves drainage in clay soil, improves moisture retention in sandy soil and provides food for beneficial organisms, like earthworms. However, the nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium--the NPK listed on fertilizer containers) in compost can vary considerably. So until you build up an extremely healthy soil, it would be a good idea to add some nutrients. Organic fertilizers also vary in their NPK ratios, so try to create a fairly balanced mix, such as 10-10-10. Some organic fertilizers follow: Nitrogen: alfalfa meal, blood meal, coffee grounds, cottonseed meal, fish emulsion, seabird guano. Phosphorous: bone meal, rock phosphate Potassium: greensand, seaweed, kelp. Mix your own with the above materials to make a custom blend specifically for what you're growing. In general terms, nitrogen produces lush green growth, phosphorous helps strengthen stems and produce flowers, and potassium keeps the root system healthy. In reality, these elements work in conjunction with one another. If you're applying fertilizer to tomato plants, for example, youre not as interested in the plant developing leaves as you are in it flowers and fruit, so you'd use a formulation lower in nitrogen and higher in phosphorous and potassium, such as a 5-10-10. Since phosphorous doesn't move as readily through the soil as does nitrogen, it's a good idea to mix a small amount (follow package instructions) into the hole before transplanting, or to mix it into the soil before sowing seeds. Add the fertilizer before planting, and then see how the plants thrive. You can add a sidedressing of fertilizer mid season if the plants look like they need it.

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