Top Dressing with Powdered Organic Fertilizers

If liquid organic fertilizers are like
tasty, edible, digestible soup for your plants then top dressing is the
porterhouse steak and fries. Plants love liquid, organic feeds, you know stuff like
Bio-Thrive grow and bloom, because modern formulations like these are bottled in
the form that’s typically just a step or two back from full mineralization. That
means beneficial biology in the soil can break it down very easily to become
plant-available. So what about top dressing? Well, slow-release, organic
fertilizers can provide a crucial backbone of nutrients throughout the
lifecycle. You take organic powders– this is solid inputs, rather than liquids, and
sprinkle them onto the top of the pot or around the base of your plants, then
water in. I’m talking about stuff like bat guano, seabird guano, dried processed
sea kelp, bone meal, and alfalfa meal. You can buy the stuff individually or you
can use composite blends that have been specifically formulated for different
times in the plant lifecycle. Of course, there’s more to it than that: like what
type of organic stuff should you use, and when, how much, how often? I’ll get into
all that, I promise, but let’s get started with the best way to actually top dress
your plants. First, some general tips: be sure to spread your top dressing mix
evenly across the top of the soil using a hand fork, or trowel, to sort of scratch
it into the top layer to distribute the material evenly, and prevent caking when
watering through. I like to mix my top dressing ingredients with compost and
then top dress. The houmous contains microbiology that gets straight to work
on breaking down the organic matter. Next, which inputs to use? If your plants are still in veg and you notice some of the
older leaves are turning pale, this could be a sign that you need to up your
nitrogen levels. Blood meal, chicken manure, feather meal, and bat guano are
your go-to’s for a nitrogen boost. Personally, I prefer to use a blended
product such as VermiVeg, as it’s been formulated to deliver high amounts of
soluble nitrogen, coupled with a full micronutrient profile. For a light feed, use
half a teaspoon per gallon of soil, or 1 cup per 12 square feet, every other
week. For heavier feedings, repeat weekly. If you’re sure that nitrogen is the only
element that’s lacking, then bat guano is your best bet. You can buy it separately
such as VermiBat, but be careful, as almost half of the nitrogen it contains
is immediately water soluble and so very fast-acting. The microbes in bat guano are an added treat for your plants, too, and there are additional benefits such as
chitin (insect fragments) that help to stimulate your plants’ immune systems. Try
a half a teaspoon per gallon of soil, or one cup or 12 square feet. Yep, I told you
it was strong. For a more timed-release nitrogen source, say over 6 to 8
weeks, go for blood meal. It releases fairly rapidly, and is broken down very
quickly, especially in media inoculated with beneficial microbes. Use
it just like bat guano. For plants heading into flowering and fruiting, you
should be thinking less about nitrogen and more about phosphorus. Essential for
cell division, and the transport of other nutrients, which results in huge flowers
and fruits. Purplish discoloration of the leaf margins is the classic, but late
sign of phosphorus deficiency. Seabird guano, and steamed bone meal are your
go-to organic soluble phosphorus sources, especially for short-cycle plants with a
10-week flowering cycle or less. About half the phosphorous and steamed bone
meal is instantly available with the other half becoming available around 6
weeks later. Calcium phosphate and rock phosphate are a much slower release–
between 2 and 3 years. They are best used at planting time, and in beds that are
being used for several seasons. However, once again you can make your life easy
using premixed blends. In this case, you can’t really beat something like VermiBloom, as all the individual raw ingredients have been blended into ideal
ratios for optimal uptake. For a light feeding, use half a teaspoon per gallon
of soil, or one cup per 12 square feet, every other week. For heavier feedings,
repeat weekly. Potassium is another key element associated with the transport of
water nutrients and carbohydrates within plant tissue, and is often required in
elevated amounts during the flowering stage. Along with phosphorous, your
fast-growing, heavy-fruiting, annual plants will almost certainly thank you
for a boost in this primary element as they start to form buds, flowers, and
fruits. A simple organic potassium input would be powdered kelp meal, or a soluble
seaweed extract, or a general PK Boost blend. Many flowering plants can get
hungry for both phosphorus and potassium during mid to late flowering, and the
blend insures these crucial elements are delivered at optimal ratios for uptake.
Always water your top dressings well, ideally with some actively aerated
compost tea diluted with 50 parts dechlorinated water. Repeat applications
every two weeks. Compost tea turbo- charges the breakdown rate of organic
inputs, meaning your plants can access the nutrition sooner. Finally, for outdoor
plants, try making a small crater around the base of the plant to help retain
water, and stop your top dressings from being washed away. If you’re already
using liquid, organic nutrients, then take it easy with top dressings. Try halving my
application rates and they should work great together. Okay, I’ll stop there. I hope
your outdoor plants are starting to make you feel small! Don’t forget that
subscribing to my channel is free, and it’s a bit like topdressing for my soul,
so click that big red button and send me some solubilized love! Bye for now, amigos!

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