Best Nutrients for Growing Vegetables

Whether you are growing vegetables in a traditional garden or growing vegetables with hydroponics, the proper nutrients can help with higher yields, sweeter vegetables and stronger stems. Nutrient formulas are constantly improving so we can get better results. So how do you know what to use to amend your soil or how to get the best hydroponic nutrients for vegetables?

Video on Growing Vegetables with Hydroponics

In my twenties I made my first foray into gardening. My tiny balcony was surrounded by concrete and bricks, so it got more than its share of the harsh Texas sun. I had no idea what I was doing at the time. My great-grandparents were farmers and that, if nothing else, gave me the hope that I could grow some vegetables, starting with tomatoes. 

The plants were struggling, and I read about compost tea (basically exactly as it sounds), so I set out to nourish my baby plants with it. It definitely improved their lot, and tomatoes were born! I was proud and satisfied of what I produced. It felt like a miracle. Until I went out and discovered that most of my crop had been gobbled up by hungry caterpillars. I learned a valuable lesson, though. Feed your plants, and you aren’t the only one waiting to eat your tomatoes.

Growing Vegetables with Hydroponics

Growing Hydroponic Vegetables usually means using something like soil but hydroponic gardening is a soilless endeavor. Most hydroponic systems use a solution made of water and various nutrients. There are some hydroponic systems that use something called a growing medium or media. Some media resemble soil and are called soilless growing media. Other growing medium, like clay pellets or gravel, look nothing like soil. Sphagnum moss or coconut coir are used to retain moisture. Each type of growing medium has its own chemical makeup and nutrient needs. All methods, with or without media, require planning for best results.

There are two sources of nutrients for those growing vegetables and fruits. Conventional (also called mineral) and organic (also called biological or bio). 

Conventional nutrients are less expensive and absorb faster. Quick adjustments can be made by adding one or more nutrient at a time: for example, if plants need calcium you can just add calcium to the solution. Mineral nutrients have to be applied more often in smaller amounts to prevent burning plants. They also lack micronutrients and can have a negative impact on ecosystems if not properly used and disposed of. The benefits are:

  • High solubility
  • Low cost per plant 
  • Quick absorption 
  • Ability to adjust in real time

To determine what mineral nutrients are best for different media check out this great nutrient feed chart: feed calculator

Best Organic Plant Nutrients and Best Nutrients for Soil

When growing a vegetable garden in soil it is important to know where you are starting. Many county extension services offer reasonably priced soil tests. The test should include the pH of your soil, the amount of organic matter, and how much of the main nutrient trio — nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) — exists in the soil. Soil tests should have suggestions as to what to do if there are deficiencies or excess elements. 

Organic nutrients are slower but are less processed and include micronutrients that exists in soil that support microorganisms. As most people know bio nutrients are better for the environment because they aren’t created with petrochemicals as some conventional nutrients are, and they don’t harm surrounding ecosystems. Organic benefits are:

  • Ease of use — amounts don’t have to be as precise
  • Less work — slow release makes feeding less frequent
  • Great quality — best organically sourced materials

The drawbacks are higher cost, the need to plan ahead, and the inability to quickly make changes in the nutrients as you go. Organic nutrients are an easy choice for growing veggies in soil. There are organic choices for hydroponics as well.

Other Considerations to Maximize Vegetable Garden Growth

Different Plant Stages and Organic Bloom Nutrients

Keep in mind there are different stages of plant development and each stage needs a different mix of nutrients. For instance, when a plant is growing from a seedling to a full size plant it needs different ratios of nutrients. You may need a feed that supports that quick cell growth. Nitrogen helps plants grow faster but too much can inhibit blooms. With an organic mix the plants can absorb the nutrients they need making it less likely to overdo it in one area. 

To get more or bigger fruit you need to use a bloom formula that has more phosphorus and potassium to get the blooms started and regulate different enzymes. A good bio formula would also contain microorganisms the plants need and biostimulants. Here are a few important things to look for in an organic bloom booster.

  • The right ratio of nutrients — Nitrogen/Phosphorus/Potassium
  • Micronutrients — Calcium(Ca), Magnesium (Mg) and others
  • Biostimulants — like humic acid and seaweed extract
  • Microorganisms — support nutrient availability

Healthy plants are the best defense against pests and disease. Centuries ago humans got scurvy when crossing the oceans because of a lack of vitamin C. Plants have diseases that can make them weak. That’s when infection and insects like aphids and white fly (or caterpillars) attack. 

Microorganisms, along with biostimulants, make nutrients more available to plants while making plants hardier. Some soils and nutrient mixes include humic acid or beneficial fungi and bacteria to give plants a better chance to get the food they need.

Dry Hydroponic Nutrients

Choosing what nutrient mix, or a combination of multiple mixes, to use for a vegetable garden can be overwhelming and expensive. To save you time and money you may want to consider dry nutrients. They are easier and cheaper to transport because they weigh less than liquid. Here’s a checklist of what to look for in dry hydroponic nutrients:

  • Solubility (mixes easily and well)
  • Purity (free of heavy metals or plant growth regulators)
  • pH and the electronic conductivity (EC) stable
  • Quality (has what plants need)

Choosing the best nutrients for your growing hydroponic vegetables may seem complicated. But if you know what to look for in a mix it becomes less daunting.  As long as you watch out for caterpillars you’ll have a tasty healthy crop of veggies to be proud of.

About the author: Julie Jenkins

Julie is a Gardening Expert and specializing in organic vegetable gardens & Soil Health.

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