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3:28 PM Tue, Nov. 13th

New organic plant foods and perfect garden soil

Courtesy photo<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Ken Lain displays Watters Garden Center’s Tomato and Vegetable Food, an organic, granular fertilizer.

Courtesy photo<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Ken Lain displays Watters Garden Center’s Tomato and Vegetable Food, an organic, granular fertilizer.

I have some very exciting news for local gardeners: With the help of a buddy who owns a large organic farm in California, I was able to design, label, and register two new organic fertilizers for mountain gardens. The foods are specifically for our plants, our soil, and our area's unique garden needs. They are in pellet form so they spread easily from a hand held spreader, which guarantees consistent application.

The "Fruit & Berry" food is the perfect blend for anything edible, including grapes. It even works on shade trees and evergreens. The "Tomato & Vegetable" food is available just in time for the coming season. No more powders, goos, or compost teas to complicate the production of organic foods. This simple granular plant food is designed to use like any other synthetic food, but without harmful side effects to the environment. Organic fertilizers are no longer difficult and expensive to use.

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Last week was brutal on the maple tree and hedges in my yard. Wilted tips with blackened edges are a pronounced sign that plants are hung over from a bitter cold evening, and my plants had all the symptoms. Plants at most elevations suffered damage, but what to do? It's early in the season and plants have plenty of time to recover, but they will need our help and encouragement to sprout new leaves.

If you have not fed damaged plants yet, or it's been over two months since a good plant food was put on the landscape, do it ASAP. This will encourage fast new leaf buds to form and your plants will look new by the end of the month. Emerging new spring foliage should be a vibrant kelly green. Plants should not have even the slightest tinge of yellow to them, especially evergreen varieties. Yellowing is an obvious sign of nutrient deficiency. Give these struggling yellow plants a good food, and since organics are best, this is a good time to try my new "Fruit & Berry" food.

The vegetable season is closing in on us. At higher elevations planting may be three weeks away, gardens at lower mountain altitudes can be planted almost immediately if a close eye is kept on the weather. I have been getting my gardens' soils ready and thought it appropriate to share my soil-prep secrets.

I garden in big, bold, colored containers, and a 10-by-15 foot raised garden bed. The soil is very rich, but each year it needs to be refreshed and nutrients added for the best production. Following is what this gardener does to ensure perfect vegetable harvests and for maximum flower production in ornamental gardens.

Small containers need completely new soil each year. Containers larger than 14 inches in diameter need fresh soil in the top layer of the pot where new roots will form. Instead of throwing away this layer of soil in my containers, I use it to amend my much larger raised beds. This is when a wheelbarrow or my plastic bushel baskets come in handy.

Fresh potting soil will be used to top off containers or refill smaller pots. A good potting soil is designed to plant directly into, so it requires no additional amendments. Although after planting edibles, I will sprinkle a few tablespoons of my "Tomato & Vegetable" food around the plants; my non-edible container gardens are ready to receive plants right after filling with good potting soil.

Now onto the more difficult subject of raised beds or garden plots. As I said, the old soil from my container gardens is added to these beds. I also will add a few bags of well-composted barnyard manure to enrich the soil. I spread about 2 inches of new organics over the gardens each spring. On top of this I spread three additional nutrients. The first is soil sulfur to reduce the pH and increase acidity of the soil. This will increase the healthiness and green hue to my plants and provide a better flavor to all vegetables, grapes and berries.

Second, I add gypsum, calcium sulfate, to my raised beds. Tomatoes and peppers are calcium hungry, so I make sure the soil they are grown in is rich in gypsum. This will reduce blossom end rot and increase fruit size as well.

Lastly, I spread a good organic food over the planting area and turn the soil to one shovel's depth. This year, of course, I'm using my organic "Tomato & Vegetable" plant food. This mixture of gypsum and organic food is turned into the soil and irrigated deeply at least once before planting. This blend of soil and nutrients is perfect for carrots, tomatoes, pumpkins, radishes, melons, beans and anything else grown in the garden. Like I mentioned earlier, this same nutrient combination also works well in flower gardens.

On Wednesday, April 20, at 11:30 a.m., I will be speaking at Radio Shine 90.9FM on this very subject, "Increasing the Harvest & Bloom in the Mountain Garden." I will be in the studio at 3741 Karicio Lane in Prescott. Seating and lunch will be available for about 50 gardeners. Although RSVPs were requested by yesterday, Friday, April 15, if you're really interested call 776-0909 about availability. I promise it will be an interactive good time.

The garden class at the nursery, "Bigger Tomatoes and Better Veggies," will be held next Saturday, April 23, at 9:30 a.m. This class will focus more on vegetable varieties and timing rather than about soil. As usual, the class will be fun, free, and informative!

Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.

Throughout the week, Ken Lain is at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, and can be contacted through his website at www.wattersonline.com. Ken says, "My personal mission is to help local homeowners garden better in our mountain landscapes."