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You Have to Feed Your Vegetable Plants or They Will Not Feed You

If you want your plants to produce something, you need to give them amendments, air, water, fertilizer, mulch and flowers.

I planted some vegetables last week. For several years now, my vegetable gardens have been pathetic; I blamed it on the weather—not enough hot sun to ripen tomatoes.

But the truth of the matter is that I have been getting lazier and lazier about growing vegetables. I was barely helping them at all. Most of my yard now is meadow—weeds if you want to get technical. Even in my garden beds, I have tended toward plants that grow, no matter what.

But this year I have been talking about gardening with my old pal, Jody Main, well-known organic gardening expert, and listening to my sister, Nancy Jamello, talk about her dirt. Both of them have amazing gardens that produce bushels of fruits and vegetables, no matter how cold the summer.

Oh, duh! I have been forgetting the basic concepts of organic gardening. I was remembering the part about not using dangerous chemicals—the ones that say Danger on the package. But I was forgetting how much work goes into making the soil good for growing.

Nancy and Jody reminded me of the basic things that must be done:

  1. Add lots of , composted manure, and other organic materials to the soil.
  2. Add air to the soil, by turning it over with anything from a plow to a trowel, depending on the size of your plot. Today I added a couple of bags of  Harvest Supreme from   to my already-planted main flower-vegetable bed. I was using a trowel, being careful to turn in the amendment and some air without disturbing the already-planted plants.
  3. Apply water. I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this (tell me in the comments why I’m wrong) but it seems to me this is not a drought year. I am going to water like crazy this year without guilt, because the reservoirs are full and the snow pack is deep.
  4. Apply fertilizer. In addition to compost, plants that are expected to work for a living need some added boost, such as dry organic fertilizer at planting, and diluted fish emulsion during the growing season.
  5. Top with mulch. I keep a pile of oak leaves separate from my compost, because the leaves break down more slowly. I used to add a layer of these leaves—the most decomposed ones—to my beds, but have been forgetting to do it. Jody reminded me how important mulch is for minimizing weeds, keeping in moisture, adding to the texture of the soil, and making the bed look neat. Jody uses straw for mulch; Nancy uses leaves in her front yard and straw or packaged soil amendment in back.
  6. Plant flowers in your vegetables, or plant your vegetables in your flowers. Nancy, Jody and I follow. The flowers attract beneficial insects to pollinate your crops.

Some plants, such as native oaks and other native species and many newcomer wild things, do not want any amendments. They thrive in unamended soil, with water from the sky. Where you have meadow, you do not need to feed the soil or do any of the above.

My yard is 95 percent meadow, but I do have a couple of small beds where I am trying to grow vegetables, and in those beds, I am making an effort this year to add amendments, fertilizer, air, water, mulch and flowers.

Maybe my vegetable crop won’t be so pathetic this year.

About This Column: Each week Pam Walatka will explore sustainable life in Los Altos Hills. Contact Pam at pamwalatka@yahoo.com or see the Pam Portugal Walakta Writings on FaceBook.

Jody teaches at Common Ground and can be contacted through Common Ground for organic garden design.

Pam Walatka July 30, 2011 at 01:09 AM
Jody Main will be giving a class at Common Ground Saturday, July 30: LANDSCAPING WITH EDIBLES, 10:30 - 1:00, $35 + 8 materials fee See www.commongroundinpaloalto.org/upcomingclasses.htm or call 650-493-6072

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