Supplemental Fertilizer for Raised Garden Beds FAQs and Solutions
There are various ways to provide nutrients to plants in raised bed gardens. In part two, I cover the best organic ingredients for building healthy soil and why it's important to focus on enriching your soil with nutrients rather than fertilizers. Soil ecosystems benefit most from organic ingredients, and your plants benefit most from a healthy soil ecosystem.

I've listed some different organic materials in Part II, along with tips on how to choose and avoid them. In general, using any of the ingredients on this list is a better long-term solution than simply adding fertilizer.

First question: How do you know what your soil needs and/or which ingredients to use in your soil? I highly recommend that you start soil testing - every 2-3 seasons. Soil testing is available through your local county extension office and is fairly inexpensive. They'll tell you the pH of your soil and describe (or list) any nutrient deficiencies.

The second question: how do you deal with soil testing information? Start with a pH reading. For vegetables, the optimum pH is neutral (6.5-7.0). When your soil pH reads above 7.0, it tends to be alkaline. In other words, the higher the soil pH, the more alkaline the soil is. The lower the pH of the soil, below 6.5, the more acidic it is.

Some of you may be intimidated by the scientific numbers and jargon behind soil testing, but it's not as complicated as it sounds. A soil test is an invaluable companion in your gardening endeavors—it tells you what you need to add to your soil to bring it into the optimal neutral pH range.

By telling you about your soil's nutrient deficiencies, the test can also help you understand what needs to be added to your soil—nitrogen, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and more—to create a thriving ecosystem for healthy plant growth.

The good news is that good compost - on its own - can have a huge impact on your soil pH. When you add it to your raised garden beds using the method I describe in part two of this series, it will go a long way toward balancing your soil chemistry.

In general, all organic materials will naturally shift your soil chemistry into a neutral pH range. That means, your compost, chopped leaves, grass clippings, wood chips...all contribute to the soil pH.

Going a step further, the ingredient descriptions I provide in Part II will help you identify good options for improving the nutrients your soil tests have identified as being missing or deficient in your garden beds.

Third question: Will the nutrients you add to your raised bed garden lose faster than the nutrients you add to your basement bed? This is possible, depending on how you provide these nutrients and the quality of the soil in your bed.

A healthy, thriving soil ecosystem is the driving force behind maintaining optimal moisture levels. The rich ecosystem provides a sweet spot for your plants - allowing for adequate drainage while still retaining adequate moisture.

For example, if you use water soluble fertilizers; some of them will seep out during the natural drainage of the soil. The amount of seepage depends on the overall health of the soil. Since healthy soil is most effective at retaining the right amount of water, it also does a better job of retaining water-soluble fertilizers.

For those interested in using an irrigation system to deliver fertilizer to raised beds, you can certainly go this route. Just know that fertilizer delivered this way is water soluble - and therefore more likely to leach to some extent.

Maybe you don't want to think about the loss of any kind of water soluble fertilizer - even the smallest one. I feel the same way. I like to take advantage of the time and money I spend on my beds - adding those organic materials instead of water soluble fertilizers.

The organic ingredients are slowly released and insoluble in water. They dissolve through biological activity -- the activity of microorganisms in healthy soil. Healthy soil ecosystems process organic nutrients more efficiently—providing plants with what they need, when they need it. In other words, the organic matter I add enables my soil to provide a sort of plant concierge. "Need nitrogen up there? At your service, for your needs."

Because I feed the soil this way — slowly building it up with organic matter over time — I rarely need to supplement with fertilizer.

There are some exceptions. One of them is that I decorate my raised beds once or twice a year before the growing season (I'll get to you again for part 2) and I usually add a little corkscrew in a slow release, non-synthetic, nitrogen based fertilizer- For example Milorganite. Alternatively, you may want to check out other good organic fertilizer options.

During the growing season, I sometimes add some organic fertilizer, such as tomatoes, to the heavy feeder. For the greedy ones, I'll offer fish milk or other organic fertilizer twice (maybe three times) this season. That's it. Everything else my plants need is already in the soil bed because I engineer a healthy ecosystem by starting with the right soil "recipe" base and amending it with organic materials.

This is why I love raised bed gardening. Yes, I could have a subbed ecosystem in my garden farm landscape - I did. But with raised bed gardening, I have the most control over the soil health of my beds.

My harvest is the proof of my hard work, and you can too.

Do you have earthworms in your garden beds? you should. This may not be news to you, but you probably didn't know how best to plant these worms in the first place.

The old adage "build it and they will come" often applies to earthworms as well—especially if you create the type of soil described in this series. Worms love it!

This is another very simple method. If you add fresh worm droppings (aka worm droppings, aka worm droppings, aka one of my top organic ingredients listed in part two of this series), you're adding worms.

Eggs will appear in vermicompost and are a great way to fill out flower beds. (Note that eggs may be killed during shipping of commercial worm castings, so fresh castings harvested from your own vermicompost bins will likely contain live eggs.)

You can add worms directly, as many gardeners do. Unfortunately, if the soil temperature drops below freezing, the worms die. Those that don't die have gone down to the soil surface (probably under your raised bed) in order to survive. The worm eggs survive freezing and hatching, and fill your garden beds in the spring.

Another Note About Supplementary Nutrition

Many people specifically ask about the availability of supplemental nitrogen. Nitrogen promotes foliage - not fruit (actually, at fruit's expense). If you've ever grown plants that looked good -- green and lush -- but had a lackluster harvest, look at the nitrogen content of any fertilizer you add. You've most likely added too much nitrogen to the soil.