Most Long Island soils require the application of a fertilizer to grow vegetables or flowers satisfactorily. Usually a 1:2:1 or 1:2:2 fertilizer is best for vegetables and flowers. A 5-10-5 fertilizer contains 5% of nitrogen, 10% of phosphoric acid, and 5% potash. Fertilizers available today contain nutrients from chemical or organic sources and therefore give you a choice in selecting garden fertilizers.
For the average home garden, with reasonably fertile soil, a 5-10-5 fertilizer applied at the rate of 2-1/2 lbs. per 100 sq.ft. is suggested. A quart mason jar holds approximately 2 lbs. Of fertilizer. The fertilizer should be broadcast before planting and thoroughly mixed with the soil. Some vegetables benefit from a sidedressing of fertilizer during the growing season. Care should be taken to prevent any fertilizer from coming in direct contact with the seed, as it may cause injury. For new land or sandy soils, a 5-10-10 analysis is recommended instead of a 5-10-5 fertilizer. It is advisable to have a nutrient test run in addition to a pH test, where this situation exists.
In addition to applying a commercial fertilizer, it is recommended that animal or poultry manure be rototilled or spaded under before planting, as the best means of increasing the organic matter content of garden soils. Cow, horse or duck manure are to be preferred for garden soils, specially if the manure is well-rotted. A light application of poultry manure (1/2 to 1 bushel to 100 sq.ft.) turned under is also an excellent source of organic matter. Cow or horse manure could be used at a rate of 2 bu./100 sq.ft. Where animal manures cannot be obtained at reasonable cost, peat moss, leaf mold, compost or any other source of organic matter can be added. You could use 2 to 4 bushels per 100 sq.ft. of these materials, depending on soil type.
Organic matter improves all Long Island soils. It makes sandy soils more retentive of moisture. Composted leaves and vegetable refuse are an excellent source of organic matter. This office will be glad to supply directions for making compost on request.
Another source of organic matter is a green manure. These cover crops are seeded in the summer and rototilled when adequate growth is attained. One excellent green manure is buckwheat. It is possible to get two to three crops of buckwheat in a single season. It is usually seeded at a rate of 3 ounces per 100 sq.ft.
Plant winter rye in the garden as soon as the ground can be cleaned up in the fall, or plant in between the rows of late vegetables in late September. This will conserve the fertility of the soil, prevent erosion, and help maintain the organic matter supply of the soil. Sow winter rye at 3 ounces per 100 sq.ft.
References: Soils and Fertilizer Resource Notebook, Department of Floriculture and Ornamental Horticulture, Cornell University, March 1989; and Improve Your Soil With Cover Crops, Eco Gardening Fact Stheet #9, Marcia Eames-Sheavly, Dept. of Fruit and Vegetable Sciences, Cornell University.