"There is a time for everything, and a season
for every activity under heaven," Ecclesiastes 3:1. With the
days growing longer and gardening season growing closer, now is the time
to plan for healthy garden soil.
Most gardeners are familiar with plants' needs
for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Pick up any package of fertilizer
and the amounts will be printed; on the front, such a 10-10-10. There
are, however, other less familiar though equally important nutrients
necessary for healthy plant growth which may be in short supply in our
Calcium is typically deficient in our area, due
in part to plentiful rainfall. Besides playing a major role in
improving soil structure, calcium helps regulate the flow of nutrients
throughout the plant. A
lack of calcium can cause blossom end rot in tomatoes, while an abundance
helps vine-ripened tomatoes become huge.
Good sources of calcium include calcitic limestone, which also corrects
soil with a low pH; bone meal, which also contains phosphorus; and pellitized
gypsum, which helps loosen heavy clay soil.
Plants need sulfur to form proteins, and nitrogen
can't do its job without sulfur. Good sources of sulfur include
peletized gypsum, animal manures and sul-po-mag, which also contains
potassium and magnesium.
Trace mineral are also known as micro-nutrients
because they are used by the plant in very small amounts. Despite the
small amounts needed, deficiencies of these elements can cause big problems
in plant health. Some
of these mineral are zinc, iron, manganese, copper, boron and molybdenum.
Lack of boron can cause a plant to suddenly stop
is necessary for photosynthesis. Copper is very important in the
reproduction process and affects the yield. Good sources of trace
elements are manures, green sand and kelp extracts.
Many of the fertilizers mentioned above are available
locally at garden centers and health food stores. Soil fertility can
be very complex. The
best way to check your soil's health is to have it tested and the results
properly interpreted. Your local extension office or a private
lab can provide this service.