How many times a season do you fertilize / fertilizing tomatoes or peppers?
When you make the decision to grow vegetables at home for the first time there is a very good chance you will choose a crop like tomatoes or possibly peppers. These are very useful vegetables because they are something most families eat frequently, plus they are crops that taste noticeably better when grown at home as opposed to being purchased from a supermarket. However, in order to ensure the tomatoes and peppers are successful you will need to feed them regularly.
Although the compost you planted the tomatoes or peppers into will have a limited amount of fertilizer included in the mixture this will only last about six weeks, after which time you will need to feed your growing plants with plant food. Even if you choose to grow these plants directly in the soil (which I don't recommend), you will still need to feed them if you are to avoid ending up with a poor crop, both in quality and quantity.
There are various ways you can feed your tomatoes and peppers, and this hub is written to not only tell you when to feed your plants, but also to offer a number of suggestions as to what you can feed them with. Personally I use several different ways of feeding all of my plants each year, and the results I have are impressive. I always end up with a large surplus of both the tomatoes and peppers, and this suits my parents and friends very well as they are the ones who benefit from being presented with shopping bags full of my excess crops.
Firstly you should not need to start feeding your tomato or pepper plants until they have started to flower. This is the time when the young fruits will begin to develop and therefore the plant will need enough food to grow the fruits to a good size without draining all of its own energy reserves. If you fail to feed your plants sufficiently you may get a few fruits, but nothing close to the yield you will get if you feed the plants properly throughout the cropping season. The key is to feed them every second watering, which usually means every second day. Some products say you only need to feed the plants once a week, but personally I find that to produce the most impressive fruits every second day is better.
You can choose to buy various commercial feeds such as Miracle Grow or Tomorite, (which I have a great deal of success with), and you can add slow release plant food granules to the compost when preparing the containers you intend to grow your tomatoes and peppers in. If you use the granules I still believe you should manually feed too as the granules are unlikely to be sufficient to feed your plants for the entire growing season. Tomatoes and peppers like high levels of potassium in their feeds, so you should get the best results from buying a plant feed targeted towards tomato plants.
You might also opt for less conventional methods of feeding, either instead of or as well as the standard products. I am a great fan of using liquid seaweed fertilizer on all of my vegetable crops, and this is easy to apply at the same time as the more recognized plant foods. Liquid seaweed seems to be particularly good for fruiting crops like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers etc. I have the additional advantage of living very close to the coast, and here in Guernsey we are actively encouraged to remove dead seaweed from the local beaches. Seaweed makes an excellent mulch to place around your plants, and you can even bury it in the compost or soil prior to planting. It is packed with nutrients and will rot down to improve your soil quality dramatically. Just remember that 90% of seaweed is water, so always use a lot more than you think you will need. You shouldn't really need to wash it first as there is far less salt on it than you might imagine.
Other natural foods you can try include a nettle plant food. This is easy to make too. Wear gloves to cut the stinging nettles and then submerge them in a large tub of water before covering over the tub. Leave for several weeks at least (until it starts to smell pretty awful.) Now it is ready to dilute down on a roughly 10-1 solution. Use the resulting feed to water your tomatoes and peppers as per normal. You can also make plant food from Comfrey leaves using the same method.
On Guernsey we use manure from cows mixed with water to form a slurry. This slurry is generally sprayed on the fields to feed either the grass, or to top up the nutrients in the soil prior to planting the fields with vegetables. There is no reason why you can't do the same on a much smaller scale. All you will need is a fairly small amount of well rotted cow manure (although sheep manure works well too.) Mix this in a bucket with water and stir thoroughly until the manure has disintegrated into the liquid. Dilute this down again on the 10-1 basis (depending on how much manure you used originally.) Use this solution to water your plants with.
Finally remember that both tomatoes and peppers grown under glass will suffer from a small degree of shock if you use cold water to dilute your plant food before using it. The best plan is to always leave a few cans of water in your greenhouse each day, and then when you go to use them the water will be the same temperature as the plants and will not cause any setback to their growth.
How to make plant food from sheep manure
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#27 of 30 in the March 2012 Challenge