The Q&A Archives: Fertilizing vegetables

Question: What kind of natural fertilizer do I use on my vegetable plants, mainly tomato & herbs?

Answer: Organic fertilizers vary in their NPK ratios, so try to create a fairly balanced mix, such as 10-10-10 when mixing your own. 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, you're 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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