I learned that you need to be very scientific about the fertilizer you put in your soil. If you put on too much it will burn up the plants because it actually takes water out of your plants and makes them wither. The three main elements a plant needs are Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (Ph), and Pottash (Pot). So you want to make sure you buy a complete fertilizer that has all three of those essential elements. The best mix for the soil in our areas is 16-16-8 with 4% iron (the numbers are N-Ph-Pot respectively). You have to till the fertilizer pellets into the soil (not just spread on top) because the Ph and Pot are not soluble (they do not dissolve in water). You can buy some soluble fertilizers (like miracle grow) that you can "water" over the soil for those areas that you can't till up (like perennials, etc).
We use a mixture of 3/4 of the 16-16-8 fertlizer and 1/4 of Ironite. You need to add iron into our soils because they have a lot of limestone in it. Not enough iron in the soil causes a yellowing of the leaves with dark inner veins called chlorosis. We put this mixture on in the following way:
We use a quart bottle and fill it up 3/4 of the way with 16-16-8 and the rest of the way with ironite. We shake it to mix together. That quart should cover about 180 square feet of garden space. We sprinkle it over the soil before we till it.
In addition to that mixture we also put on sulfuric acid. The first year we added it, we put on 2 quarts for every 180 square feet. The soil in our area has an average ph (on the acid/base scale) of around 7.5. Adding the sulfuric acid reduces the ph from around 7.5 to 6.5 which is good for most garden vegetables. Every year after the first year we add about 1 quart for every 180 square feet in our garden to replenish the soil. Some plants need the soil more acidic than others. For those plants (such as berries) you want to add more sulfuric acid. That will make the soil more acidic.
The other thing that we do before we plant is add compost or yard waste to the soil (sometimes called humus). The humus helps improve the soil. For sandy soils the humus fills in the spaces and helps hold water in the soil. For clay soils the humus mixes with the clay and makes pores into the soil letting the water and roots grow deeper into the soil. So basically humus is good for your soil no matter what kind of soil you're planting in.
We usually buy a truckload of the yard waste (without sewage sludge) from a local solid waste plant a couple times a year and mix it into our soil.
After adding the fertilizer & compost we till the soil up really good. Then you can plant immediately after doing that (or after the last frost, depending on the type of vegetable, see post 1).
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