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Rein in the fertilizer and enjoy local organic abundance

Too much fertilizer can make it more difficult for plants to absorb nutrients
Instead of fertilizer, use a layer of organic compost once or twice a year. Compost improves soil structure which leads to less water runoff, releases nutrients slowly and doesn’t disturb natural organisms in the soil. (Black Press Media file photo)

This summer is going by so fast. We are about one month behind our typical summer growing period, which is already short enough. So, although some of us may be sampling the inestimable delights of eating sun-warmed cherry tomatoes, the sandwich-sized ones are still green. My usually prolific zucchini plants only have tiny zukes, and instead of picking dahlia flowers, I am only weeding the low plants. It may be tempting to add some extra chemical fertilizer to hurry things along.

More is better, right? Well, apparently not when it comes to ice cream, beer, and fertilizer. It’s sort of like laundry soap; the carton says to add a certain amount, and if the manufacturer could have you use more, they would. But they don’t because too much soap leaves a residue on your clothes. When it comes to fertilizer, too much of it is also not a good idea – the soluble salts or minerals remain in the soil, altering the pH level so that the soil nutrients become more difficult for the plant to absorb. Weak roots and overall plant stress can occur, leaving it more vulnerable to disease.

There’s more: rainwater and irrigation wash fertilizers and pesticides from our lawns and gardens into our underground freshwater aquifers, creeks, lakes, and the ocean. Our pets and other creatures can be poisoned if they drink from standing water that has fertilizer residue or swim or drink in a lake with a slimy blue-green algae bloom. The only thing that wins here is the chemical companies.

The solution? Use a layer of organic compost once or twice a year. Compost improves soil structure which leads to less water runoff, releases nutrients slowly and doesn’t disturb natural organisms in the soil. Use it as a mulch, too – it will help keep weeds under control and plants cool. Making compost is almost fun. It’s an excellent use of your leftover vegetable peelings, leaves, and grass. So precious, it’s been called “black gold.” (Don’t add meat, grease, bones, anything that rodents are apt to chow down on).

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Intense heat requires lots of watering – especially for our hanging baskets and pots that may need watering once or even twice a day due to their small container size. Applying a mild organic fish fertilizer, which dissolves in water, will add nutrients that have been washed out by copious irrigation.

What else can we do? First, we can garden responsibly, not adding harmful chemicals or pesticides to our soil. Secondly, how about supporting the hardworking organic farmers in our community by buying their lovely, luscious veggies and fruit that they have worked so hard to produce? It doesn’t matter if the apples or potatoes have a few blemishes and aren’t shiny and perfect like the supermarket produce – think of the chemical sprays you won’t be consuming. If there’s a little dirt on your beets, well then, it’s real. Get creative – eat what’s in season and discover new tastes and textures.

A third idea is to avoid buying flowers flown in from other countries at a great environmental cost. Instead, stop at a local flower stand and purchase undyed flowers that change with the seasons. Inhale the gorgeous scent of these beautiful flowers that have been grown with love; their rainbow of colours and nectar feed butterflies and hummingbirds.

Farmers are dedicated and courageous; they work hard seven days a week with no guarantee of success or income. Show that you care; stop in and buy some local produce today. It’s a win/win situation.

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