Every year, we get the same questions in a variety of formats: why won’t my vegetables grow? What should I do to grow more tomatoes? Do I need different types of fertilizer for my different vegetables? The answer to all of these questions is the best fertilizer for your soil and vegetables: compost! Compost is the all-purpose answer to everything, and if you have enough of it you won’t need much of anything else. Though different crops have different needs, they will be able to serve themselves from the smorgasbord provided by healthy soil with plenty of compost in it. Once you start adding specific fertilizers, you start having to pay attention to each individual diet.
Salad greens, for example, want lots of nitrogen to promote the fast growth of leafy tissue. Peppers, on the other hand, are more eager for the potassium that promotes flower and fruit development. Although they too need nitrogen, they’d make great big green leafy bushes with nary a pepper in sight if you gave them a lettuce-appropriate dose.
And major nutrients like nitrogen and potassium are just the beginning. There are dozens of micronutrients, such as boron, calcium, and copper, that plants must have — in different amounts — to thrive.
In practice, it can be hard to create soil so fertile that no amendment is necessary, especially when growing vegetables in a small space. But before you break out the fertilizer cookbook and start concocting special meals for all the crops you want to grow, make sure the soil is well drained and well aerated, and that the pH is between 6 and 7 (the best range for most vegetables). Ensuring these conditions exist may be all you need to do. If the soil is bad or the pH out of whack, it won’t matter what you put on the table, the vegetables won’t be able to eat.
by Vicki Schilleman, OCMGA Master Gardener