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Make Gardening More Fun/ Save Time & Money with Fundamentals (seed, nitrogen, onions, forced growth, peppers, hybrids)

As I brought out in the last post, we’re not required to know every detail to be successful in gardening. With the few essential facts (a/k/a fundamentals) we can achieve success. Nature will do all the complicated stuff for us if we give her a chance.

The Seed

Although it’s been more than 56 years since I was in high school, I still remember studying  “seed “in botany class.

Here’s what I learned:

A seed contains all the nutrients needed to get seedlings off to a good start.
To germinate put seed in moist soil (or grow mix) when temperatures are warm enough.

That’s it. Knowing these 4 essential facts allows anyone to start seed without additional information.

What’s Promoted

There’s an extremely popular fellow who does videos. He’s organic and I think sincere.

In spite of that, he promotes (and I think he believes it ) the use of a lot of things that are not needed if a gardener is following along with nature.

He and numerous others recommend adding various fertilizers, composts, and such to grow mix before starting seed. In most cases this is NOT necessary, as the seed has everything the seedling will need for some time.

Below are seedlings I started in jug bottoms. Three to a container growing in plain grow mix which has no nutrients. As you can see they’re just fine after being in the same container for 6 weeks or more.

Seedlings in plain grow mix for 6 weeks or more.

Your Growing Strategy May Indicate Doing it Differently

For example: maybe you want to grow your plants much larger before transplanting and not have to pot -up as they grow.

You could start with a container large enough to accommodate the size plant you’re hoping for. Let’s say a 12” plant.

Add nutrient dense soil to the grow mix, or shredded leaves, or compost. Plant 3 seeds. Keep the strongest.

As the seedling outgrows the seed (its nutrient source), the rich soil, shredded leaves, or compost will provide for the growing plant until it’s transplanted to the garden.

To me it seems obvious, that in most cases, all these advertised additions to grow mix are about selling products, rather than what you need to get the desired results.

Nitrogen – Statistics Show It’s the Most Over Used “Amendment”

It’s easy to understand why the average gardener thinks it necessary to use additional nitrogen. Almost everything you read about many vegetables (and especially onions) say that nitrogen should be applied before and during growth.

The chemical companies have done a good job of “selling” the need for “added” nitrogen.

I can’t over emphasis the fact that if you’re working with nature and replenishing organic materials which will turn to organic matter, you do NOT need to concern yourself with having enough nitrogen.

Nature is efficient and precise. She will release the nitrogen needed by plants at just the right time when temperatures and growing conditions are right.

You need do nothing but watch.

Onions and Nitrogen

Much of what you read about growing onions, especially from commercial sources, recommends adding nitrogen as many as 3 to 4 times after planting.

In most cases when nitrogen is recommended it’s for more and faster growth. In the case of onions it’s said to produce larger onions.

In the almost 40 years that I’ve grown onions, I’ve NEVER added nitrogen. I can tell you first hand, that you can get large onions without added nitrogen.

In spite of the fact that I don’t even want large onions, because the medium sized onions better fit my everyday use of them,  I STILL get a lot of very large onions. Even with planting closer than most folks to try to size them down some, many get softball size.

These have almost finished curing. I like medium size onions, but I still get a lot of huge ones even though I take steps to keep them smaller.  (Such as planting closer together.)

Onions – Storage and Nitrogen

In spite of their recommendation to add nitrogen, a newsletter from one supplier mentioned growing onions with a low nitrogen supply as one way to prolong natural dormancy (for longer storage).

Allowing nature to decide the perfect amount of nitrogen needed, you’ll get good sized onions and onions that store better.

Another Statement I’ve Found to Be Incorrect

Another thing that is commonly said and believed is that all plants should get off to a fast start and keep growing quickly. Often the recommendation is to add nitrogen to force growth to make that a reality.

Had I taken that conventional advice years ago, I would never have known that statement is incorrect. But I didn’t take it, and my warm weather crops, especially my peppers, proved to me it was wrong.

Here’s how:

As you may recall, I germinate my seed inside and the next day they go outside; under protection of course when the weather warrants it – and it does in late winter and early spring.

Most warm weather crops are not going to grow a lot until the weather warms. Peppers especially.

If I plant peppers in mid March – they germinate, grow to about 2 inches, look nice and green and healthy and then proceed to do absolutely nothing until it warms to suite them in mid June. Then they grow to 4 to 6 feet (depending on variety) so quickly it’s amazing.

And they produce dozens (and depending on variety it can be hundreds) of peppers.

It took 7 stakes to hold this one plant.  I counted at least 100 peppers when the picture was taken last October. Plant is over 5 feet tall.

 

Peppers ripening in abundance. Plant is an inch or so taller than I am (5’6″)

Another Fundamental Concept – There’s Always a Price

One of the basics to keep in mind is that when you force growth you’re going to pay some type of price for that, even if you can’t “see” it.

One of the most common “prices” that many gardeners pay for added nitrogen is lush growth and no fruit.

Hybrids Are a Great Example of Exchanging One Thing for Another.

Most hybrids are created for their fast growth and lots of fruit. (Appealing to market growers, and to basic human nature of wanting more as quickly as possible.)

An open pollinated version might be a lot slower to produce and gives less fruit, but it has more nutrition. Good stuff takes time.

It’s fun to play, but just keep in mind that nature keeps track of everything. When you change one thing, something else changes as well, even if you don’t know about it.

Philosopher and writer Alan Watts worded it well:

“—every act of interference with the course of nature changes it in unpredictable ways.

—The more one interferes, the more one must analyze an ever growing volume of detailed information about the results of interference on a world whose infinite details are inextricably interwoven.”

Is It Really Necessary?

As I mentioned in the last post, many products and even growing methods are deemed necessary ONLY as a result of exchanging nature’s simple (but efficient) way for something complicated.

By knowing the few fundamentals, you’ll be able to discern the difference.

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Suggested Reading:

Peppers – It Ain’t Necessarily So

Answering the Question: Do You Need to Add Fertilizers to Your Garden to Feed This Year’s Crops?

Organic Residues – the Needed Energy for Soil Fertility

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All content including photos are copyrighted by TendingMyGarden.com.  All Rights Reserved.

10 comments to Make Gardening More Fun/ Save Time & Money with Fundamentals (seed, nitrogen, onions, forced growth, peppers, hybrids)

  • Gunvor Magarity-Groves

    Your mail message is always one of the first I open. You have inspired and taught me so much over the years! Though I live in a tropical climate and not always able to grow the same plants as you, the rules of nature still apply, as is the plants response very similar.

    I thank you most of all for removing the stress out of my garden activities.

    I now connect to my plants in a similar way as I do to my companion animals. They are on my mind, and planned for throughout the day, and most days end with feeding them finely chopped kitchen scraps, at the same time the dogs and birds are also looked after.

    Sending you the warmest and sunniest greetings from Jamaica!
    Gunvor

  • Steve Gillaspie

    Theresa,
    Very good information. It is a little hard for me to think a seed contains all that it needs to germinate and grow even though by now I know it to be true. Yet I still have skepticism. I am like the man who wanted Jesus to heal his son in the bible. The man said “Lord I believe help my unbelief.”

    I believe but something inside me wants to rebel. I get more and more comfortable with the idea God’s creation doesn’t need mans help. In fact when we help it we generally mess it up.

    Great blog
    Steve

  • Jim Christensen

    Good Morning Theresa!

    Long time gardener here in central Iowa (Z5) and I like to use similar techniques, philosophy and methods partly because I have learned a lot from you and also I have never been a fan of chemicals and fertilizers for the food I eat.

    Those that have found you are very fortunate to discover how to garden in a healthful, less costly, natural way for us and planet earth. I have been a fan or yours for quite awhile. ( 2,3,4 yrs ?)

    It’s a sorry situation that big business fills our brains with harmful and costly products that are not needed.

    A big THANK YOU.

    jim

  • Tom Van Zoeren

    Thanks for your insights into this, Theresa.

    What do you think about using good soil from the garden for starting seeds in pots, rather than always buying it from the store? I hate the idea of buying dirt in a plastic bag.

  • Jim

    Hi Theresa,
    Another “spot on” piece of advice…I can attest to exactly what you say about peppers proceeding to do absolutely nothing until it warms to suite them, and in my case, more like July. Then one day I’ll notice they take off due to the warmer weather and by late August or mid September I’ve got lots of peppers.

    I typically plant around 40 pepper plants and never add any nitrogen….the last thing I want is a lot of leaves and no fruit!

    Your posts are always so “simple” and I mean that in the most complimentary way…not complex or complicated but deliberate and succinct! Not only do I enjoy your writings, but I always go away energized and excited about getting outside in my garden again, knowing I have a friend on the same path heading out there!

  • Julie Martin

    I just watched a webinar from our Extension Service on Vegetabe pests. It was so depressing. Then I began to think that maybe most of the pests could be prevented by using your three keys! One takeaway is that healthy plants can resist pests. I know you search for pests early and hand-pick. Also buying vegetable starts that have been coddled and fertilized can’t be as good as growing our own from seeds.

  • Theresa

    Gunvor,
    What a beautiful comment. I am so pleased that my writings have helped you and have taken the stress from gardening. Thank you for taking the time to let me know how you feel.

    Steve,
    I think your feelings are those of the vast majority. Probably we can chalk that up to programming from the chemical industry. They have plenty of funds to continually market — even to young children — so they grow up already believing that this wonderful intricately designed planet could not possibly function without the help of chemicals.

    And I agree that usually when mankind “helps” it really messes up things.

    Jim C., I’m so glad I’ve help you and appreciate your taking time to express your thoughts. I looked back to find your subscription date; it was July 2014.

    And yes, it really is a sorry situation that the masses just don’t realize how simple things can be.
    I had a fellow here on a business matter the other day, and the conversation turned to gardening.

    He asked me if I had tilled my garden yet. I told him I had not tilled since the garden was created almost 20 years ago (at this location).

    He said, “Oh. It seems like a lot of work to turn it by hand.” I said, “I don’t turn it by hand either. Come with me and I’ll show you.”

    When I pulled back the straw on a bed and dug into the soil with my hand he was amazed. Sad that he had never seen anything like that. And it’s all so easy.

    Tom, when I’ve run low on supplies I’ve used soil from my cold compost pile mixed with peat moss. Just the soil in a pot can get a bit too dense and I find it will do better if mixed with peat to lighten it and help it hold water.

    If you can get enough leaves to shred, you could mix that with the soil instead of peat and I’ll bet it would work great. Even finely “chopped” straw that is partially decayed might do the same thing.

    Let me know how you do. Good hearing from you. Thanks for commenting.

    Thanks for the great input Jim S. Appreciate your thoughts on my writings. And indeed you do have a friend on the same path – heading out to the garden. I think of you and various other readers as I work and come across things that I feel would be helpful.

    Julie, when you read or watch things from an extension service, remember that almost all of them are chemical oriented. (Believing that there is no other way than chemicals — which is of course programming by the chemical companies. Just not true.)

    Also, healthy soil and thus healthy plants resist pest attacks. That doesn’t mean at some point you might not have a bad outbreak of something or other. But for the most part if you continue to improve your soil (use the 3 keys) you will have less and less problems with pests.

    As you mentioned, I keep an eye out through out the season and hand-pick.

    Also as you mentioned vegetable starts the have been coddled and treated with chemicals are NOT the strongest plants. Growing your own gives you better plants.

    Thanks to all of you for joining the discussion and letting me know your thoughts.
    Theresa

  • Derek Morris

    Hello, What variety of onions get large from seed in your garden and when do you sow them? I am interested because I am in a similar climate. Thanks.

  • Theresa

    Good to hear from you Derek.
    Copras will get hard ball size.
    Makos will get even larger – softball size. IF you can find seed. I got my seed from a friend. Otherwise, I would not have any.
    I start seed in mid January and transplant to the garden starting in March.
    I grow the early maturing long day onion Highlander from purchased transplants and they get very large
    I’ll start some from seed next year to see if they have enough time here to grow and mature that large.
    Hope this helps.
    Theresa

  • Toni Melvin

    If reader Derek Morris would like Mako seed I have a considerable amount to share.

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