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
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
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
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
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
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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