If you’ve never made compost before, you may not realise that the black, crumbly material that you will, hopefully, be making is a natural plant food. You may be okay with feeding it to flowering plants and scattering it on the lawn but you may not be too sure about feeding composted waste, that came from left-over food, to vegetable plants to produce more food.
So, can you use compost for growing vegetables? Yes you can. The compost that you generate from kitchen or garden waste is the best organic material that you will ever get your hands on. The only problem you will have is that you won’t have enough. When you realize just how valuable it is you will be arranging to collect your neighbours kitchen and garden waste to be able to make more.
If you get the chance, in the Autumn/fall of the year, try to collect as many dead leaves as you can. You can either make compost from these alone or mix with other things like chopped grass from the lawn. This combination can be produced in large quantities and is like ‘gold’ to the vegetable garden.
You will find nothing better than compost for growing vegetables
You can find out more about making compost from leaves in another post that we have. You can find it at ‘How to make organic fertilizer from leaves’.
As it is highly unlikely that you will be able to generate enough from your own resources, the fallback solution is to buy ready made compost.There are grades of compost available to buy. You need to decide on whether you want a general purpose compost or a more refined compost for propagating seeds.
Can you plant a garden in pure compost?
Yes you could but it wouldn’t make sense to do so. Plants will grow in just compost. The problem is that they will grow too well because of the excessively high nutrient value of compost. This would certainly be the case if it were compost from your own kitchen or garden waste.
Plants grown on just compost will become too ’leggy’, they grow unnaturally tall. This tends to happen very quickly leading to a plant that is weak and soft. They then tend to fall over because they’ve grown too quickly to have enough structural strength to stay upright.
Compost by itself doesn’t have enough of a structure for the actions that need to take place when we go about gardening tasks. You need to be able to walk on the surface of the vegetable growing area. If the ground surface is just compost and nothing else, you will find that your feet will sink in, especially if there is much moisture involved.
If there is insufficient moisture, due to lack of rain, the surface will dry out as compost is free draining. When it is wet it’s almost like a slurry, when it’s dry it’s like cake.
Compost will work best if you mix it in with the soil that you have in the garden. This way you keep a firm surface to work on and gain the positive effect of the compost introducing nutrients which will not only feed the plants but attract worms if they aren’t already present.
About using compost for growing vegetables
Mixing compost into sandy soil will help to retain moisture beneath the surface where it won’t dry out so quickly. For heavy soil that doesn’t drain so easily, adding and mixing compost will help open it up to allow some drainage. Whatever type of soil you have, the adding of compost will always improve it.
An ideal amount would be to cover the garden surface with 1 to 2 inches and dig it in to achieve a mix. If you do this in the Autumn/fall period after you have harvested from the vegetable patch, you won’t need to mix it in. There should be enough worms that are active enough to mix it in for you through the winter months. The worm population will probably increase as a result of compost being added to the garden surface.
Depending on the type of soil that you have, it may help if you applied compost to your vegetable patch every year. If you do this you will notice, over time, that the ground will improve as the positive effects of adding compost will build up. There will come a point where you will have a vegetable garden that delivers optimum performance.
Can you use compost to grow grass?
Compost and grass go well together but don’t smother it. Just a thin covering of compost will suffice, no more than ¼ inch. The best time to do this is either in the early spring when the grass is just starting to grow for the new season or in the autumn/fall.
In the springtime the grass roots will absorb nutrients from the compost just when the grass needs all it can get. The process can be assisted by spiking the ground surface. This will allow the nutrients to get down to where the roots are.
Scattering compost on a grass surface in the autumn/fall time will allow the worms to spend the whole winter to pull the compost down into the ground just like they do with a vegetable patch. When the next springtime comes around the nutrients will be where the grass roots need them.
Whenever you spread compost on grass ground you will always see where it’s gone. The grass will grow to be strong and lush. A lawn will always be a welcoming place for compost.
Is Peat good for gardens?
Peat is definitely good for the garden as a soil conditioner. If you have sandy soil then peat, when mixed in, will do much to retain water. It behaves like a sponge. If the soil is a heavy clay then peat will open up the soil structure and allow air to get in to the plant roots.
You need to be aware that peat has little or no nutrient value and it is, by its nature, acidic. Peat comes from peat-bogs which are made up of layer upon layer of dead moss that has built up over thousands of years. The dead moss decomposes below the water-line which means that this is an anaerobic decomposition hence the acidity. Some plants prefer acid soil but if you use it to any extent then be prepared to use hydrated lime for the plants that don’t.
The moss plant is usually the sphagnum variety. You will often see flower arrangers use the living, green sphagnum moss as part of a display of flowers.
There is controversy over the harvesting of peat. It has to be dug out of the ground where there were once bogs. The practice of mining peat is heavily regulated with only a very small amount of available reserves being harvested. The argument is that the harvesting of peat releases an unacceptable amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The release apparently continues from the harvested pit for some time after harvesting has finished.
Is soil and compost the same?
Soil and compost are not the same thing but you may find microbial bacteria in both. To get the composting process started in a compost bin or compost tumbler, it will help to load in a shovel of soil. This will contain a broad selection of microbial organisms that will work on the fresh waste from the kitchen.
Compost is the product of organic waste that has decomposed completely into the regular dark, crumbly material that most of us are familiar with. It’s a medium that’s in transit in the natural cycle of once being living then dying and decomposing. It then becomes food to living vegetation which continues the cycle process.
Soil has arrived by a different process and has a permanence. Soil was once rock which has been broken down into fine particles by the friction of glaciers moving over the landmass many millions of years ago. Soils will vary depending on the type of rock that was in the area at the time of formation. The soil type that you have in your area will not change. Whatever type it is will stay as it is but you can intervene and improve it by adding compost to change the soil structure.
How do I use my compost?
Using compost is the easy bit. Treat it as the ultimate soil conditioner. Where ever you have anything growing whether it’s vegetable, flowers or grass on a lawn compost can either be dug into the ground to feed the roots of any plants or scattered in a thin layer on the surface of a lawn to feed the grass and make it grow more vigorously.
The important thing here is that you mustn’t be in a hurry. Compost mustn’t be used before it’s ready. You must insist that it is fully converted from the kitchen waste stage where it all began. If you try to use it before it’s ready it will be detrimental to the plants that you are trying to grow. One of the main problems being that organic waste that hasn’t fully rotten down will carry on rotting in the ground. When it does this it will take valuable nitrates out of the ground which the cultivated plants will need.
Having access to a well made compost is a privilege to the seasoned gardener. It takes a long time to make a good quality compost, it’s value should always be appreciated.
What not to put in your compost pile?
If you have never made compost before, finding out what you must not put in a compost pile or bin is something that you will inevitably learn as you go along. You will find that some things just won’t rot. For example anything made from plastic won’t rot.
There is a modern exception to this. There are biodegradable ‘plastic’ bags which are mostly made from corn starch. The have a limited life, when they get wet the deterioration begins and over a short time they will rot down completely.
It’s no good expecting tin cans of any sort to rot down in a compost bin or pile. Metals will erode over a very long period of time and disappear completely but it’s not a practical time span for making compost. Anything made from glass, it can be safely said, will never break down so this must never be allowed into compost. If any items that don’t rot find their way into the compost, they will most certainly emerge untouched although dirty.
What are the benefits of using compost?
When you use compost you can be sure that you are enriching the soil that you’re trying to grow plants in. It doesn’t matter how good or bad your soil is it will always benefit from a dose of compost.
It will improve the soil structure. If the soil is a heavy clay then adding compost to can be considered necessary as it will introduce a much needed humus content. This will keep the soil texture open allowing better drainage and more free movement for air. This will show in the plants because soil that is waterlogged will be starving the plant roots of air. If the roots are in excess water for too long they will rot and the plant will either under-perform or die.
If you have sandy soil there is a risk that it will dry out in times of drought. By including a good measure of compost in this type of soil you will do much to retain moisture.
If plants are well fed from the ground they tend to be much stronger and vigorous in growth. Strong plants are less likely to succumb to the many diseases and viral challenges that are around all the time.
Feeding the soil with a naturally occurring product has many benefits. The one benefit that mustn’t be overlooked is the fact that when you use compost in the garden you are using something that you have actively generated from waste which may never have been used at all if you hadn’t made an effort.
What is the best material for compost?
The best material for compost will be anything that’s organic. If it is food to us or anything else then consider it as being good for making compost. Any food waste from the kitchen can be turned into compost. If you have a lawn then the grass clippings will make compost. It would be even better if you can find a supply of dead leaves to add. This always helps to make really good compost. Leaves could almost be considered as ‘money’ growing on trees.
Find out more about using compost as a plant food, see: grow potatoes in a bin.