• Lori Adams discusses feeding plants in her latest Daily Sitka Sentinel garden column

(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 4 of the Monday, April 16, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)


By Lori Adams


New seedlings do not need anything in the way of fertilizer until they have their first set of true leaves. Then I recommend a diluted liquid food administered every watering rather than periodic full-strength doses. It is less harsh and promotes steady, healthy growth. Once the starts are planted outdoors the proper food should already be in the garden soil, ready for them. So what is the proper food for vegetable plants?

First of all, I like to think of it as “feeding the soil” rather than “feeding the plants.” Garden soil is alive, and each square inch of good garden soil contains billions of microorganisms which convert organic material into energy for plants. Plants need many nutrients to do their best, but the three essential nutrients reduced to their simplest terms are:

  • Nitrogen (N) — The most important. Promotes green growth. — Natural sources are composted grass clippings, animal manure, herring eggs on seaweed or fish carcasses.
  • Phosphorus (P) — Promotes root growth. — Natural sources are starfish, pulverized deer bones or fish skeletons.
  • Potassium (K) — Promotes fruit and flower growth. — Natural sources are seaweed, greensand, granite dust or wood ashes.

Our local stores have shelves that are loaded with great fertilizer products. You just need to know how to read the labels. The amounts of NPK will always appear in the same order on the front of the product written as numbers, like this; 8-5-1. These numbers represent the percentage of NPK in the product.  In this case there is 8 percent Nitrogen, 5 percent Phosphorus and 1 percent Potassium, with the remaining 86 percent consisting of inert or inactive materials. The inactive materials help to dilute and mix the fertilizers more thoroughly.

You can research the best NPK amounts for each vegetable you are going to grow, but a good all-around ratio for the general garden would be roughly 3-1-2.  It is a good idea to fertilize (with either purchased or gathered ammendments) at the beginning of the year and again mid summer, but be sure to read any instructions for purchased fertilizers thoroughly.

Compost is a fantastic way to add nutrients, but if you want to use it exclusively it’s best to think of it as a really healthy, nutritious snack that needs to be added liberally and frequently to be effective.  Just remember that the only thing you will get out of your compost pile is what you have put into it. Compost is another subject that will be addressed in a later column.

Finally, don’t forget to address the ph level of your soil.  Even if you have applied the proper amount of fertilizer the plants can not fully utilize it if the ph level is not correct. Ph levels can be adjusted with either purchased lime or gathered seashell sand.

Next week’s column — Understanding crop rotation.

Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden

2103 Sawmill Creek Road

Open June-August / Mon-Sat 11:00-6:00

747-6108 or 738-2241