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Fall Fertilizing Guide #GardenSense

Moving_soil

But keeping organic can be confusing. Commercial organic fertilizers, cover crops, compost, manure: which, how much and when?
Fall fertilizing has many advantages over soil amendment in the spring. You can use winter downtime in the garden to ensure fresh animal manure applied in fall won’t burn new seedlings. Fresh manure has high nitrogen content, and as such, needs time to break down before coming in contact with delicate sprouts.
Letting nature take its course over winter can also be used with unfinished compost. Partially decayed matter can be applied then tilled and left to cure until next spring. Hard to breakdown food like corncobs and watermelon rinds are great benefits to your soil.
Lime can be added if needed and should be incorporated with your soil by planting time. Also, old mulch can be turned under to decompose over winter.
The old saying that, “Too much is never enough,” doesn’t apply to the garden when it comes to fertilizer. Always do a soil test before adding large amounts of any nutrient.
County Cooperative Extension Offices offers reasonably priced soil test kits and follow-up recommendations. Take advantage of these kits. The analysis comes directly from a College of Agricultural Science. And as a bonus, a copy of your results goes to the County Extension Office. What this means for you, is that if you have any questions about the results or recommendations, an agent has a copy of your results in from of him to offer expert advice in common language. Wouldn’t it be great if every service offered this assistance? Plus, there is no additional charge for this advice.
Once it is determined that you need to add fertilizer, there are several options. Some of your choices are: commercial organic fertilizer, cover crops, manure, and compost.
Commercial organic fertilizers can be found for most deficient soil needs.
These are dried slow-release fertilizers that need only be applied annually or in some cases every two years.
Rule of thumb for how much to use is one pound per 100 square feet, which is about 4 cups or a coffee can full. Sprinkle or broadcast. Some gardeners prefer to work it into the soil, while others allow the rain to wash it in.
Some nutrient sources include nitrogen as blood meal, bone meal, or cottonseed meal, phosphorus as rock phosphate and potassium as granite dust, greensand, wood ash or fish emulsion.
Cover crops are also known as “green manure”. The idea behind cover crops is that by planting nutrient rich plants directly over your garden area, you will, so to speak, kill two birds with one stone. Your soil will get the needed nutrients and you will crowd out weeds and reduce erosion.
Experiment with cover crops such as ryegrass, clover, oats, sorghum or buckwheat to till under.
Fresh manure is “the organic fertilizer” but you need to keep a few things in mind before applying it to your garden.
Only use manure from herbivores (plant only eating animals). Manure from pets or meat eaters can carry pathogens.
“Hidden crops” can grow from ingested seed from horse feed. Spread fresh manure in fall and till again in spring.
Nitrogen burn can occur if it does not age properly (3 to 6 months before planting).
Purchased dried manure from a garden center is about twice as potent as fresh manure.
Experts argue as to the effectiveness of compost as a fertilizer. Compost when done properly, contains small amounts of most of the major and minor nutrients needed for your plants. Work your compost into the top two to four inches of soil.
Compost as an amendment adds organic matter that improves the friability of clay soil. This means that it crumbles more easily and is less likely to compact. Water flows effortlessly and plants can expand their root systems deeper and broader in loose soil. As with all the above methods, you may need to supplement feeding during the growing season.
So after all the autumn chores are finished, you can relax knowing your garden will be ready for spring. Now you can focus on winter and unwind except for maybe garden planning, ordering seeds and securing trees and shrubs. Did I miss anything?

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About the author

Cindy's Recipes and Writings

As a professional cook, I love creating exciting new recipes on the job as well as at home. Assisting in teaching low-income families how to buy, store and prepare healthy food through Penn State’s alliance with Pennsylvania’s Supercupboard Program was very rewarding. During my 11 years with the Master Gardener program, I taught horticultural therapy to assisted living patients using healthful, fr
esh grown food as a focal point. . My hands-on programs and instruction helped hundreds of children and adults learn about where their food comes from and how important fresh food is for your body.
Currently I’m a cook at a college in Pennsylvania. We prepare everything we can from scratch, including our potato chips that tout the seasoning of the day!
Of course I write about food; it's in my blood!

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