Please advise on fertilizer choice

cleo88(6 / MA)July 13, 2009


I have not fertilized my tomato plants at all, but I think it's time.

The foliage is doing pretty well but flower production is lacking. I could use some of the Miracle Grow Tomato stuff I have, I think it is 18-21-21 or something like that, but I was thinking of getting something with no nitrogen in it, such as Earth Juice Bloom 0-3-1( Or should I use something that is in between the two, like a 5-10-10? And if so, what product? I would prefer organic but it's not imperative.


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I would use the MG 18-21-21 since it will do the job and you already have it. Why would you want something with no nitrogen in it?

    Bookmark   July 13, 2009 at 6:30PM
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cazimere(MD 7)

I use Tomato Tone in the hole when i plant them and after tomatos start to form i use MG Tomato stuff weekly : )

    Bookmark   July 13, 2009 at 6:33PM
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cleo88(6 / MA)

In my larger tomato bed, I had it dug this year and filled with some organic compost (reportedly made with emu poop and cranberries!), so I don't really know what NPK balance is in there. I thought perhaps the reason that I had good foliage growth but not such good flowering might be related to too much nitrogen relative to P and K. Thus, my attempt to balance it out. My plants are 6 feet tall, but some varieties have no flowers (most do) - I think the bigger factor is lack of sunlight and warmth due to our NE weather, but hey, I don't have control over that!

Some plants finally have a few flowers on them I noticed today (notably German Red Strawberry and Anna Russian), and we've had a week of mostly dry weather in the high 70s during the day, so that speaks in favor of the weather being the factor.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2009 at 7:13PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Just use whatever you have. In the long run it make little difference which you use just as long as you don't over do it. You can always just dilute it to half strength and get 9-10.5-10.5. Or there's quarter strength at get the idea. ;)


    Bookmark   July 13, 2009 at 7:15PM
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Thanks for that explanation, Cleo. I was confuzzled initially by your wanting a 0 nitrogen fert. If you have large, bushy plants and not much flowering then I can understand the choice.

My next question is, if your plants are 6' tall and bushy, but not flowering much, what is it about their growth/appearance that has you wanting to add nutrients at all?

    Bookmark   July 13, 2009 at 9:40PM
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In my experience, it seems that the older Miracle Grow 15-30-15 was better than the new formulation. I was told that it is still available as a specialty fertilizer, but maybe just the "15-30-15" is the same.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2009 at 11:57AM
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korney19(z6a Buffalo, NY)

They now call the 15-30-15 their Bloom Booster.

There are other formulations & different brands of bloom boosters available on the market, all the way up to 10-60-10.

Best to use something soon as the season is approaching the halfway point shortly!

    Bookmark   July 14, 2009 at 3:37PM
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cleo88(6 / MA)

I ended up using the MG, which is 18-18-21. It was the only thing I could find that was for tomatoes that WASN'T heavy on the N - puzzling, since most tomato growers want to eat fruit rather than leaves...

justaguy - I was thinking fert because some plants don't have any flowers, or if they did they dropped without fertilizing. But every sunny day we have now I go out and see more flowers at the very tops of the plants, so I'm 90% sure that was just lack-o-sunshine related. (I don't know what I'm doing, really - this is my first year).

As of now, the only ones that have zero flowers are Brandywine OTV, Earl's Faux and Marianna's Peace - all PL, and all Brandywine derivatives, I believe. Hmmm.

But today is a happy day because I saw my first tomato on Paul Robeson and German Head! THERE IS HOPE! :)

    Bookmark   July 14, 2009 at 5:11PM
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korney19(z6a Buffalo, NY)

I think the only thing those 3 tomatoes have in common is that they are PL... OTV is red, Earl's is a "wrong" Brandywine and pink, and I believe Marianna's is an "ad gimmicked" pink.

I grow both in raised beds as well as containers and I usually start off with a high-phosphorous fertilizer for the first month for strong roots and increased flowers, then switch to a balanced/higher K fertilizer after fruits are present, like 15-15-18, M-G for Tomatoes, etc.

Contrary to what others believe about not needing P, I've literally seen huge differences in the amount of flowers as well as flowers (and fruit) per cluster when I use high P ferts early in the season. I usually use AT LEAST the M-G 15-30-15, though prefer a strawberry type fertilizer or a 10-52-8.

Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2009 at 5:29PM
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Wow, please do not use Miracl Grow. I don't have any kind of ax to grind against the company, or any of the chemical companeis. However, I use the best fertilizer I can which automatically eliminates all chemical fertiizer companies.

Fertilizers that do not provide bacteria, minerals, and fungi are useless to my soil. Fertilizers made from steer manure, chicken manure, worm castings, bat guano, rabbit manure, etc, etc, etc. provide much more to the soil than just N-P-K. People have to quit thinkng solely in terms fertilizing the plants and think of feeding the soil. Why do we go to so much troubl to add so much compost to our gardens?????? in order to put lots of ORGANIC material into the soil. WHY???????? to improve the soil's fertility, nutrition, water holding ability, and to increase the microbial life. Chemical fertilizers only provide N-P-K and do not provide any energy for the microbial life - zero, none, nada, zilch. They are not able to provide anything else because organic material cannot survive in the container. If microbes could survive in the packaging they would most certainly do it. By using a fertilizer that is made from bone meal, blood meal, and a variety of manure's you are not only getting N-P-K but you are also getting trace minerals, bacteria, and some fungi that feed the SOIL. Please please Please put the horse before the cart and lets think feeding the soil not the plants.

Did you know that you cannot over fertilize with organic fertilizers? Organic fertilizers will not burn the plants. You can place an entire season of an organic fertilizer in the ground when you transplant with no worries of burning the plant's roots. It seems so odd that people use a fertilizer that only has N-P-K and think that they are done. Does my body only need fats, portine, and carbs???? No I need the minerals and vitamines as well to be healthy. The same is true with your garden.

I don't have a problem with Dow, Chevron, etc. But I don't use inferior fertilizers when superior products are available - especially since the rise in the cost of oil has resulted in chemical fertilizers costing more than the organic ones.

For example: I use E.B. Stone 4-5-3 organic fertilizer which is made from: Blood Meal, Feather Meal, Bone Meal, Dried Chicken Mature, Bat Guano, Alfalfa Meal, Kelp Meal, and Potassium Sulfate. I paid $6.99 before tax for a 4lb box. Compare MG to this list of nutrients and let me know how many it has. In addtion to the N-P-K (that's the 4-5-3) I also get the following: (right off the box)

1,497,792 of bacteria per gram of fertilizer.

I also get:

1.3% humic acid (this is one of the main components in the dark matter in good quality soil)

I also get:

Bacillus subtilis
Bacillus lichenifopmis
Paenibacillus polymyxa
Bacillus azotoformans
Paenibacillus Durum
Bacillus pumulis

I also get the following 74,889 CFU's per gram of each of the following:

Streptomyces Lydicus
Tricoderma harzianum

I also get:
Endo mycprrhizae (500 valuable organizms per pound) of the following three species:

Glomums intrardices
Glomus lydicus
Glomus aggregatum

When it comes to fertilizers all "organic" means is that it was not made from petrolium. I really do not care that there are companies that make fertilizers from petrolium. How esle is a commercial farmer going to fertize a thousand acres of bell peppers, corn, watermellon, etc. It is not rational to think that a large commercial grower can go out into the field and put compost in each hole before they plant, etc. It is just not practical. But for us, the home gardener, I simply do not understand why someone would us MG and miss out on all that an organic fertilizer has to offer. The commercial farmer can only dream of the kind of soil we can produce in our backyard.

But I gotta say, If you are happy settling for just N-P-K that's ok with me. It is just so sad when new gardeners come in here hoping to get some really good information and they are told that fertilizer is fertilier is fertilizer. That is like saying a horse is a horse is a horse. Or a shoe is a shoe is a shoe, etc.

Lets put the horse before the cart and realize that we must feed the microbes in the soil - First.

If people are not able to recognize what has just been said here then I have written all this for nothing. But it is so self-evident and elementary that to not understand is to make reason sit up on end and just stare. Why would anyone use MG when you can buy all this for $7.00. How much cheaper is MG???

Not all "organic" fertilizers are not created equal. If you find a commercially prepared organic fertilizer that is not made up of at least five ingredients forget about it (unless you have a specific need). For example, if you want to add just greensand in order to increase the amount of potassium or just Blood Meal in order to incraase the nitrogen in the soil, again that is different. I am talking about an overall fertilizaton program. Res ipsa loquitur (translation: It is just a horse of another color) does not apply when it comes to fertilizers. There is so much more to fertilizer than N-P-K. Chemical fertilizer advertising never mentions all the other stuff the soil needs because they simply are not able to provide it. And to even mention it would cause the consumer to look at other products. They sell the best part of what their product has to offer - N-P-K and don't mention the importance of the other needs of the soil becaue their product in unable to provide them. But you will notice the moment you ask about anything other than N-P-K they are quiet. Few advertisements are as effective as the ones put out by MG. One thing is for sure, their advertising is very effective because even here it is such a struggle to get people to look at the difference between what MG offers and what any ordinayr organic fertilizer offers.

OK, I am off my soapbox. Y'all can talk now.

Happy gardening.


    Bookmark   July 17, 2009 at 8:19PM
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fertilizer is fertilizer is fertilzer.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2009 at 9:19PM
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"OK, I am off my soapbox. Y'all can talk now.

Happy gardening.


Tom, did you hear me cheering for you, all the way from over here in south Alabama?

A columnist in a local paper (Mobile Press Register) says to pile up all the disease-free leaves and lawn clippings you can get in one place, all summer and fall. The next spring, plant your tomatoes there! What a great way to avoid tired, diseased soil... I gotta try it! It's sorta like mulching, but not exactly.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2009 at 11:11PM
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I thougth I could hear a faint voice in the distance. It was one of those voices that seems familiar but you can't quite put your finger on it. You are exactly right about that. Anyone who has really bad soil should do what you and Bob Websster say to do. Put a big pile of compost (wheel barrel or two right on top of where you want to plant), put a hole in the top, like a volcano, and then poor water into the hole every day. As the water seeps through the compost into the soil it will take all the microbial material and deposit it into the soil. In about six months you will have soil you can dig into with a tea spoon. It is amazing to me how some people do not understand that "dirt" is turned into loam by using organic matter, not firtilizer. That is why my commnets above talk so much about using stuff that provides energy to the microbes. The stuff organic fertilizers provide.

Ya, I thought I recognized you. Hope you are not sweltering too much in he hot humid Alabama heat that you guys have this time of year. It is going to be 95* tomorrow where I am. At least the nights are getting down to the mid 60's. At least I can sleep.

Even though I got a very late start this year, my plants are getting softball size and I hope to have some ripe fruit in a couple of weeks. Since I did not plant any cherokee Purple this year I went to our Farmers Market and bought two beautiful CP's and now I am saving seed so I can have them for next season.

Can't believe I am thinkng about next season even though I am only about half way through this season.

Happy gardening,


    Bookmark   July 18, 2009 at 5:24AM
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korney19(z6a Buffalo, NY)

Cleo88 wrote:

"I had it dug this year and filled with some organic compost (reportedly made with emu poop and cranberries!), so I don't really know what NPK balance is in there. I thought perhaps the reason that I had good foliage growth but not such good flowering might be related to too much nitrogen relative to P and K."

Most compost is less than 1-1-1. The compost I use is like 0.9 - 0.3 - 0.6. While N is the highest of the 3, it is still less than 1.0N.

avid_hiker wrote (and much much more):

"Wow, please do not use Miracl Grow. I don't have any kind of ax to grind against the company, or any of the chemical companeis. However, I use the best fertilizer I can which automatically eliminates all chemical fertiizer companies......"

What you didn't mention to Cleo is that the organic fertilizers take time to get converted into a state that the plant can use, whereas water soluble fertilizers are already in the proper state. Miracle-Gro and other water solubles work in hours, organics can take weeks, even months! Cleo is in MA I believe, not CA, and it is almost mid-season here. You build your soil over time, not this late in the season.

You also didn't mention that all the bacteria you claim to get with your organic product usually can't co-exist with high phosphorous fertilizers already present in the soil, especially mycco.

As for the cost difference, I'm not sure if what you recommended is a widely available product, never heard of it back here. Cleo already owns M-G for Tomatoes. But even if it were available, you'd have to compare NPK because the further so-called advantages (mycco, bacteria, etc) wouldn't really be evident this year.

So you'd be talking about a very slow release 4-5-3 vs a quick acting 18-18-21... you get 4 to 5 times as much NPK, plus the micro nutrients in the M-G tomato formula, so $$/NPK would be nearly 5x cheaper to use the M-G, not to mention since Cleo already owns it there's no additional out of pocket expense ($7 + possibly $5-$10 s/h.)

Of course, Cleo would probably see results within a few days, instead of weeks or months for the organic fert.

Your recommendation would be good for Cleo if this were March or April, (or even October), instead of the dog days of summer.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2009 at 10:33AM
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rj_hythloday(8A VA)

Tom - Avid_Hiker +1

I like Espoma Tomatotone because I can get it in town, EB Stone looks very good also, and Dr Earth would be in my garden if I could get it local too.

Feed the soil, not the plants

I also like BIM I have collected about 10 and add them to my AVCT along w/ some Richearth, and Kelp-Seaweed emulsion about once or twice a month. It was even more often during the post and preseasons.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2009 at 5:53PM
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Hello Korney,

Lets go from the top.

I know that compost has a low N-P-K. I don't use complst as a fertilizer. I use it as a soil conditioner, a Ph buffer, and to add organic matter to my garden beds. Compost adds lots of bacteria and fungi to the soil which is what I want to make my soil loose and fluffy. A huge portion of any good soil is microbial matter. It is precisely why I listed all the "stuff" (in addition to N-P-K) you get with a good organic fertilizer. You see, fertilizer does not, not in the history of mankind, make loamy soil - organic matter does. That is the reason I add compost to my beds.

When I side dress my plants during mid season it does not take weeks or months for the fertilzer to start working. I typically see results within days. As long as you work the fertilizer lightyly into the soil and water it well the fertilizer begins to break down immediately and starts to feed the plants. I have never experienced what you are talking about. If you need to have results in minutes or hours then your plants are in a sorry state.

Perhaps you could elaborate just a little more when you say that all the bacteria cannot coexist in a high phosphorous fertilizer. Perhaps you are saying that because MG is so high in phosphorous that one cannot combine their fertilizer blend with microbial life. Well, if that is the case then you need to switch to a different brand of fertilizer. Gee, lets see - what brand of chemical fertilizer can we go to that will also provide microbial life and feed my plants with all the N-P-K they need? Wow, none of them do. But every organic fertilizer can do that. Let me see, MG or E.B. Stone, let me see now. OK, I got it, I'll take E.B. Stone. But of course if I am living in MA I might have to use a different brand, but it is all good. I still get it all with the organic stuff. I think you just popped your argument in the foot because organic fertilzers do both.

As far as cost difference goes well, I was simply alluding to the concept of "added value". Typically when two products are at parity and they cost the same we usually go with the product that has the most features. Looking at all the additional benefits organic fertilizers provide and since they cost about the same I would conclude that organic fertilizers provide more bang for the buck. It is hard for me to conclude that you could come to any other conclusion either. Just compare what you get with organic fertilizers vs MG. I was only using E.B. Stone as an example.

I don't know if E.B. Stone is available in other parts of the country any more than if In-N-Out Berger is available where you live. That was not the point. I was simply comparing one brand of organic fertilizer with MG. Of course you can go to any nursery and compare ANY organic fertizer and see what is available. My contention was simply that "organic" fertilizers are better for soil, and hence the plants, than MG. You can pick any organic fertizer brand you wish, it doesn't matter to me.

You said, "But even if it were available, you'd have to compare NPK because the further so-called advantages (mycco, bacteria, etc) wouldn't really be evident this year."
Wouldn't be available "this year"?????? Your biology is just a little fuzzy here. I really don't know where to start with this one. Then all the people who put compost in their garden in February and March will not see any microbial benefit for a year. Is that what you are actually saying? Or are you saying that the bacteria that has been suspended and put into the fertizer box will remain dormant for a year before becoming active again? Either way you are not making a lot of sense. there are many species of bacteria that can be put to sleep, and there are many species that can't because they do not have a dormancy state. I imagine the kinds of bacteria you find in organic fertizers are the ones that have a dormancy. I would be pretty upset if I found out that dead bacteria were being put into the box - wouldn't you? I think everyone would. Lets just say that the bacteia in a box of organic fertilizer does not remain dormant for a year. I'll dismiss that one out of hand. Actually, I am lookig to feed the EXISTING microbial life in my soil, not using fertilzer to add huge amounts of organic matter - where did you get that idea. MG does nothing for the microbial life - mine does. Mine not only gives the plant it N-P-K but also feeds the existing microbial life the are currently in the soil. MG cannot do that becausse it does not have anything in it except for N-P-K and a few trace minerals. You really think that is a fair fight. It is kind of like putting a pit bull in with a miniature poodle.

When I mentioned I paid $6.99 for a 4lb box of my fertilizer I was not talking about aggregate cost includig already purchased supplies of other fertilizers. I was simply refering to the cost of my 4lb box and MG. Since my fertiizer comes with so much added value I was simply making the point that organic fertilizers are a better value. But no matter how much MG she has on hand (and uses)she will never get any of the bacteria and other things like humic acid.Bacillius, Glomus, and so on. So, for the money MG is not even in the ballpark. It is hard to compare a Roles Royce with a Taurus. I am not saying anything derogatory about anyone who drives a Taurus - I drive a Taurus.

You said, "you get 4 to 5 times as much NPK". This whole discussion was centered around the ADDITIONAL things you get with an organic fertilizer that you do not get with MG. My whole point was that we spend way too much time on N-P-K. Like I said N-P-K is all MG has to offer so they push N-P-K. You do realize that I too can buy an organic fertilizer with high N-P-K? Are you saying that all a fertilizer has to do to be a great fertilizer is have high N-P-K? Are you saing that MG will do as good a job (or better) at providing the energy the micorbial matter in the soil needs? You do know that the energy that all living things need come from breaking carbon bonds? As far as I can tell there is exactly zero carbon energy in MG. Absolutely zero. Look into it, you will see what I mean. I don't think high N-P-K and a few trace minerals is the definition of a good fertilizer? To finish this part of the discussion, does a gardener really want a high nitrogen fertilizer at this stage of the growing season? Nitrogen promotes plant growth, not flower development or fruit set or root development. Why would you want a high nitrogen content in your fertilizer at this time of the season? Now if our plants are still growing then yes we need nitrogen. Here in SoCal my tomato plants are alreay 5' tall and just loaded with flowers and I have counted over 45 set tomatoes on two plants. I cut back on nitrogen a long time ago because I don't want plants that are 10' tall that have no flowers and no fruit. I am using epsom salt (at 2T/gallon of water) to help promote lots of blossoms and fruit set. I am foliar feeding with fish emulsion and seaweed. I am making my own aerated compost tea. But I am not adding lots of nitrogen. But to each his own.

Lets have a short chemistry lesson right here. It might be helpful.

For most of the country clay soils are negatively charged. Petrolium based fertilizers are also negetively charged. By definition that means they repell each other. That means in places that get a fair amount of rain the chemical fertilizers are more quickly washed out of the soil. Fertilizers that are made from manure's, kelp, guano, bone/blood meals, fish emulsion, etc are positively charged. That means organic fertilizers are acutally attracted to and bond to the soil's particlaes. This is a good thing. Plants naturally produce a hydrogen ion that breaks this bond and allows the plant to take up the nutrients it needs - when it needs it. This neans that more fertilizer stays in the soil and available to the plant for a much longer period of time. This is why the MG puts gardeners on such a frequent fertilizing schedule. Their fertilizers simply do not stay in the soil for very long. It is feast or famine with MG - but not with organic fertilizers. This is true for any brand of organic fertilizers, not just E.B. Stone.

Maybe cleo could do half of her garden next year with MG and half with an organic fertizer and then see how it goes. Korney, if you like MG and you get great results from it - more power to ya. It is all ok. People make the choices they make based on the information they have at the time the decision is made. If people want to think that fertilizer is fertilizer is fertilizer it's all good.

I find it interesting how we use compost for its microbial benefits, we foliar feed with fish emulsion and seaweed for their bacterial benefits, we use epsom salt to help the blossoms and fruit set, etc, etc, etc, (these are all organic applications).

When people typically have problems in their garden (excluding pests and diseases) it is usually because of two things: Improper watering (usually too often) and 2. problems with fertilizing. This is why this discussion was, and is, so importnat.

There is so much more to gardening and growing good veggies than N-P-K. You gotta think microbes, microbes, microbes. - I am going to bed.

Happy gardening all.


    Bookmark   July 19, 2009 at 7:43AM
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rj_hythloday(8A VA)

Well put Tom

    Bookmark   July 19, 2009 at 9:23AM
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I for the most part dont even think you need fertilizer at all. If you amend your soil at the beginning with enough organic material your tomatoes and everything else with do everything else on its own. I only fertilize at the very beginning when the seeding just starts to grow its second set of leaves with a very weak solution and thats it. My brandywine plants have grown to a height of about 7 feet with many tomatoes without any chemical help at all. Ultimately the choice is up to you.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2009 at 12:08PM
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mojavebob(9/Sunset 11)
  • "Maybe cleo could do half of her garden next year with MG and half with an organic fertizer and then see how it goes."


Well, I've mentioned doing a bunch of experiments with my 50 some plants and this one I started in early May with my two Sungolds. They are in the same garden like bookends with a Big Boy and two Jet Stars between them. One has been getting the blue stuff. It isn't even MG. It was an old triple 16 that I bought in bulk many years ago and still have six or seven pounds left, that graduated to KGro (Kmart 15-30-15) and that turned into a mixture of both and some chelated iron.

Both plants were put in identical soil, my heavily amended, mineral rich, alkaline caliche hard pan. The one getting the blue juice received very dilute feedings every week to ten days, one heavy feeding when a good bloom started, and now cut back to about every two weeks.

With the other I used Gardeners Supply's GSC Organic Tomato Fertilizer and followed instructions.

There is no comparison in plant health, size or fruit yield. The one getting the blue juice is much bigger (9-10 feet and growing vs 6 feet and stunted by the heat), so also healthier. The blue juice plant has given up 4 to 5 times as many delicious little maters. The fruit from both tastes and looks identical. The Jet Star next to the big Sungold is also much bigger (probably from sharing the blue juice) and has far more fruit than the one next to the organic plant.

Maybe someday I'll have this soil where I want it, but for now the plants in it need to be fed or they suffer. I feel sorry for the organic Sungold. I don't believe my dilute blue juice is harming the herd either, which I am also trying to improve, but it takes time. I find an earthworm on that side of the garden after almost every watering. And I don't believe epsom salts do anything beneficial for most of us who have plenty of sulfur and magnesium in our soils. Highly acidic soils may be deficient in one or the other (and I guess real sandy soil too) and epsom will help, but I doubt that applies to more than 10 percent of us. Just sayin'.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2009 at 6:31PM
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mojavebob, who cares about plant size, health, and fruit production, what does that have to do with what is being discussed here?

    Bookmark   July 19, 2009 at 11:22PM
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Did you know that you cannot over fertilize with organic fertilizers? Organic fertilizers will not burn the plants. You can place an entire season of an organic fertilizer in the ground when you transplant with no worries of burning the plant's roots.Actually it is quite possible to "burn" plants using organic manures that have hi urea concentrations. Raw poulty manure in particular is not recommended to be applied directly to plants. It should be applied several weeks (or months) before planting or applied to plants after a period of composting. Even tho it has perhaps only 3-4% total "N", it is the molecular composition of the "N" that is significant here.

And yea, I use OM fert almost exclusively (mostly horse, free horse). But spot ferting with the Blue Stuff I do a bit of.


    Bookmark   July 20, 2009 at 11:30AM
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