Spring is just around the corner, and many of you are itching to start your gardens. How do I know this? Because every place that sells seeds is sold out! Poor Baker Creek, which has struggled to maintain stock since COVID-19 hit the United States, warns that orders will take 30 days or more to ship.
Once you can score some seeds, do you know what to do with them? There’s a lot more to gardening than tilling up some soil and planting your seeds. Your soil is almost definitely missing nutrients and minerals necessary to grow healthy and healthful vegetables.
There are endless debates over what amendments make for a great garden. Some of it is dependent on your soil, but there are some things that are universally needed, like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as a variety of micronutrients.
David the Good and Steve Solomon are two of my favorite gardening authors because they focus on gardening for survival. If you want to improve the fertility of your gardens, I recommend David’s Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting and Solomon’s The Intelligent Gardener: Growing Nutrient-Dense Food.
David recently moved to a place in Alabama with sandy, dead soil. His soil test was so abysmal that he called Solomon for help. Solomon studied his soil test to formulate a special blend of organic fertilizers for his garden. David decided to run an experiment using 12 separate beds, each treated with a different fertilizer. He compared the beds not only based on how well they grew but also on how well vegetables tasted.
The most important bits:
- Steve Solomon’s fertilizer mix performed the best for growth and turnip flavor
- Biochar soaked in Dyna-Gro also produced well and made for the best-tasting radishes
- The no-till lasagna garden also performed well without additional additives but didn’t make for great-tasting vegetables
- The worst-tasting vegetables were produced by the 10-10-10 chemical fertilizer
- Everyone’s soil is different, so it’s worth getting a soil test before amending your garden so you know what it needs (and what it doesn’t)
- Liquid fertilizers aren’t enough on their own. They need organic matter in the soil to soak into.
If you’re unfamiliar with Solomon, he’s known for strong opinions about gardening. Among other things, he advocates a mix called Complete Organic Fertilizer, which has changed a bit over the years. In Gardening When It Counts, it was a mix of seed meal, agricultural lime, gypsum, dolomite lime, and optionally, bone meal and kelp meal…
Josh did an excellent job summarizing our results – I am very pleased that others have found the experiment to be useful. Later this week I should post a video on the final harvest of turnips and radishes from the test beds, so stay tuned for that.