Vegetable plants develop strong root systems and abundant growth when they are fertilized and kept free of weeds. Excessive weeds in the garden deprive vegetables of water. Fertilizer is spread on the top layer of soil at regularly scheduled periods of growth. Soil amendments are incorporated into the soil to provide nutrition as the plant grows. There are organic ways to fertilize and control weeds as well as chemically-based methods.
Vegetables require nutrients from the soil to develop their own nutrient content. There are 17 nutrients that vegetables need to survive, according to Jerry Goodspeed, Utah State University Extension horticulturist. Nutrients from fertilizers help plants create green leaves and nutritious fruit or vegetables. Nutrients in organic fertilizers are derived from natural sources such as seaweed, fish waste products, animal manures, cottonseed meal and feathermeal. Standard fertilizers add chemically created nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to plant root systems but do not add microorganisms to the soil.
An herbicide is "a chemical substance used to destroy or inhibit the growth of plants, especially weeds," according to the American Heritage Dictionary. Herbicides are used to suppress weed seed germination or to destroy growing weeds. Home gardeners are often encouraged to kill vegetable garden weeds with chemical weed killers such as Roundup, even though they pose a health risk.
Studies have identified Roundup herbicide as being a causative factor in reproductive abnormalities, according to studies at the University of Caen, France. "The herbicide... killed placenta and umbilical cord cells at concentrations far below those used in agricultural practice." Roundup weed control is made of glyphosate and unnamed "inert ingredients." It is the unnamed ingredients that are the subject of the recent health risk studies.
The Capitol District Community Gardens recommend hand weeding and mulch to keep weeds under control. "Prevention is the best medicine," and barrier methods are effective. Mulching with black plastic or newspapers around the base of plants or along rows prevents weeds from getting a start. They may germinate but cannot grow without sunlight. Weeds can also be turned under with a hoe.
Backyard composting is an easy way to make vegetable garden fertilizer. Most local recycling programs have workshops on composting. Kitchen scraps, yard trimmings, dry leaves and newspapers are put in layers into a compost bin. When water and air are added the decay process starts and within one to four months the compost is ready to use as fertilizer. Compost contains the entire spectrum of 17 nutrients vegetable plants need.