Tricounty News

What fertilizer should I use?

I have been begging for gardening questions from the readers of the Tri-County News for five weeks, finally I have one! Never mind that it comes from Mr. Potato Head's daughter, Tater Tot. It is a good question. "What is the best fertilizer to use?"

A good, simple question deserves a good simple answer: composted manure is the best fertilizer to use. Why? Your garden plants need air, water and nutrients to grow; composted manure helps with all three. Compost makes the soil looser to hold more air, the organic material holds water for the plants to use, and it supplies the nutrients the plants need to grow. Regular chemical fertilizer with added organic material (like grass clippings) works almost as well. There is your simple answer, but this is a subject that deserves a little more thought.

Master Gardeners are taught that the correct answer to many questions is "it depends". The best fertilizer to use depends on many things. Information is power in your garden. If you are really serious about your garden then you should have your soil tested. The University of Minnesota will test your soil for $15, instructions can be found at
Can you have problems with using composted manure on your garden? Yes. Remember, it is, well ... poop. There, I've said it. Handle it carefully and it is your friend, but if you don't handle it carefully, it could hurt you. Basically you want to use manure that has been around a while. Use hot-composted manure, or manure that has been cold-composted for at least a year. Avoid raw manure and dog and cat excrement, which is especially loaded with unhealthy things. And definitely don't add raw manure next to vegetables that are already in the ground. I bought a trailer full of hot-composted cow manure from a vegetable producer from Cold Spring. It was $35 for a big scoop from his loader and is great stuff to make things grow.

Can you use regular garden fertilizer? Yes. Chemical fertilizers work well to add nutrients to your soil. They are relatively cheap and easy to handle and apply. Read the instructions on the package carefully and use it sparingly. A common mistake folks make is to use too much. If a little is good, doesn't that mean a lot is even better? No. Many a garden has been ruined by the thought that lots of fertilizer will produce more vegetables. It doesn't work that way, and the extra fertilizer just gets washed away to cause trouble somewhere else down the line. Regular fertilizer combined with some organic material mixed into your garden is a very good combination. It is easy and cheap for the beginner gardener.

How is my garden? I just finished planting everything except the tomatoes, peppers and vine crops. My tomatoes were started from seed about a month ago and are now about 10 inches tall. I do have one tomato plant growing outside in a five-gallon bucket. It is big and does have a few buds but doesn't look too healthy. I wasn't paying attention one windy day and should have moved the plant to a more sheltered place. It got a little whipped by the wind, but my goal is still to have ripe tomatoes by July 4th!

If you have gardening question or suggestions for Mr. Potato Head please e-mail him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Mr. Potato Head is Stearns County Master Gardener and Kimball resident Rick Ellis