Garden Spotlight: Fertilizing

Somehow, I was able, with my right hand, to take this picture of myself, with my left hand, accurately watering this hill of watermelon plants.  Okay, I wasn’t entirely successful; it took a half-dozen tries to get all of the components working in unison.

There are four things which are musts for a successful garden:

  1. Keep it weeded.
  2. Water it when rain doesn’t provide enough moisture.
  3. Control any pests.
  4. Fertilize your plants.

There are a number of ways to fertilize.  My dad taught me with the granular type, 10-10-10 formula, which you put on the ground next to the plants, and then cover it just a bit.  I did it that way for several years.  It worked fine.  I don’t recall what prompted my changing to water soluble fertilizer, but when I did I never went back.

There are far quicker ways to fertilize, when using water soluble, than to mix watering can after watering can, but I have been doing it this way all these years because of the slow process.

You read that right.  I like the slow process.

For me, fertilizing my garden is as much about the time spent among the plants as it is feeding them.  On a lovely summer day, to stand over each tomato or pepper plant, or the rows of corn and green beans, is pure joy.  It is a time to soak up the beauty, to ponder when this or that will be ready to harvest, to appreciate everything the garden does for me.

My garden takes an hour or so to fertilize.

I use this stuff—


—one two-gallon watering can at a time.

For vegetables, two scoops go into two gallons.  For flowers, only one scoop.  I hang the can on our outdoor spigot, and the force of the water thoroughly mixes the blue grains.

The box recommends fertilizing every one to two weeks.  I always intend to do it every week, but rarely do.  Making sure to apply this at least inside the two week window, I have large, productive plants.

The bigger question is how much to apply.  It is easy to apply too little.  You can think that you’ve watered the plants nicely, but if you scratch the dirt around them you will find that only the surface is wet.

I douse them nicely—for example, around single plants I pour until a puddle forms—before moving on.  After I empty the can, I return with the refilled one and hit the plants again.  Everything gets two applications.

Keep up with your fertilizing, along with weeding and watering and controlling pests, and you will enjoy a successful garden.  Here’s how mine looked on June 30, 2017:


Meet my garden


The new Merrymoss garden is well underway.  Weather in the 80s, lots of sun, a nice rain this week, and my staying on top of the weeding and fertilizing has her looking pretty good for early June.

We moved into our new house a year ago, yesterday.  A week before we moved, I dug up a spot in the back yard and a little section in front of the porch.  I feared that we had too much shade in the back yard—the best spot only got sun from 2:00 p.m. till dark—and, as I feared, things grew slowly and spindly, so I ditched it.


This spring, I went for the front yard.  The first item in the ground was the broccoli, above, which I planted where I had success with the only vegetable I had put in the front last year, the tomatoes.  The broccoli is doing well.  I hope to harvest the main heads by the end June, then snip side shoots the rest of the summer.

IMG_20160603_105529397 (1)

Onions, kale, and spinach (from left to right, above) can also take colder weather, so they went in with the broccoli.  Julie loves kale and spinach fried in a bit of butter with her breakfast of either an egg or some ground beef.  Since she began harvesting last week, each morning she says with glee, “I love being able to go out the front door to get my veggies.”

I bag my grass clippings.  Note how they are spread around the onions.  They help keep weeds down and moisture in.  In the fall, I’ll rototill the clippings into the soil.  They decompose quickly and improve the soil.  This soil can use some decomposed material to loosen it as it is pretty heavy, almost clay.

Note the plants that are between and alongside the kale and spinach.  These are cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and more broccoli.  Since the kale and spinach will soon bolt and be done, when I remove them the room is opened up for the Cole crops to fill in the space.  I learned this trick many moons ago from a gardening show.  It makes one’s garden larger without having to tend to more ground.

In late summer, the cabbage will be gone, as will many of the onions.  In the opened up areas I’ll sneak in a fresh planting of kale and spinach.  That is, I will if I’m smart.  I need to keep on Julie’s good side!

In the top-right corner of the picture, above, you can see one of the two zucchini hills.  Zucchini grows so prolifically, there is a city ordinance that prohibits trying to give it away to your neighbors . . . well, there should be.

The poles and cages for tomatoes do not work, which one commonly sees in stores.  They soon are dwarfed by the tomato plants and the plants are falling all over the place.  Years ago, a friend told me about taking sections of fence, eight feet in length, turn them into a circle, and secure them.  They are two-and-a-half feet in diameter.  I space the tomatoes so that the cages abut, then I zip-tie them together so that, when the plants are large, they remain standing in stormy weather.  These cages are perfect for growing tomatoes.

By late summer, the plants will be growing over the top of the cages.  During good years, they will keep going and be as tall as me or higher, over six feet high.  There are areas around each cage with sections of fence cut out, creating space to reach in and pluck fruit.  Yesterday, before placing the cages, I surrounded each plant with grass clippings.

I only have seven cages.  I have twelve plants.  The five without cages have grass spread around them so that any fruit that lies on the ground will not sit on the soil, and I won’t have to reach in to pull weeds.  These will be a jungle of vines by late summer.

Yesterday, I noted most of the tomato plants already with blossoms.  I pinched off each one.  The plants are too small to support fruit, and fruit growing now would take away from plant growth.  So, pinch those early blossoms, give the plants the best chance to grow, and you will reap the benefits later in the year.

Since I can my tomatoes, I want lots of fruit.  In the best years, I have picked nearly a bushel of tomatoes from each plant.


At the east end of the garden are three rows of corn.  A mulberry tree shades this end—last weekend, Julie and I cut down the two branches that were overhanging the most—so the corn doesn’t get sun till just after noon.  I am pleased with how well it is growing.  In Port Hope, my corn often did not meet the old saying, “knee high by the fourth of July,” but I am hopeful to be waste high by then and eating corn by August.

Don’t bother me with corn-on-the-cob from a store.  It’s not much better than store-bought tomatoes.  The key is to pick the corn and have the water getting hot while you shuck the corn.  This provides the greatest sweetness.  I will eat a half-dozen ears as my entire supper.

To round out the garden, immediately to the west of the corn are two hills of butternut squash, which only went into the ground last week and are just coming up.  They will spread and completely fill the area with their vines.  Finally, between the squash and tomatoes are green and red bell peppers.

When, in March, I posted pictures of my tilling up the grass that used to fill this spot, I had some inquiries into successful gardening.  I gladly share the three things that provide me with a wonderful garden, year after year:

  1. Weeding.  Weeding once a week is best.  The weeds will be small and easy to eradicate.  I use a cultivator for most of this, a hoe in tighter spots, or just plain pick them out by hand.  I sometimes lag behind and two weeks go by before I weed.  By then, the job is larger, but not impossible.  If you wait three weeks or more, you might as well take up underwater basket weaving.
  2. Watering.  A general rule is an inch a week.  If you are getting nice rain, dandy.  One summer, I never ran a sprinkler.  Most summers, I have to quite a bit.  The biggest mistake people make is under-watering.  They see the ground wet and stop.  Dig your finger into the soil to be sure the water has soaked in and hasn’t only penetrated the the first half-inch.
  3. Fertilizing.  I use the blue crystals that you dissolve in water, and I go through the entire garden with my watering can.  It takes awhile, but I love being in the garden, in the warm sun, enjoying its beauty.  I fertilize every week to two weeks.  As with water, people tend to under-fertilize.  Whichever type of fertilizer you use, follow the directions and keep at it if you want your plants to have nice growth and bear well.

There is no secret to enjoying a beautiful, bountiful vegetable garden.  Dedication is the key.  When you take good care of it, it will feed you well—both your stomach and your sense of satisfaction from a job well done.