Growing beautiful and tasty produce is a passion for gardeners all over the world, with most willing to do just about anything to increase their yields. While many gardeners and farmers are still pumping unnatural chemicals and fertilizers into their crops, a growing number of people are electing to skip these “beefed” up products for produce that is closer to what Mother Nature intended. If you’re ready to join the ranks of the millions that have discovered the natural way to grow, let’s take a look at how you can begin increasing your garden’s yields organically.
When it comes to feeding your garden plants fertilizer, you need to understand a few important things:
- Most fertilizers are made up of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K) and the amounts of these three nutrients will appear (in that order) on the fertilizer bag as three numbers, like 10-10-10, or 5-10-20. This tells you what you’re getting and how much.
- Nitrogen is mainly for growth and greenery, which is great for the beginning stages.
- Phosphorus is used for helping your plant develop a strong root system and blooms.
- Potassium aids in water movement, giving you sweet and appealing fruit, and also helps in overall plant health.
You know the old saying – “You are what you eat,” which is exactly why many people are going all natural in their food and fertilizer choices. Many commercially available fertilizers are chemically treated to make the nutrient levels in the fertilizer higher, and for your plant to be able to take them in more easily. However, these inorganic and artificial fertilizers can decrease your soil’s pH, actually deplete your soil’s natural minerals and nutrients, and the inorganic chemicals could potentially leech into your produce, which isn’t good for anyone’s health.
So how do you avoid all of those nasty chemicals? Make your own fertilizer by composting grass and yard clippings, vegetable matter and food scraps. As these ingredients break down, they begin forming a dirt-like substance that is rich in nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium. To add even more power to your compost, consider adding bone meal or fish meal to boost the phosphate levels, which is great for getting more produce from your plants.
While not the most pleasing fertilizer for the senses, chicken manure is rich in all three important nutrients, especially nitrogen. Chicken manure works great when added directly to your garden or as an additive to your organic compost. You can buy chicken manure at some garden centers or home improvement stores, but the cheapest method might be through contacting a local farmer to see if they have any extra. Because “fresh” chicken manure is so abundant in nitrogen, if you plan on applying it directly to your garden, do so about two months before you plant to avoid the dreaded “nitrogen burn.”
Horse manure has about half the nutrient levels of chicken manure (but smells worse!), but you can use it the same way. Most gardeners find that horse manure works better in compost than directly on their garden. Horses eat a lot of grasses and plants with seed, as well as grain, and that is expelled in their manure, which then grows when broadcast fresh in a garden. Again, if you decide to go the direct-to-garden route, do so two months or so before planting so you’ll have time to properly weed the garden.
Fertilizers of the Sea
Seaweed, kelp, and fish emulsion fertilizer are very good additions to your arsenal to help your plants increase their yields. Although these fertilizers provide a very small amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, they contain an abundance of trace and micro-materials that are found in sea life. You can mix these fertilizers in with your compost or add directly to your garden. Some users of fish emulsion fertilizer have found that on the plants they used this fertilizer on, they had double the amounts of produce compared to the plants they didn’t use it on. One such product is Protogrow®.
Some gardeners have found several different pruning methods that allow them to increase the yields of certain plants. Pruning can be a bit scary, so experiment only on a few plants until you’re sure that this method works for you.
For tomatoes, start by pruning any stems with leaves that are touching the ground. This will not only help prevent disease, but in the long run, with help your plant produce more fruit. Next, once your tomato plant begins to flower, find the lowest (closest to the ground) stem that is flowering. Cut all of the stems off below this. This allows the plant to concentrate more on growing blooms, not making new stems from the bottom. Also, prune “suckers” – stems that grow out of the area between a side stem and the main stem of the plant. Towards the end of the growing season, prune the top of the main stem of the tomato plant and all of the ends of stems. While this seems scary, it will direct the plant’s energy to ripening the last fruit instead of making more leaves, which will die at the first frost.
Like tomatoes, pepper plants also have a pruning method that might increase yields. This method is a bit controversial, so experiment with caution. In the first few weeks of planting your peppers, once it looks healthy and established, pinch off a few stems to encourage your pepper plant to become bushier. Shoots will appear where you removed the stems. Do this every few weeks in the early growing season. After a few weeks, your pepper plant should have white flower blooms. As hard as this may be, pinch off the early blooms to encourage more numerous and larger peppers to form later in the growing season. Doing this allows the pepper plant to concentrate on establishing a better root system. After you’ve removed these early blooms, you can stop.