At the end of every growing season vegetable gardeners are faced with a large amount of plant material that needs to be removed. All season these plants have been sucking the nutrients out of your soil to grow the tasty vegetables you have been eating and now they can be recycled to improve not only the nutrients but soil quality for next year.
You should begin the collection of your compost throughout the growing season one of the best ways is to grow an early crop of beans or lettuce in a small square and then use staked chicken wire or fencing to contain the compost pile as it grows.
Remove the soil from this area and pile it near the entrance for later use in potting throughout the growing season.
When adding whole vegetables to your compost pile such as tomatoes and squash that might have got bug eaten or rotted on the vine you want to bury them. Don’t let them rot in the sun or they will smell.
Tomato and pepper plants need to be broken down by removing the branches. This will reduce the time needed to brake down. Lettuce and other leaf vegetables will eventually dry out like tree leaves but they need air.
Once all of your vegetables are done for the season you can use the dirt from an adjacent raised bed to cover all of your organic material for the winter. Add at least six inches to the top of the pile then wet it down with a hose.
Some people like to add a small amount of lime or chemical fertilizer to the compost heap to aid in the breakdown of the organic materials but this is not really necessary. Four to Six months should be enough time to turn the plant material into a good soil amendment.
Next spring you may find that some of the thicker stalks may not have broke down completely but this is not a problem. With a garden rake you should be able to separate the large chunks out and then distribute the rest of that bed and the compost to the other beds in your garden.
Organic material in your soil will allow your plant roots to grow easily and it will provide nutrients throughout the growing season. This does not mean that you have eliminated the need for spot fertilization to improve the growth of tomatoes and other needy vegetables but for the most part other plants will need little or no chemicals once you get a good mix of organic material in your beds.
Dos and Don’ts
You should never put meat, bones or dairy products in your compost pile.This will attract pests like black flies, mice and other animals that you don’t want in your garden.
You should not put weeds in your compost pile because the seeds will most likely grow in your garden the next year. Grass clippings should not be placed in a compost pile that will be used for vegetable growing if you have used a herbicide or pesticide for best practices use this material along with tree leaves for compost used in other areas of your yard.
Compost piles need to be wet to improve the breakdown of materials. You fall and spring rains will help but if you find not much is happening and the inside of the pile is not getting warm from 90F to 140F then you should wet the pile down then turn the materials to mix well and possibly cover it with black plastic.
If your compost pile begins to smell bad you will want to mix it to give it more air then cap the top with dirt.