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Where/When to add the compost?

Post in 'The Green Room' started by SolarAndWood, Mar 31, 2011.

  1. SolarAndWood

    SolarAndWood Minister of Fire

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    My spring prep is typically just running the fairly light 4' 3pt tiller down the seed beds in the garden. The tractor wheels always run on the same path so there is no compression of the beds. The wheel paths then get mulched for weed control. It does a good job of turning under anything from the previous year as well as all the household compost we have accumulated.

    This year I am going to add a large volume of compost from a program our county runs. They collect food waste, segregate it, process it, windrow it and test the results before making it available to the public. I can get about 5 yards in the trailer and the site is only a few miles from my house. A load per row will give me about 6" of compost over the bed.

    My question is do I want it on top of what I've got or should I mix it in?

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  2. zzr7ky

    zzr7ky Minister of Fire

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    My Dad does similar prep. Not every year, but fairly often he has added the amount of compost you describe. He mixed it in, the better mix, the better results. Poor mixing left some small plants struggling early in the season and they were small, or late. More organic matter made for better water retention. He gets great results.

    If I had the material this early I would mix it in.
  3. colebrookman

    colebrookman Minister of Fire

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    Just be sure they don't allow landscapers to dump grass clippings, etc that have been sprayed, or other toxic chemicals. Some farmers have unknowingly covered their fields with heavy metal residues and toxic chemicals. Be safe.
    Ed
  4. Dune

    Dune Minister of Fire

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    You really can't use too much compost.
  5. Adios Pantalones

    Adios Pantalones Minister of Fire

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    My beds are mostly compost. I don't mix it in- I let the worms do that. Some plants don't want really rich soil like this and they will struggle, or get big with lack-luster flavor (some herbs).
  6. SolarAndWood

    SolarAndWood Minister of Fire

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    Thanks guys. There is 0 yard waste in the material, all food waste. Looks like the storm is going east of us, so hopefully will get a jump on it this weekend.
  7. benjamin

    benjamin Minister of Fire

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    I'd use as much as you can and as early as you can, though there's no big rush getting it in, especially if it's too wet to work in.

    Some plants do better without too much compost, I'm thinking of beans and tomatoes but there are probably others. They'll get too much vegetative growth and not fruit as well as if they were a little more "stressed".
  8. SolarAndWood

    SolarAndWood Minister of Fire

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    The rush for me is the site is open limited hours and work is super busy for me at least until after Memorial Day. I need to make the most of the few hours they are open on Saturdays.

    As for the too much compost, that is what I was wondering about whether I should mix it. The beds are about a foot of decent soil on top of the hard pack glacial til I built the terraces out of. I could run the hiller through to make a couple troughs to fill with the compost. Then use the tiller to mix it up for the plants that are sensitive to the high organic content? I get lost in all the opinions in the gardening forums. Probably how folks feel when they come here to learn about burning a wood fire in their house.
  9. benjamin

    benjamin Minister of Fire

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    I would mix it in as best you can. Maybe leave one row for the plants that don't set fruit with too much nitrogen. By next year you'll want to rotate your tomatoes but the nitrogen will probably have declined enough that you won't have a problem.

    My garden is just now getting to be a regular soil mix, but I tilled up the top of a heap of manure 8 years ago. Even last year I had beautiful pepper plants with only a few fruits, don't know if that was too much nitrogen or cold temps.
  10. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    If the soil is low on organic matter, mix it in this year to build up tilth. Then top dress with compost next year.
  11. SolarAndWood

    SolarAndWood Minister of Fire

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    Well, the hiller idea was non-starter. So, I made a pass with the tiller before adding the compost and then tilled again when I finished the row.

    Time to go get another load.

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  12. SolarAndWood

    SolarAndWood Minister of Fire

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    I got 3 rows done and started the 4th. I'm pretty psyched, I added about 9 yards of compost to the 3 rows. I did a little more research and it found out they do 75% food waste and 25% small shredded wood to make it easier to move the material.

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  13. benjamin

    benjamin Minister of Fire

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    Nice!

    Mixing the food waste with wood sounds like they're balancing the carbon to nitrogen, too much nitrogen and it basically turns to slime.

    How do you keep the tiller from flattening the beds? I'd like to rig up some sort of rowformer, but I'm not ready to invest in a three point and tiller.
  14. SolarAndWood

    SolarAndWood Minister of Fire

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    The tiller width is exactly the footprint of the tractor. The skids ride on the wheel tracks and fluff if you will the beds. I then fill the wheel tracks with wood mulch.
  15. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Beautiful. What's the width of the beds?
  16. SolarAndWood

    SolarAndWood Minister of Fire

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    Thanks BG. The beds ended up 36-38" wide.
  17. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Perfect. I am envious. To make just one of those beds would take me a week. Has the soil been tested and did you have to add any fertilizer?

    Let the worms come back now and do their magic. You shouldn't need to do this again for several years.
  18. Dune

    Dune Minister of Fire

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    With that much compost available, I would grab some more to use as mulch next year.
  19. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Or even for this year. It's nice as a side dressing and keeps the weeds down.
  20. SolarAndWood

    SolarAndWood Minister of Fire

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    I didn't add any fertilizer. FWIW, the compost is certified by http://compostingcouncil.org/?page_id=32. I'm thinking that after I suck it up and do the whole thing this year, I'll do it on rotation going forward. It is a lot of work.
  21. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    I'd have the soil tested. Compost is great for adding tilth, but it may not add essential nutrients. A soil test is pretty cheap from the Univ. of Mass at Amherst.
  22. Adios Pantalones

    Adios Pantalones Minister of Fire

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    In later years there's really no need to till. Add compost, and mulch it up heavily with shredded leaves. Those will keep the weeds down, regulate heat, and even out moisture (reduce need to water, erosion, and prevent blossom end rot), and they will compost in place. With a good amount of organic matter- as long as you don't tread on the beds, the ground will stay loose and rich.
  23. SolarAndWood

    SolarAndWood Minister of Fire

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    That is pretty much our strategy AP. Try to keep both people and equipment off the beds, wood mulch on the tire tracks/foot paths and keep adding organic matter. Every year we learn a little bit more and learn how much more there is to learn.

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  24. SolarAndWood

    SolarAndWood Minister of Fire

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    16 yards of compost, 8 yards of mulch and 3 days of beeatch labor later, it is done.

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