This is actually quite a complex post, and I'll do what I can to respond.
1) Re. confusion about fertilizer
: You're in your first gardening season. There is a LOT to learn about gardening, just like there would be to any other field of endeavor: cooking, sewing, carpentry, etc. The tools and techniques, to say nothing of the body of knowledge associated with whichever field of endeavor, are many and complex. Your photos show that you're doing a TERRIFIC job!
As you work with your plants, watching them develop, you'll learn what works for *you* in *your* conditions.
2) Re. "it seems that most of the information here is mostly organic
": Many techniques of industrial agriculture were developed pursuant to the belief that there is *always* "better living through chemistry." Unfortunately, long-term health of the soil in which the food is grown is often compromised by monoculture
and heavy use of petroleum-based fertilizers (see "Dirt Poor: Haiti has lost its soil and the means to feed itself," National Geographic, Sept. 2008, and "Special Report: Feeding the World," Nat.Geo., June 2009) . Without soil, nothing will grow that anyone can live off of. Home-scale gardeners, and many market gardeners/growers, in developed countries *do* use organic-only methods and feed not only themselves but a large clientele. In impoverished areas of the world, organic methods are the ONLY affordable means that the poor can use. Imported synthetic fertilizers are beyond their financial means.
3) Re. "This year I've been adding things like coffee grounds and egg shells whenever I have them. I can't make my own compost because it isn't allowed by our strata. We're not allowed to leave out anything that could attract bears, no garbage or anything smelly whatsoever
." Coffee grounds are a good source of nitrogen (several threads on that), and eggshells are a good source of calcium. I let my eggshells dry and then powder them in my *old* blender and put them into the compost.
I don't know what "strata" is other than a geological or archaelogical setting; is it like a HomeOwners Association (HOA)? Rules for a housing development or set of condominiums? "Nothing smelly" would also exclude fish emulsion or fish-based fertilizers, organic or otherwise.
However, you can make compost indoors using worms. The worm box (habitat) has no crud or nasty footprint where it stands; some of them will fit under a kitchen sink. I would've put mine on the stair landing, except that I was certain that my 5-year-old Bernese Mtn. Dog male would have made it a personal mission to investigate said habitat.... Worms will take care of coffee grounds, kitchen scraps, and eggshells for you, providing very rich, concentrated worm castings.
Many utility districts and solid-waste departments in the U.S. subsidize the purchase of outdoor compost bins *and* indoor vermiculture set-ups, so don't give up completely on compost until you've checked out the possibilities for vermiculture.
4) Re. "I've tried going to starbucks to get more coffee grounds, but everytime I've gone there's nothing left. Must be lots of gardeners in the area going for it
": And Starbucks made a big P.R. push last year about "giving grounds away." But...independent coffee places, and breakfast/lunch restaurants, are often overlooked. Many of these independents are happy to establish a routine with a reliable gardener or set of gardeners who will pick up the grounds (and filters) on a regular basis. Some places want pick-up every day, and some less often, but independent shops are usually more open to your initiative than Starbucks managers are. But...if you *do* get something going with an independent, you might keep the information private, kind of like the "favorite fishing spot" we've all heard of but no one can find.
5) Re. "Anyway, alonge with that I've been using bonemeal and mushroom manuer. I used a little of what was left of my fertilizer from last year once, but am unsure about it
": Bonemeal will provide more calcium for your plants. Many gardeners consider mushroom "manure" to be all used up except for providing aeration and bulk. I'm not sure what nutrients it will provide your plants, myself. Last year's fertilizer, if it was a commercially available product, will have NPK numbers (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) somewhere on the label. These numbers represent the number of pounds (in Canada, I'd expect this to be kg) of the item present per 100 pounds / kg of fertilizer. The numbers do *not* provide information on how available the nutrients are to your plants, and the fertilizer is often a quick-release source rather than a slow-release source of said nutrients. There are many, many threads here on the action in soil of quick- vs. slow-releasing fertilizers.
6) Re. "What I've read on here makes it seem that by adding this sort of fertilizer I'm ruining the good I've been doing to my soil. I don't want to kill off all the good stuff in my soil and have my plants relying on this artificial fertilizer
": If you are as conservative in your use of the standard fertilizer as it sounds like, you're unlikely to kill your soil any time soon. However, please do read the Nat.Geo. articles from last year and this month; they tell the tale of at least two countries whose soil has
been destroyed. And congratulations
on being concerned about "addicting" (my term) your plants to artificial fertilizer; that happens to plants grown in dead soil on artificial fertilizer alone, at least until the groundwater becomes so polluted that it's unhealthy for people to drink.
7) Re. "So if I decide not to use that stuff and want to stick to organic do I need to run out and buy some organic fertilizer? How do I know how much coffee grounds and egg shells and bone meal to use. If I keep using this stuff, then how do I know what else my garden needs? See my confusion?! lol Or is it enough just to add the coffee grounds, egg shells and bone meal, maybe nothing else is needed? Help!
" Don't buy anything yet. Gardening can be done for little money or lots of money, just like anything else (quilting comes to mind...
). And...your plants have come up well, sturdily, and strong for you! They're doing just fine with the coffee grounds, eggshells, etc. you have provided. They look very happy to me.
Keep reading here at THG, but may I suggest targeted
reading? Perhaps do a Search on "fertilizer," and read those threads? Then maybe another Search on "soil + health" (or whatever topic you want to find out about) and read those at the same time?
I understand that simply reading what comes in on a daily basis is confusing, esp. for new gardeners. I may have been gardening for a while now, but I've been a teacher both formally and informally all my life, and can confidently state that
Everyone starts at the beginning.
We're all overwhelmed by the rush of information coming at us in a new field of endeavor--and that was true before
the Internet made even *more* information available *more* quickly than ever before in human history.
The information will begin to sort itself out in your mind later this growing season and definitely over the slow season.
You're doing a terrific job; maybe you expect too much from yourself too soon? (asked the Recovering Perfectionist...
Sunset Zone 17, USDA Zone 9