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NATURAL GARDENING WITH
ORGANIC FERTILIZERS

I treat the vegetables in my garden like accidental tourists. They're growing in completely foreign climates over extended seasons, their potential limited by the stress of being in a new land. My job is like a hospitality manager--I make up their room, make them comfortable, provide what they need before they ask, and treat them as welcome guests. Then I eat them.

True organic fertilization is like a very long buffet line. The gardener adds plant materials and minerals to the soil; the soil creatures, both big and small, feast on these materials; and, in return, they sustain a chemical reaction which makes nutrients available to the vegetables we grow and consume.

While large-scale production of commercial organic fertilizers is still scant and pricey, there are a number of mail order suppliers who specialize in organic fertilizers and offer a wide variety at reasonable prices. And, with the natural cycles of growth and decay on our side, we can home-craft some organic fertilizers ourselves.

A Menu for Hungry Soil

Get a bunch of gardeners together and you'll hear friendly discussions about the merits of two maxims. One is "feed the soil," the other "feed the plant." Experience and research has convinced me that intensive vegetable growers do both. But can you grow fresh vegetables in your present soil? If your intended garden plot is growing a varied crop of weeds, the odds are, vegetables will grow there. If the weeds are all the same, or there are none at all, chances are they won't.

Get to know the soil in your growing area. A call to your county cooperative extension horticultural office will give you the basic rundown on the region's soil. A quick check with my extension office told me that five nutrients are elusive in my soil, but potassium is so abundantly supplied I need not worry about it. A routine soil test taken just before or after the growing season is good information to have. Your county extension office may provide one for you, (some charge and some do it free), or ask at a garden supply center. Be sure to label the sample for vegetable growing, to help the tester interpret the results more accurately.

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Written by: Catherine Fenner

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