Best Organic Fertilizing for Vegetable Gardening
The question of the Best Organic Fertilizer for your vegetable garden, sounds like it should be easy to answer. I know, let’s just Google it! With 512,000 results it should be easy to find the Best Organic Fertilizer! The first article that comes up is a garden forum. Great! I am certain that there will be lots of exceptional, highly intelligent, useful suggestions from a highly ranked gardening forum. Wait a minute! I was expecting one or two great answers; but there are seven pages of responses spanning four years.
Some responses say the best organic fertilizer is to use compost. Others say corn meal is all you need, while others say to search out Dr. Earth products. Now, I have a list of about fifteen products that are considered by these experts as the best organic fertilizer, to use in my garden. organic fertilizing is one of the authority sites on this topic.
The question of finding the Best Organic Fertilizer might need to be answered another way. May I suggest a scientific approach? The first thing I recommend to my customers is a soil test. Not just any test with one of those soil test kits you get at a big box store. But a test performed by a professional analytical lab. They only cost in the range of about $30! The inexpensive soil test kits with the capsules you break apart into water and soil are useless. Don’t waste your money or time with these products.
The results you receive from the analytical testing lab will not get you any closer to finding the best organic fertilizer. It will give you some valuable information. Most importantly it will tell you the pH of your soil. Knowing the pH of your soil is comparable to the importance of knowing your blood type before getting a blood transfusion.
You should expect about a three week turn-around time for results. The report should tell you the soil pH, current nutrient levels in ppm, salt levels in the soil, organic matter in the soil and a few suggestions on what amendments you need to add per acre.
First things first, what is your pH? This needs to be addressed first and foremost. If your pH is lower than 5.5 or higher than 7.5 you will want to create a plan to adjust it. Adjusting the pH is tricky and seeking expert advice at this point is advised. A substance with a pH of 7.0 is considered neutral. Vegetable garden soils perform best in a pH range of 6.0 – 7.2. Fertilizers are not the answer to lowering or raising the soil pH. This article is about the best organic fertilizer, not changing the soil pH.
After you have a plan to deal with your soil pH, you will want to address the salt levels. If the salt levels are too high then they should be adjusted before adding any amendments. Depending on the salt levels several applications of 4-8″ of water will need to be applied to the soil and allowed to thoroughly drain. Very few plants will grow in soil with high salt levels. If the salt levels are borderline high plants will grow poorly and exhibit nutrient deficiencies.
We have a pH plan and washed away the high salt levels. Now can look at the nutrient levels reported on the soil test? Not yet! Next we need to look at the Soil Texture and create a plan to make it better. Soil Texture, also referred to as Soil Tilth, refers to the general suitability of the soil to promote root growth.
Next we look at the percent organic material in the soil from the soil test. If it is too high or too low it can cause issues. We need another plan to increase or decrease the amount of organic material in the soil. Increasing organic matter is easy. Decreasing it is addressed by increasing the amount of available nitrogen in the soil. This will depend on what kind of organic material is in the soil.
Now we can look at the nutrient levels. First, what is the nitrate level? In most cases it should be between 40-60 parts per million (ppm) at the beginning of the season. Let’s assume the nitrate level is below 40ppm and you are looking at the available organic fertilizers on the market. The meaning of organic gets confusing at this point.
When talking about “Organic Food” and “Organic Fertilizer” the definition of organic is completely different. Certified Organic Food is regulated by the National Organic Program (NOP) which is part of the USDA. The NOP sets the standards of how food can be grown in order for farmers to use the “USDA Organic” label.
A compound, like most fertilizers, is generally considered organic if it contains at least one Hydrogen-Carbon molecule. Every fertilizer manufacturer knows that if the general public sees “organic” on their packaging then it must be allowed in Organic Garden operations.
The organization that certifies if an input can be used in the production of USDA Organic labeled food is the Organic Materials Research Institute (OMRI). An input is anything used in the growing operation such as fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides. OMRI is a non-profit organization that works to ensure certified inputs meet the NOP guidelines.
We have just scratched the surface with looking for a nitrogen source as the best organic fertilizer to buy. To complicate matters if you go to the OMRI website you will find about 400 nitrogen products. Picking one you can buy locally is challenging as most of them are commercially sold by the ton.