Claudia called me after purchasing some tomato plants. She said that the plants where not growing. I rushed over for a quick house call, and only could shake my head, as Cynthia- the sweet lady that she was, had planted her tomatoes in a sand box, complete with??? Yes you guessed it- SAND. (Gasp, Gasp)
Now you may have a little bit more of an understanding then poor Claudia, when it comes to choosing soil, but still this is an area that tends to be neglected. You have taken the time and expense to purchase Non GMO, Local plants and seeds at Sal's- don't neglect the most important aspect of growing amazing vegetables- which is soil and fertilizer. Usually there is a little expense initially, but after you get your soil right, you can use the same soil year after year, just adding compost and fertilizer as needed.
If planting in containers and raised beds, I love, love, love the Sungrow Fafard 3B mix. You can add compost from your compost pile, or add one bag of Black Kow or Mushroom Compost for each bag of Sungrow used. Stay away from miracle grow potting soil. It has very high levels of Nitrogen, which is ok if all you want is stems and leaves and no fruit. Use a potting soil without fertilizer, like the Sungrow Fafard 3B mix.
If planting directly into the ground, you may use a different approach. Our South Carolina soil varies wildly. We can have anything from sand to clay, with some places having both. Sandy soil needs a lot of compost added. When your neighbors start raking up leaves in the fall, grab them bags before the county pick up does. It makes the BEST compost. Black Kow and Mushroom Compost are great choices also to amend your soil.
If you are in clay- oh boy, I hear your cries. My best advice is to dig out your area and refill with good dirt. For example, if you are wanting to plant a tomato plant, dig a BIG hole (tomatoes need a lot of root space to grow). Then add in your one part Sungrow Fafard 3B mix to one part Black Kow or mushroom compost, so really you have a “pot” within the ground. If planting acres, get in there with a box blade and scrape out an area. Then get some dirt hauled in there.
Now let's think of the soil as your plants home. Shelter is great, but you also need food. Different plants need different nutrients. I like using good ol' Espoma Tomato-tone for spring/summer crops. Fall crops need more nitrogen, where most summer crops need more of the middle digit.
This leads me into- just what are those digits on fertilizer bags? Well the first digit is nitrogen, which feeds the leaves and stems of the plants. Too much nitrogen leads to pretty foliage, but nothing else. The next digit is the amount of phosphate- which feeds the fruit and blooms. The last digit, potash, feeds the roots. So one size fits all fertilizer, rarely works. In the spring, stay away from nitrogen, unless feeding corn. Nitrogen is needed for your winter crops like broccoli, collards, cabbage, etc.
Remember your plants need a home, food and water to thrive. Leave the sand for the beach. Happy Gardening. Sal