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Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

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Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  dstack on 11/19/2013, 8:26 pm

I know "THE BOOK" says over and over that you don't have to fertilize your SFG boxes, but do you? I may start using fish emulsion and Miracle Grow. In the coming week a local university student who's studying pest control will be taking soil samples. I'm very interested to see what she My squash vines are healthy but the leaves should be a darker green. The new growth on the zukes is dark green and healthy looking at least for most of the leaves. The one with most of the crinkled leaves I should probably destroy, right?

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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  sanderson on 11/19/2013, 9:50 pm

You aren't alone.  I have a feeling that a lot of Newbies don't have truly rich homemade compost, compost made with different sources.

I was so excited bounce  to get started that I used mainly Kellogg compost in the red and white striped bag!  Everything took off and I was so proud.  Very Happy  Then they stopped growing.  Embarassed  So I used Miracle Grow to keep things growing.  I then ordered kelp and worm castings on line and bought organic fertilizer (Jobs?).  I even tried making my own kelp meal from California kelp.  Phew!  Frantically started hot composting, collecting buckets and buckets of produce from the farmer's market and coffee from Starbucks, heat treated grass clippings, bought cow manure and wood shavings, etc.  The first 2 batches were B- but the plants started responding.  My third batch of compost to use in the spring reached 160* and 2 months later is looking like it's going to be a winner, A+.  I'm now collecting leaves like crazy for next year's compost.

Don't dispare.  Use what ever you need right now, just don't burn things.  Make compost, kelp, or worm casting teas.  Keep working on your own compost.  I think, IMHO, that the compost is the secret.

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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  dstack on 11/19/2013, 10:02 pm

Thanks Sanderson! I will.

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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  jimmy cee on 11/19/2013, 11:24 pm

This past season was my first with SFG.
The compost I picked up was from our local recycle center, mgr told me it consisted of brush and leaves.
Since I wasn't prepared with my own compost I added a few ingredients, mushroom manure, horse manure, chicky doo doo, some bio char, and cow manure.
Everything worked nicely for me.
Twice a week I added a small amount of fish emulsion and miracle gro.
Watered my hanging baskets 3 times daily, just enough water to not drip out the bottom most likely alot less..

Everything I grew this past season turned out great.
I now have my own home made compost with everything in it, and I do mean everything.
Two 4 square foot piles cooking will be ready for spring..
I will be watering with a light mixture of fish emulsion next season..
Since I have nothing from the sea I cannot see this would not help...

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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  Marc Iverson on 11/20/2013, 12:48 am

I used store-bought worm castings and made a lazy-man's compost tea(just add a couple scoops into a five-gallon bucket of water and stir a few times over the course of a couple days) out of steer poop. It was dilute enough that, after experimenting on a few plants, I didn't worry about the "tea" burning anything.

I also did a LOT of companion planting with basil, oregano, marigolds, and nasturtiums.

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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  plantoid on 11/20/2013, 5:50 am

@dstack wrote:I know "THE BOOK" says over and over that you don't have to fertilize your SFG boxes, but do you? I may start using fish emulsion and Miracle Grow. In the coming week a local university student who's studying pest control will be taking soil samples. I'm very interested to see what she My squash vines are healthy but the leaves should be a darker green. The new growth on the zukes is dark green and healthy looking at least for most of the leaves. The one with most of the crinkled leaves I should probably destroy, right?
There is a bit of a misnomer about the quality of crops needing to have certain dark green leaves  for the crop to be the best quality.
 
About 12 years ago our UK farmers still  used to use tonnes and tonnes of " Growmore " type artificial fertilizer on their farms but at greater strengths of  N , P & K.

All the leaves looked fantastic , dark or bright green fields as far as the eye could see especially in the potatoes ,  beets and sugar beet fields.

Then along came gas spectrum analysers and some serious research into high nitrate content of crops /water supplies and how to reduce it  . It was found the culprits were the farmers putting on too high a Nitrogen fertilizer that leeched out into the soil without being consumed by the plants..
 
Further research and testing showed that the root crops didn't need any where near as high nitrogen level as the farmer had been using to produce high quality crops .
 In fact it was proven several times over in different types of research that beets have greater sugars in them when the leaves are almost a light yellow/green instead of dark green
 

I'm fairly certain that the same sort of thing applies to brassicas , to much nitrogen will darken the leaves & make the leaf cells soft and inflated .

This in turn leaves the leaves prone to damage and more open to insect attacks as the insects can smell the prolific  juices & access the plant fluids easier in the softer cell plants. Too much nitrogen ./ nitrates  in a plant based diet is also not too good for humans especially kiddies.

 What lots of us fail to understand or that we forget on occasions is that if you drew a graph of the  levels of nutrients and trace elements for plants to grow  .There is a cross over point that happens.  Once passed the quality of the plants will diminish quite rapidly because they can't handle the excess nutrients and trace elements. 

 The same applies if we use too much home made composted animal manures it becomes too " Rich "  for certain  plants to grow successfully to the crop we want . They usually  become all top ( leaf )   and no bottom or fruit .

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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  dstack on 11/20/2013, 8:45 am

@plantoid wrote:
@dstack wrote:I know "THE BOOK" says over and over that you don't have to fertilize your SFG boxes...
There is a bit of a misnomer about the quality of crops needing to have certain dark green leaves...
Thanks Plantoid. I love your username BTW. lol! 

Your prospective is refreshing! I'm having enough trouble keeping the bugs off of my cukes. What you've said about nitrogen rich plants attracting bugs confirms what I've read elsewhere, and I can't imagine attracting them even more! YIKES!


I can't wait to get my soil tested and see what the university suggests. The student did recommend fish emulsion, and I would like to do a minimum feeding as I can totally relate to Sanderson's description. It seems just about everything has slowed down in growth almost to a stop. It's pretty sad when my basil looks a LOT healthier growing in this Florida sand (with minimal amendment) than the basil in my SFG MM.

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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  dstack on 11/20/2013, 9:13 am

@sanderson wrote:...Everything took off and I was so proud.  Very Happy  Then they stopped growing.....
Sanderson, like I told Plantoid, I can relate to the quote above. I've been an enthusiastic composter for a couple of years now, but all of my compost wasn't quite enough for my 96 sq.ft. of garden boxes. My plan was to have 1/3 cow manure, 1/3 mushroom compost, and 1/3 of my compost, but I lacked enough of mine. And my next round of compost is already designated elsewhere. I need it for my new asparagus location when I transplant them. My asparagus LOVES my compost! And since I've read that nematodes hate asparagus I'll be planting them between the papayas in the event that one papaya gets infected... I'm getting off topic. I'm a bit A.D.D. when it comes to gardening. LOL

I'll try a balance of your suggestion and Plantoid's. Since I haven't fertilized the boxes at all, I'll try a minimal feeding of fish emulsion and Miracle Grow. I'm waiting to hear back from the university student to know if she would rather get the soil samples before or after I fertilize. Do you have a preferred brand of fish emulsion? I hate spending more $$$ on the garden when I've spent way more than I anticipated with the cinder block raised beds. But what good is that investment if I don't get much of a crop to show for my efforts? 

I know you love photos, so here's my Seminole Squash that has reached the top of the lattes with buds forming. I hand pollinated my first blossom on Monday morning.  

It's not as dark green as it gets when I've planted them in the Florida sand (w/minimal amendment), but perhaps dark green is overrated, as Plantoid suggested. Wink 


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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  plantoid on 11/20/2013, 9:43 am

For me here in the damp cool UK that colour leaf would suggest the plants might need a feed as my squash 7 other vine plants all had quite a bit darker leaves with a slight hint of a silver halo across the leaves . They gave me shed loads of marrows. squash and crystal lemon cucumbers 's

 That's a  lovely quality of sturdiness though

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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  herblover on 11/20/2013, 10:30 am

I do, using an organic fertilizer (Garden-Tone) every 2 wks. I do this in large part because my homemade compost was not really very good. I am restarting my compost this winter by using my old SFG as a compost "pile". We will be building a new box for spring because of the bottom falling out of the original box.

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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  camprn on 11/20/2013, 11:05 am

A soil sample will be of no research benefit to the student if fertilizer was applied before sample collection.


I am planning on doing some soil testing as I too had some trouble last growing season. Mostly troubles with the tomatoes. It was very clear that there were mineral and nitrogen deficiencies in a few of my boxes. I also knew this was going to be a possibility as I had trouble locating any manure to include in the compost pile.

The remedy last season was to feed the plants with tomato tone. I didn't fertilize for the last 6 weeks of the growing season, so any sample I send to the lab will give me true levels of elements in the mix and not show good fertility because I had already added fertilizer.

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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  donnainzone5 on 11/20/2013, 11:14 am

I would advise anyone against using Miracle Gro.

It had been my impression that the product's chemical salts eventually would accumulate, to the point that nothing would grow in soil treated with it.

I don't know for certain whether this is true.

HOWEVER-- I just found the following link:

http://www.consumeraffairs.com/homeowners/miracle_gro.html




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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  Cincinnati on 11/20/2013, 11:15 am

@dstack wrote:... In the coming week a local university student who's studying pest control will be taking soil samples. ... My squash vines are healthy but the leaves should be a darker green. The new growth on the zukes is dark green and healthy looking at least for most of the leaves. 
Just a note on your soil analysis: The student should know that a standard soil test will not work for a highly organic potting mix. They have a different test for potting mixes like MM. My lab ran it first as standard soil test. I later learned it was inaccurate b/c of the high organic content.I seem to recall they ended up using the same test as my compost analysis test.

As far as the cuke leaves, I'm wondering what your Nitrogen levels are. One of the things I add is Bloodmeal (~1 TBL/CUFT of mix). Blood Meal is high in N: 12-0-0. Although it is at natural source, be careful with not overdoing it. My tomato plant leaves were a weak greenish yellow and responded to a lush green within a few days of adding the bloodmeal.

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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  boffer on 11/20/2013, 11:28 am

I've amended a total of 14 squares in 6 years, and had control plants for comparison.  That's not a very big sample size, but here's the results I observed: the look of the plants improved a bit, but the harvest per plant was about the same as the control plants.  I used fish emulsion on a few (5-1-1), top dressing with compost on a couple, and some 4-5-4 that my wife had.  I can't say if one worked better than another because my experiments weren't set up to compare against each other, but only to the controls.

I've had my MM tested twice.  The only recommendation from the lab was to supplement nitrogen; it was borderline adequate.  I would suggest getting your MM tested before adding anything so you know where you're starting from.

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Re: Do you fertilize?

Post  GloriaG on 11/20/2013, 12:02 pm

FWIW - yes, sort of. 

I'm using strictly organic methods, so I don't want any chemical fertilizers in my SFG beds.

However, this summer I developed a root knot nematode problem in the SFG that had my root crops.  In researching these nematodes, I discovered that over-watering plus a lack of mychorizal activity from low nutrient levels is generally the problem. I tested the MM at several spots in each of my five SFG's and found that the N-P-K levels were consistently very low.

My gardens are three-years old, and I had been adding the "scoop" of homemade compost each time I replanted - BUT - I garden all year round, and now believe that a scoop of compost isn't enough to replace the nutrients used by all those plants.  Basically, the MM never had a chance to recover before I re-planted.

So I've started adding a little compost tea, bone meal, blood meal, kelp meal, calcium and mycorrhizae weekly.  I don't add these amendments all at the same time, but on a rotating basis, depending on what is in the bed.  I also mulched with leaves to prevent the MM from drying out so rapidly and turned the leaves in this fall before re-planting.

My beds are now healthy and productive again and N-P-K levels are in the acceptable range.

In our warmer climate, we annually plant 3 or 4 rotations of crops in each square.  So - going forward I will continue to add these amendments on a regular basis.

Hope this helps!

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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  camprn on 11/20/2013, 12:27 pm

+1, Mel's mix is considered a soilless mix, such as is used in greenhouse beds. When I send my samples I will use that particular order form.


I know you have a student coming to take samples, but for the others that are reading this thread, here is a very good link.
http://soiltest.umass.edu/ordering-information

I too find that a greater quantity of replenishing compost is required for optimum growth. Typically I will put a whole wheel barrow full of compost into a 4x4 bed before replanting.


Last edited by camprn on 11/20/2013, 12:30 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  donnainzone5 on 11/20/2013, 12:29 pm

Does your homemade compost contain any manure or animal-based compost? If not, it may be deficient in certain nutrients.

Also, I find that I must add several trowels-full of compost to each square when replanting, just to level out the Mel's Mix.

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aMMendments

Post  Cincinnati on 11/20/2013, 12:42 pm

One objective of SQFT gardening was to make gardening, easy, enjoyable, and affordable for everyone. Another was to grow high quality foods. Healthy soil is required to produce healthy foods. Soil must not only contain all the essential minerals and elements, it must contain them in the properly balanced proportions. High nutrient, properly balanced compost is the key in MM and SQFT Gardening. 

I make my own compost from various ingredients: grass clippings, leaves, compostable kitchen vegetables and fruits, egg shells, twigs, weeds, coffee grounds, and on occasion crab claws, shrimp shells, and a bag of purchased compost (which IMHO is more like mulch than compost and needs more time to decompose).  Yet I am unsure of my nutrient consistency from batch to batch because my recipe is constantly changing. I had an analysis performed on one batch that yielded a 2.1-0.5-0.6 fertilizer value. So it's OK as far as NPK nutrients.

It does concern me that I am getting enough of the other trace minerals and that I might be over adding nitrogen. I do this:

To the squares that grow leafy vegetables I add 1/2 tbl of Bloodmeal per SQFT I'm going to back off a little on this next season. Bloodmeal is 12-0-0.

To each square, I also add a tbl of Azomite (rock dust that contains essential minerals from A-Z).
I add the usual scoop of compost when replanting, plus I spread a few scoops on the surface as mulch and to help prevent plant disease.

Lettuce, onions, cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, peas, cucumbers, and herbs grow well and taste very good. The BRIX number on my veggies isn't great, but it is above the average for store bought produce. This is the reason I am experimenting with adding mineral supplements.

The other concern I have is the amount of soil life that might be missing from MM. Those micro-organisms help nutrient exchange at the root hairs. Some of my compost is stored for up to a year, so I don't know the activity level of the good bugs. I applied THRIVE last year, but couldn't attribute a large change to that product. Any Experiments have to be tightly controlled to know what is actually making the difference. 

I know this: Adding ammendments blindly can do more harm than good. Too much fertilizer creates a build-up of salts. Following the proven system will generally yield good results. Improving it will require time, a significant investment in terms of the value of the yield of the garden, and what I consider work that takes some of the fun out of gardening — constantly analysing batches of fertilizer and MM as well as significant study of what to  do to make corrections.

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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  CapeCoddess on 11/20/2013, 1:19 pm

Hmm...there's a lot of info in this thread. 

In my first year I used a touch of Neptune's Fish & Seaweed fertilizer during transplanting and sometimes afterward if it looked like any plant needed a pick me up. 

Currently I add Borax to the beets & broccoli.  It helps the beets ball up but I've yet to be able to get any broccoli. 

I add epsom salts to peppers when the leaves get a bit yellow. 

I water with diluted urine when I'm trying to get leafies to move a little quicker.

That's it.  No animal manure in my compost yet.  Next years has some chicken poo in it though.  We'll see if that makes any diff.

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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  Turan on 11/20/2013, 1:40 pm

Time for a definition....  Fertilizer Fertilizer is any organic or inorganic material of natural or synthetic origin that is added to soil to supply one or more plant nutrients essential to the growth of plants

Compost that has any nutrient quality is fertilizer.  We all use fertilizers, if we did not there would be no plant growth because there would be no nutrients.  Soil that plants can grow in has fertilizer in it, though it might be from a source not put there by you, any decomposing organic matter that becomes incorporated into the soil.

Many of us add high density nutrients sources to compost piles in order to hurry the composting along and to later benefit the plants like blood meal, kelp, alfalfa meal.  I add bone meal usually.
I like to mulch plants, especially broccoli with grass clippings.  They decompose fast and fertilize the broccoli through the season.  At planting time I will water in the transplants with fish emulsion to give them a boost as they transit to the bigger world of the garden.  I have been known to give peppers and tomatoes and broccoli a supplemental boost a couple weeks after transplanting.  Usually after that they are good for the rest of the season.

What Plantoid says about over fertilizing is really important.  It is sort of like being over weight from eating too much rich food.  Not healthy.  Seven foot high potato plants look wonderful but are disappointing in tuber production.  

I try to manage a sort of rotation in the garden.  Freshest compost is in a heap and has the squash planted in it.  As we all know squash love a compost pile.  They can handle a lot of nitrogen and still produce wonderfully.  Corn can handle such as well.  I will dump fresh to be composted material where the corn is going to be planted in the spring.  Let it heat twice and then spread and mix into the soil.  Then plant the corn, it will thrive.  Broccoli, greens, etc, like those beds the following year.  Followed by peas and beans the next year.  Last comes the root crops with a dollop of bone meal added.  I do add supplemental compost (the compost pile gets spread over all beds after the squash are done with it in accordance to how things grew and what is happening the following year) but the major nutrient boost is on a sort of 3 year rotation.

What one does and when is in the eye of the gardener.  As you learn your garden, your situation, your reactions become subtler and garden and you sort of grow together.

KISS is a cute phrase and nice for giving people the confidence to get started in this process but it is just a tip of an iceberg.

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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  dstack on 11/20/2013, 2:08 pm

Yes, there sure is a lot of info here. I'm learning so much from these responses! I love all of the feedback. This forum has been a huge influence on the construction of these raised beds, and the 3' aisles between them. Very Happy 

Now other issues mentioned here will influence how I handle the soil sampling, and fertilization AFTER the soil sampling.  Thanks so much!
Wink


Last edited by dstack on 11/20/2013, 2:10 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : correction of typoze)

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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  Cincinnati on 11/20/2013, 3:48 pm

@GloriaG wrote:FWIW - yes, sort of. 

I'm using strictly organic methods, so I don't want any chemical fertilizers in my SFG beds.

I ... now believe that a scoop of compost isn't enough to replace the nutrients used by all those plants.  Basically, the MM never had a chance to recover before I re-planted.

So I've started adding a little compost tea, bone meal, blood meal, kelp meal, calcium and mycorrhizae weekly.  I don't add these amendments all at the same time, but on a rotating basis, depending on what is in the bed.  I also mulched with leaves to prevent the MM from drying out so rapidly and turned the leaves in this fall before re-planting.

In our warmer climate, we annually plant 3 or 4 rotations of crops in each square.  So - going forward I will continue to add these amendments on a regular basis. ...
I hope I'm not coming across as overly picky or technical, but Remember that Organic doesn't mean you are not using chemicals. in fact, the chemicals (compounds and elements) in compost are what feed your plants. 

Begin Soapbox: It's aggravating to me how the FDA and USDA define organic. The food you buy in the grocery and pay a premium which is labeled ORGANIC is not necessarily what most of us who are concerned about what goes into our bodies think we are buying. The government standard is that if it is grown with 95% of additives being "organic", then it can be labeled such. So 5% of the pesticides or fertilizer can be synthetic chemicals. And 5 percent of an animal's feed can be hormone laced and it can still be labeled as "organic". 

You're the first to mention something that I began considering last growing season. With a Zone 9 garden, I wonder if the scoop of compost per square per growing season is enough. I did a little compost top dressing this fall for disease/pest protection. I am going to start a compost tea foliar feeding program with the next crop.  My only concern is the weekly addition of so much fertilizer. Too much fertilizer, even it it is in the form of compost, is not good. Check out "The Perfect Soil" which teaches about proper proportions of minerals and elements.

Too much calcium will unfavorably change the pH of your MM - doesn't matter if that's from dolomite, crushed limestone, or crushed egg shells.

Because you are adding weekly bone meal, blood meal, kelp meal, calcium, I recommend a regular soil analysis to assure you are not damaging your MM.

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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  boffer on 11/20/2013, 7:03 pm

@Cincinnati wrote:...Following the proven system will generally yield good results. Improving it will require time, a significant investment in terms of the value of the yield of the garden, and what I consider work that takes some of the fun out of gardening — constantly analysing batches of fertilizer and MM as well as significant study of what to  do to make corrections.
+1

Overall, I've been happy with the production of my SFG gardens without the use of amendments.  Although not always perfect, by minimizing the variables in the gardening process, it's given me a chance to understand the impact of  weather on the growing process, which I believe is a lot greater than many gardeners realize.  I've been dragging my feet for six years about using amendments because it opens a new world that requires a lot of information gathering, experimenting, and time.  If I'm going to use amendments, I want to know in fact that they are improving a known deficiency.

A while back, I was mulling over what my new objective for next year would be, and I decided to begin experimenting with amendments  to address several anomalies that I've observed the last couple of years.  Planning out the details of the experiments so that I get valid results is making my head spin!

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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  camprn on 11/20/2013, 8:42 pm

Oh dear, Boffer, do let us know how the torture progresses...Wink 

The benefits of compost, feed the soil (MM) not the plants.
http://rodaleinstitute.org/learn/webinars/composting-for-all/

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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

Post  Mikesgardn on 11/20/2013, 9:08 pm

I used miracle-grow when I first started because I didn't have a compost pile, and I only used one type of commercial compost in my soil mix. Now that I have a decent quality compost pile, I don't use miracle-grow.

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Re: Do you fertilize? If so, what do you use?

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