Compost for a vegetable garden can make or break your vegetables. A good compost will improve your garden tremendously, improving not just the yield, but the taste of your vegetables as well.
What is Compost?
Compost is the natural process of organic material, such as food waste, leaves, and animal manure, that has decomposed. Once the decomposition process has finished, there is a dirt-like material that is full of nutrients, perfect to add to your vegetable garden. You may hear compost referred to as “black gold.” That is because homemade compost takes a long time to make, but it is the best thing you can do to improve a garden.
There are multiple benefits of compost.
- Improving soil – helps soil retain nutrients and moisture, meaning you need to water less
- Natural fertilizer – it adds bacteria, fungi, and essential nutrients, improving the structure of your soil
- Natural recycler – instead of throwing things away in the garbage, organic material can be turned into compost
If you struggle with getting good vegetables out of your garden, adding a quality compost might be just what you need. When making your own compost you will be making something that encourages bacteria, fungi, and insects to feed on decomposing materials. That breaks all the stuff down.
Compost for Vegetable Garden
The best compost for vegetable gardens will be one that is made from the correct balance of green materials, brown materials, oxygen, and moisture. This will make it rich in vital nutrients and give you the best results.
The green organic matter will add nitrogen to your garden. These are things like
- food and vegetable scraps
- egg shells
- grass clippings
- coffee grounds and paper filters
- paper tea bags
The brown organic matter will be carbon-rich materials. These are things like:
- dry leaves
- twigs and plant stalks
- shredded paper (non-glossy and non-colored)
- shredded cardboard
- wood chips (untreated)
- hay and straw
- paper egg cartons
How To Start Composting
- Start collecting your kitchen scraps. Instead of throwing away your banana peel or coffee grounds, keep a bucket on the counter and throw the kitchen waste into there.
- Find an area you want to place your compost pile at. Ideally, this will be close to your garden, but not so far away from your house that you don’t want to bring your waste out to it daily. You can either just start throwing your material all willy-nilly on the ground or build a compost bin. I found the easiest bin to make is a few pallets screwed together to make a square. There are also fancy barrels and tumblers you can buy as well.
- Prepare your spot by adding 4-6 inches of brown material. All those amazon boxes lying around would be perfect to use. Just make sure to remove all the tape first. Clean the twigs up from your yard and throw those down. This will allow the air to circulate at the bottom of your compost pile.
- Start using your new compost pile or bin. Throw your organic materials in as you get it. Don’t overthink this too much. There are scientific rules to the perfect compost pile, which can easily be googled if that is your thing.You will see people say three parts brown material to one part green material. However, mine is no where near that and it provides great compost. It might take longer to decompose, but it’s really not something I think about. When the kitchen compost bin gets full, I throw it into the compost. When we clean up the yard, we throw the brown materials in. It’s really as simple as that. I never have a perfect layer of compost in my bin, but always a mixture of both.
Tips For Compost For Vegetable Garden
- If your compost pile is dry because you haven’t had much rain, add some water to keep the pile moist. Moisture will help it break down quicker.
- Turn the compost pile periodically. This helps break things down quicker.
- If you smell an unpleasant odor, add in some more green materials and stir up the pile.
- If you have a bunch of yard waste, make a pile of just brown material next to your compost pile. This will allow you to easily add brown materials to the compost throughout the year.
- When there are no more visible food scraps in the pile or the pile is no longer getting warmed up, start a new compost pile or relocate this pile so it can sit for about a month before being used.
Things NOT to Throw In the Compost
- meat or seafood
- oil, lard, or grease
- treated or painted wood
- agressive weeds or weeds with seeds
- diseased plants
- anything treated with herbicides
How to Use Compost for Vegetable Garden
The compost will look dark, loose, and crumbly and smell like fresh soil when it is ready. The materials that went into the compost pile should be decomposed.
Spread your finished compost out over the vegetable garden or anywhere else that compost is needed. The best time to add is in the spring when preparing your vegetable garden. However, you can also throw a bit in when transplanting seedlings.
If building brand new raised beds, do NOT add only compost. To get a nutrient-rich soil, you will need to add the compost in with a garden soil to the raised bed. We are looking for a healthy soil, not a compost pile. Your garden beds will perform much better.
Personally, I use the no-till garden method but compost works in gardens that are tilled just as great!
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What About Bagged Compost?
There are so many bagged composts available to buy. While I have never bought compost before, this is a great option if you don’t have access to homemade compost. Make sure to mix with soil well if buying your compost. Bagged compost can be purchased through Amazon or your local garden center.
What About Adding Animal Manure?
This seems to be a debatable topic. Some people say absolutely not. However, when you have chickens giving you all the chicken manure, it can be a great way to improve your compost. The only thing to be aware of is making sure the composting process is completely finished with manure-based composts. Fresh manure getting thrown on your garden can ruin your vegetables.
Can you just use compost for vegetable garden?
Vegetables will do better when growing in a mix of good soil and compost. Compost is basically a “multivitamin” for soil. So, it just makes things more healthy. If you try planting your vegetables in only compost, the vegetables will end up dead or weak.