Composting for Your Vegetable Garden

in Garden

Composting for your vegetable garden

Let’s talk about decaying organic material. Yum, right?

Whether you’re just now thinking about how to prep last year’s beds for the new season or you’re thinking about fertilizing your existing garden, you’re really thinking about composting.

As your garden grows, the plants take nutrients from the soil and you’ll get a little settling/dirt compaction. You’ll want to replace those nutrients and bring the soil levels up by adding additional compost.

What is compost? Decaying plant materials. Where do you get it? Your kitchen and your back yard. (Or the home improvement store.)

First a little history.

Composting for your vegetable garden

I started with a homebrew composter – I took a large plastic garbage can, drilled holes all around it, and bungee-corded the lid on. When the yard was mowed, I dumped the bagged clippings in the bin. As I weeded the garden or pulled half-eaten tomatoes off the vine (&^%$#@! squirrels), I put them in the bin. If I transplanted a small potted plant to the garden, I added any leftover potting soil to the bin.

Composting for your vegetable garden

The holes allowed for aeration – I would turn the crazy-heavy bin on it’s side and roll it around to mix things up. And because we were in the middle of a drought, I had to remember to add water since yard clippings didn’t add enough moisture. To get the compost out, I essentially had to dump the entire thing to get to the “good stuff” at the bottom. It was a total PITA to deal with.

Composting for your vegetable garden

So last year, I upgraded to this rotating composter for my birthday. (25-years-old-Shawnda would straight pass-out on the floor if she knew that she’d be asking for a glorified trash can for her birthday just 10 years in the future.)

How I Compost

Getting started: Since my bin has two sides, a “cooking” side and a “feed me” side, I started by filling just one side of the bin completely cram-packed full. Since we mow our own lawn, I just emptied the mower bag into the bin – it didn’t take but a few weekends to get the first side full enough so that it didn’t settle very much. Then I simply moved to the other side.

Compostables: Lawn clippings, obviously. Kitchen scraps – but only uncooked vegetable scraps. Nothing that has been coated with oils or cooked, no animal products, no meat leftovers, no cheese, no breads – just raw plant scraps. We’re talking banana peels, apple cores, stem-end of jalapenos, tomato cast-offs, carrot peelings, a bag of shredded coleslaw that you bought and then forgot about, etc. Oh, and plenty of juiced citrus halves 🙂  I keep a gallon zipper bag on my kitchen counter and collect scraps and then regularly take the bag to the bin, empty it, rinse it out, and start all over again. If the compost bin is looking a little on the dry side, I’ll empty the bag into the food processor with some water and make a (sorry) Compost Smoothie. (Sorry again) Slurry. No, let’s stick with smoothie.

Maintenance: Give the tumbler a whirl 1-2x a week. You also want the compost to stay relatively (sorry) moist – dry, dusty compost does no one any good. During the peak of the Texas summer, just regularly adding “wet” compostables usually isn’t enough. I also usually wet the compost a with the garden hose ~once a month, which leads us to…

Composting for your vegetable garden

Compost Tea: When it’s garden-hose time, I put two Styrofoam coolers (GO TEXANS!!) under the bin to catch the run-off. Because what comes out is pure liquid fertilizer. I usually spray in enough water to get ~2 gallons of tea. Then I cut the tea with an equal part of water, pour it into the watering can, and water the garden with it. World’s happiest tomato plants, I tell you.

Using the compost: I slide the door halfway open, rotate the bin door-side-down, and use a small garden spade and a spare garden pot to catch the compost. Then I take it to the garden and spread it out.

And the next time I mow the lawn, I simply start all over again with the empty side.

Alright, now. Who else is far more excited than they should be about dirt?

6 comments… add one
  • Brian Johnson

    I am, I’m now plotting ways to buy two of those, because I have incredibly sandy soil all through my yard. I don’t want to buy anything from the big box stores, I’d rather feed my yard with natural stuff. Then I can work on the garden 🙂

  • learning about gardening while yelling GO TEXANS!!! there’s a first time for everything 🙂

  • We’re living in an apartment right now and have a little spot out back for a small garden and last year I did the holes in the garbage can thing. It worked great and I had gorgeous compost to work into my garden for the first time this year! I have access to plenty of leaves and food scraps, but to get some grass, I walked over to the nearby elementary school with a couple of paper bags and filled up after they mowed at the end of the summer 🙂 Plus, I got a ton of coffee grounds from Starbucks, which was fantastic and I didn’t have to pay a penny. Now, I just hope I notice a difference in my plants this year. Hopefully it won’t be long before I have room for a bigger compost pile.

  • Heather Marriott

    How long does it take from the time you put in the clippings until you find you have usable compost? My boyfriend just started composting in our backyard as well and I was wondering how long I should wait to dig in.


    • You’ll need a few months of warm weather – once things “get going,” you’ll see a somewhat quicker turnover as you add things. I have a sliding door on my new barrel and I can easily see the compost. You’ll know when it’s ready – it looks more like soil and less like salad-night leftovers 🙂

  • I have one of those electric composters. It constantly turns the scraps as well as heats it so that it decomposes faster. The bin was so small and I always have new scraps to add that it ended up not being as convenient as it sounds. Now I have a spot in our easement that I “dump” scraps and yard waste… most of the time deer and cats eat the scraps, but there is some black gold back there. 🙂 Happy Earth Day!

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