Vegetable Gardening 101: Compost and Organic Matter


Composting is purposely causing organic materials to rot, break down and turn into rich soil. You can collect your composting materials in a bin or just pile it some where not in your yard if you can help it. I keep mine in bins, my dogs (and raccoons) love compost materials and would have it spread all over the yard.

Compost bins can be very simple or very elaborate. I like to keep things simple. Mine is a wood frame with chicken wire mesh on the sides. You can use an old garbage can or barrel with holes drilled in the sides. You want air flow and water to  have access both in and out.

Once you’ve got your bin or pile site, just start adding your composting materials:
+lawn clippings (if there’s no seed, you don’t want to put grass seed in your garden)+leaves
+fruit and vegetable scraps
+coffee grounds and filters, tea bags too,
+egg shells
+wood ash (be careful with wood ash. We talked in “Soil” about how it will change the pH),
+plain cardboard, news paper (not the glossy print)
+manure (Chicken, Goat, Cow, Horse)

There is a difference between organic materials rotting to break down and organic materials turning rancid, then rotting and breaking down; because of this DO NOT add this:
-Meat of any kind
-Fats of any kind
-Diary of any kind (empty egg shells are ok)
-Vegetables or Fruit cook with fat or meat
-Cats and Dogs don’t produce manure, so don’t add “that”
-Glossy print paper
– The weeds you just pulled from the garden (do you really want them to come back with a vengeance?)

Now there is an exact science to composting but lets not over complicate it. You want your pile to be damp, not a sloppy mess and not bone dry. Give it a flip stir every month or so if you can and you will have compost in no time!

If you plan to use manure on your garden, do, it’s great stuff! There’s just one big thing with manure, it should sit for at least 6 months, a year is better. Following the cow around with your shovel, then throwing it in the garden immediately after will burn your plants and they will not fair so well.

Green manure is another great option. It works great for large plots, it may be more work than it’s worth for small ones but it will work. Green manure is planting a cover crop, usually alfalfa, oats, rye, or barley. Allow the crop to grow to almost full maturity, you don’t want it to go to seed. Cut the crop and leave it lay. After a few days, plow or till the crop under and allow it to turn to compost.

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