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Commercial Fertilizers

Commercial fertilizers may be used to advantage in most farm gardens, the composition and rate of application depending on locality, soil, and crops to be grown. On some soils with natural high fertility only nitrogen or compost may be needed. The use of fertilizers that also contain small amounts of copper, zinc, manganese, and other minor soil elements is necessary only in districts known to be deficient in those elements. 

State experiment station recommendations should be followed. Leafy crops, such as spinach, cabbage, kale, and lettuce, which often require more nitrogen than other garden crops, may be stimulated by side dressings. As a rule, the tuber and root crops, including potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, turnips, and parsnips, need a higher percentage of potash than other vegetables.

The quantity of fertilizer to use depends on the natural fertility of the soil, the amounts of organic matter and fertilizer used in recent years, and the crops being grown. Tomatoes and beans, for example, normally require only moderate amounts of fertilizer, especially nitrogen; whereas onions, celery, lettuce, the root crops, and potatoes respond profitably to relatively large applications. In some cases, 300 pounds of commercial fertilizer may be sufficient on a half-acre garden; in other cases, as much as 1,000 to 1,200 pounds can be used to advantage.

Commercial fertilizers, as a rule, should be applied either a few days before planting or when the crops are planted. A good practice is to plow the land, spread the fertilizer from a pail or with a fertilizer distributor, then harrow the soil two or three times to get it in proper condition and at the same time mix the fertilizer with it. If the soil is left extremely rough by the plow, it should be harrowed once, lightly, before fertilizing. 

For row crops, like potatoes and sweet potatoes, the fertilizer may be scattered in the rows, taking care to mix it thoroughly with the soil before the seed is dropped or, in the case of sweet potatoes, before the ridges are thrown up.

Application of the fertilizer in furrows along each side of the row at planting time does away with the danger of injury to seeds and plants that is likely to follow direct application of the material under the row. The fertilizer should be placed so that it will lie 2 to 3 inches to one side of the seed and at about the same level as, or a little lower than, the seed.

The roots of most garden crops spread to considerable distances, reaching throughout the surface soil. Fertilizer applied to the entire area, therefore, will be reached by the plants, but not always to best advantage. Placing fertilizer too near seedlings or young plants is likely to cause burning of the roots. The fertilizer should be sown alongside the rows and cultivated into the topsoil, taking care to keep it off the leaves so far as practicable.

Heavy yields of top-quality vegetables cannot be obtained without an abundance of available plant food in the soil. However, failure to bear fruit and even injury to the plants may result from the use of too much plant nutrient, particularly chemical fertilizers, or from an unbalanced nutrient condition in the soil. Because of the small quantities of fertilizer required for short rows and small plots it is easy to apply too much fertilizer. The chemical fertilizers to be applied should always be weighed or measured.

Table 1Table 1 shows how much fertilizer to apply to each 50 or 100 feet of garden row or to each 100 to 2,000 square feet of garden area.

If it is more convenient to measure the material than to weigh it, pounds of common garden fertilizer, ammonium phosphate, or muriate of potash, may be converted roughly to pints or cups by allowing 1 pint, or 2 kitchen measuring cups, to a pound. For example, table 1 gives 0.25 pound for a 100-pound-per-acre application to 100 square feet. This would call for about 1/4 pint, or 1/2 cup, of fertilizer. Ground limestone weighs about 1-1/3 times as much as the same volume of water; therefore, measured quantities of this material should be about one-fourth less than those calculated as equivalent to the weights in the table. For example, 3/4 pint of ground limestone weighs about 1 pound.

Ammonium sulfate and granular ammonium nitrate are much lighter, weighing about seven tenths as much as the same volumes of water; therefore, volumes of these substances calculated by the foregoing method should be increased by about one-third.

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