Fertilizer for vegetables

A few weeks ago a friend of mine asked me about fertilizer- what do I use that isn’t harmful to humans? What type of fertilizer is best for the garden? The honest answer, like almost everything related to the garden, is that I have learned all about fertilizer from my Dad, Rob. So I reached out to him to write a guest blog post about fertilizer. Believe it or not, there is a lot to say on this topic so I have broken it out into two posts – 1.) how is fertilizer created and what you need to know to choose a fertilizer 2.) how to make your own fertilizer. Enjoy!

First, I prefer organic fertilizer that is formulated for vegetable growing.

Why organic? At a high level, using organic fertilizer actually creates healthy, rich soil rather than being a quick fix for vegetables. The post Preparing your garden beds for planting speaks to the importance of good soil in creating a healthy and strong garden. Organic soil not only feeds the vegetables but also is a food source for all the good things that you want in your soil like microorganisms and earthworms.

When you look for a fertilizer, you may notice that most have an NPK rating of 10-5-5. What? Wait! What the heck is an NPK rating? I guess I need to start at the very beginning. 

Fertilizer is typically rated by three numbers. The first is the Nitrogen number, the second is Phosphorous and the third number is Potassium. All three of these numbers are important to the growth of your plants. The numbers are the percentage of those nutrients that are contained in that bag of fertilizer.

Nitrogen – helps foliage and blooms
Phosphorus – helps root development and proper growth
Potassium – stimulates growth.

Have you ever noticed how different fertilizer bags have different NPK numbers on them? Wouldn’t it be simple if every plant on this earth wanted the name amount of NPK to be healthy? Unfortunately nature throws us yet another curveball by giving us plants that have different needs. Typically you will see different formulations for vegetables and fruits versus flowers or starting a new lawn from grass seed. This blog entry won’t cover all the particulars on the differences, suffice it to say that vegetables like nitrogen for that nice green look on foliage and blooms but it needs root development and growth to be very happy. That’s why fertilizer for vegetables and fruits have more consistent numbers like doesn’t 5-10-5 as opposed to 28-4-4 for new lawn seed. Giving your plants too much of a good thing could actually burn the plants leading to a stressful situation or even death!

So if you buy a fertilizer for your garden if you buy a fertilizer for your garden make sure it’s rated for vegetables and fruits and therefore has a fairly balanced NPK equation. Now it gets interesting. If you want the simple route, and aren’t frugal stop reading and go out and buy a decent brand (Meg uses homemade and Dr. Earth dry fertilizer) of all purpose organic vegetable fertilizer – your garden but not your pocket book will thank you. If you are frugal or a do-it-yourselfer, read on.

To the readers – what are your favorite organic fertilizer brands for fruits and vegetables?

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When to harvest arugula (rocket)

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Before I knew it, my arugula looked like it was exploding out of the garden bed. I thought, “I think it is time to harvest, but how do I know for sure?”.

Arugula grows very quickly, so in just a few weeks leaves are long and flavors are bold. You can start harvesting as soon as the leaves are at least 3″ long. Young leaves are more mild, but you also don’t want to harvest too late that your plant stops growing and starts to go to seed.

A few tips for harvesting arugula:

  • Harvesting can begin when eaves are 3″ long.
  • Start cutting from the outside of the plant so that itstay intact and continues growing new leaves.
  • Harvest frequently so that the plant does not stop growing and goes to seed
  • Eventually, allow at least one arugula plant to flower and go to seed so that it reseeds. Or you can collect the seeds if you want to use them in a different locationDSC_0011

My leaves were already 5″+, time to harvest!

Now it is time to enjoy your fresh arugula. I love to make salads, here are two of my favorite recipes from Simply Real Health:

This recipe uses kale, but I sub in arugula or whatever greens that I have on hand. My favorite part is the dressing:
Kale + Sweet Potato Salad with Maple Basil Dressing

This recipe also uses kale, but again, I sub in arugula or other greens:
Shredded Chicken, Kale + Avocado Salad

First harvest of the season – radishes

Before you know it, your veggies are flourishing, and then you think, when should I harvest them? You are afraid to cut or pull too soon but also don’t want them to overgrow and then lose their taste. Be sure to take a little time to learn when you should harvest each of the veggies that you are growing.

DSC_0012_2This is the first year I have grown radishes. Only a week after thinning them, they appeared to have doubled in size. I quickly realized that I may need to harvest them. I referenced my favorite book, Square Foot Gardening, and learned to harvest radishes before they are the size of a ping pong ball. Looks like they are ready to harvest!

Just to confirm, do a taste test with the first veggie harvested. I took one bite and the perfect balance of crunch and spice affirmed that it was time to pull them out and enjoy.

The moment I pull a radish or cut a leaf of arugula or pluck a zucchini, I feel a great sense of accomplishment and joy. Relish in this feeling and take in the beauty and taste of your very own creation!

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Thin for plants to thrive

DSC_0004First comes weeding, then comes thinning, then comes weeding again…

If you planted seeds like I did, then you planted 2 seeds/hole. If you are lucky, both seeds sprouted and you now have two plants occupying the same hole. As soon as the plant looks viable, remove one so that the other has more room to flourish.

It pains me to remove a perfectly good spinach or radish, but in the end, I get a more delicious and fruitful vegetable when it has the space to grow full size.

I thinned the radishes a little late, but after giving them more space, they were ready to harvest one week later. I decided to taste test along the way; always remember to enjoy your hard work at every step of the journey.

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Weed for the win

Weeding makes it all worth it. Investing in making the most room for your seeds and baby plants to grow, will lead to a fruitful garden in the upcoming months.IMG_0216

Within just a week of planting seeds, little weeds and unintentional veggies and herbs started to sprout in my beds. Somehow, Cilantro seeds have found their way into both of my garden beds, plus some leftover potatoes. It is important that I remove these and the weeds to make room for the veggies I am attempting to grow.

Weed or Vegetable?
You may need to give the weeds a little time to grow to know if it is a weed vs. a vegetable. If you start to observe, you will quickly become familiar with what the beginning stages of your vegetable looks like vs. a young weed or unintentional crop.

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Immediate ResultsDSC_0014
After spending a few hours (consider it time to de-stress) cleaning up my beds, I saw positive results within just a few days. My young veggies finally had more room to grow and there was room for seeds to continue to sprout.

Weed Weekly
If you can weed a little bit every few days or at least every week, it will start to feel like an easy part of your routine and you will start to see a difference of more vegetable and less weeds. Eventually the veggies will overtake the weeds and you will get to spend more time harvesting than weeding.

Weed for the win!