Q: I read that the N.C. Dept. of Agriculture & Consumer Sciences Soil Lab is closed for home garden soil testing. How do I know how much fertilizer to add to my garden? I don’t want to use too much fertilizer and cause problems.

Answer: The NCDA&CS Agronomy lab is only accepting diagnostic soil samples from agricultural clients in North Carolina at this time due to reduced staffing during the COVID-19 pandemic. But if you received soil test results within the last three years, you can use the recommendations made at that time, minus any lime you have added. If lime was applied based on a report, it is unlikely that additional lime is needed for the upcoming growing season according to David Hardy,the Soil Lab’s section chief. Routine application of lime is never advised because the soil pH may be raised too high. To find your old soil report, visit the Agronomic Services website, http://www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/pals/, where you will enter your last name in the search tool. Be sure to change the date range back to the year you received your soil test report. According to Hardy, previous soil testing reports would have provided a phosphorus(P) index reported as a P-I and potassium (K) index reported as a K-I. From these soil test levels, a fertilizer recommendation comprised of a specific grade or analysis (example = 5-10-5) and rate per 1,000 square feet was provided. Nitrogen (N) is not analyzed by the lab for soil tests but it is needed seasonally to promote plant growth. A nitrogen level is provided in the recommended grade or analysis of fertilizer; in this example, it is the first number of the grade.

“Using these same fertilizer recommendations will provide satisfactory results for homeowners wanting to fertilize this year,” Hardy said.

If you have not had a soil in the last three years, a general rule of thumb for fertilizer is 1 to 2 pounds of 10-10-10 per 100 square feet. Broadcast two-thirds of the fertilizer when preparing beds. Band the last third in soil nest to plant or row. Avoid having fertilizer touch the seed or plant directly.

Additionally, a homeowner’s guide to understanding fertilizer is found here http://www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/pdffiles/sfn8.pdf.

Q: I want to grow food to share with neighbors who visit my church’s pantry. What vegetables would you suggest that I include in my expanded garden?

Answer: Thank you for expanding your garden and for your willingness to share your harvest with hungry neighbors. Much like the Victory Gardens of WWII did, our ‘Virus’ Victory gardens will aid in keeping people fed. One idea is to grow produce that people eat without cooking, such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and melons. Or if you are growing food to preserve and then share, consider growing tomatoes, green beans, and field peas, which can be frozen or canned. Beans and field peas are high in protein and will be a good addition to the diet. Field peas can be dried and preserved in sealed jars or plastic bags for later eating. Tomatoes make up the base of so many meals like spaghetti and chili. Also consider planting summer squash and okra. Most everyone enjoys fresh summer squash, and it’s fairly easy to grow. Okra is another good choice and can be easily frozen or dried for use in soups and stews later in the winter. Now is the time to plant your summer garden. I want to encourage everyone who can to grow an extra row and plan to share it with your neighbors. If you are interested in helping with a project I am working on to network gardeners and pantries, please contact me with an email. There’s a lot we can do now to help keep food available to neighbors in need throughout the upcoming summer and fall.

Mary Jac Brennan is the agent for fruit and vegetable horticulture for small farms and local food for the Forsyth Cooperative Extension. Contact Mary Jac about commercial production, local foods, and sustainable agriculture questions. For information on home and gardening issues, contact the Forsyth Cooperative Extension office at maryjac_brennan@ncsu.edu or call 336-703-2850.

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