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Perfect soil is not as critical as some may think

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By Broccoli Billy

The three major elements for plant growth are food, water, and sunlight. Of these water is the most dominant – with the exception perhaps of the fungi of mushrooms, which grow in dark caves and possibly your closet. Notice, of these three major elements, soil is not mentioned!

We all too often think that good, rich, fertile soil is absolutely vital to a good garden. People have mentioned that they have tried to grow a garden out back but the soil is so poor. Then they expect miracles to happen. When the expected results don’t show, they mistakenly think that the poor outcome is caused by poor soil.

Florida soils are well known for poor fertility. Yet Florida is a leading producer of vegetables and fruit in the United States. Soil is given nutrients, and the plants draw off that food from the soil. Hydroponics is a well-known method of growing plants without soil. Plants are held by special stem clamps and set in a bath of nutrients. Usage of pebbles, rock, wood, or ground coconut husks are also used to hold the plant in place. This is a proven method of growing vegetables without soil.

The soil we use can be improved on by adding organic material. My choice is plenty of leaves from the lawn, pine needles, and last year’s dead vegetable plants. Organic material adds body and water retention, and contains some nutrients. However, fertilizer is a must for healthy, high producing vegetables.

Now let us discuss fertilizer – organic or non-organic. If you have access to animal manure, steamed bone meal and others of this kind – you are organically ready for business. Animal manure has an odor that some people don’t appreciate. It can also be loaded with weed seeds. Plant the manure and plant the weeds. I have three garden plots 30-ft by 100-ft, and could easily use 9 dump truck loads each year. For many of us, organic fertilizers are not a good option. If you want to grow a true organic garden the use of any chemical fertilizer voids the term organically grown.

For many of us the only practical way to fertilize is to use chemical fertilizers. You may have planted 7 different types of plants in your vegetable garden. Commercial growers target special fertilizers for all different plants. When walking through the garden center, you may see 5 pallets of fertilizer, each pallet having different numbers on their bags. You might see 5-5-5, 10-10-10, 16-4-8, 34-0-0, etc. I special ordered a fertilizer (calcium nitrate), which is 15.5-0-0. For our purpose we will use a general purpose fertilizer with the same three numbers such as 10-10-10, 20-20-20, etc. What do all these numbers mean? These three numbers are macronutrient numbers: the first is nitrogen, the second is phosphorous, and the third is potassium, also called potash. Each number is the percentage in 100-lbs. of that element. These elements are used in large quantities for plant growth. Now, what are the other number percentages listed? These are micronutrients which plants need but, in very small amounts. Some would be copper, magnesium, boron, zinc and others. Ever wondered why vegetables contain vitamins and minerals?

Next time we will discuss water and watering systems.

Boil your Broccoli

Broccoli Billy