Saturday, April 4, 2009

How much compost do I need?

Maybe this should be in the sidebar but it is an important consideration. I keep putting off writing about this because it's kinda a basic consideration and for my garden I didn't exactly figure it all out because I developed my garden gradually out of a weedy mess.

The 1st thing you know, if you do things like me is the unit of compost is a cubic yard. To most easily translate that to your garden you need to figure how many square yards of garden needs compost. I like to put 2 or 3 inches of compost on each bed, especially if it's a new bed. Sometimes it's a good idea to cultivate a bed a shovel blade or 2 deep and to amend the soil with some compost. I believe that in most cases ideal soil is 25% organic material.

If you have a rectangular garden this is easy, if not you might need to measure each bed remember of course that 9 square feet is equal to one square yard. I like to have extra compost around for topping off beds, making some potting soil, or just to mix in as I plant something, or maybe it just makes me feel safe.

Potting soil is easy mixed yourself. The general formula is compost, peat moss, vermiculite, perlite and some sort of fertilizer. The idea balance depends on what you're growing but I guess I do about 1 part each except for fertilizer. Even though I have a bit of land I still like to grow some things in containers. I also use potting soil to start seedlings and to root cuttings or just to split things up, maybe to share something with a friend.

One thing to remember is that compost breaks down. In most areas it breaks down at the rate of about an inch a year. If your climate is warmer, and perhaps moister, all things living are more active. So in most places you probably do not need to top your garden with compost every year but...

I suppose I primarily subscribe to the author of The Vegetable Gardener's Bible, Ed Smith's W-O-R-D philosophy of gardening. He recommends WIDE beds, rather than skinny rows. The rule of thumb is just wide enough for easy access, so that's 3 to 4 feet wide. ORGANIC because well, it's just a better method. He also recommends RAISED beds, and that's the point I wanted to get to. Before I do that, just for completion sake, I must say he likes DEEP beds. I won't go into each point here, just read the book or maybe I'll paraphrase him more, though it is all echos of what others have said but he said it well.

OK, I was trying not to paraphrase anyone but that's it. I greatly enjoyed his book. The difference for me is that putting it ALL together takes a lot of W-O-R-K. A conflict I have in this blog is deciding what audience I want to speak to. I am perfectly willing to W-O-R-K for anyone willing to pay me but I also wish to encourage and H-E-L-P anyone less wealthy to realize their own garden. Or maybe you have money but aren't certain exactly what direction you want to go. At any rate I am here to help all of the above.

My personal philosophy towards gardening is a sort of evolution. Nothing is constant. So, a bed needs an average of an inch of compost topping it a year but my garden is evolving into a RAISED bed so I think I'll end up topping my beds with 1-3 inches a year until I either need to build something to contain them or I just let them spill over. I guess I am building little hills, not a flat topped bed. Now my memory banks recall something I read about rounded topped garden beds in Japan(?) perhaps in a Joy Larkcom book, but I digress.

In short 12-18 square yards is 108-162 square feet and may be covered adequately by 1 cubic yard of compost. That's a rectangle that measures 9 X 12 feet to 12 X 14 feet, though I fudged the larger rectangle. Really, the backhoe just dumps a big bucket into the back of my truck which probably is a bit bigger than a cubic yard. I haven't measured but above is a photo of my half-unloaded truck.

Any questions? Please, pick my brain!


J said...

Hey sis, what sort of fertiliser should I use? I'm all fired up for spring again this year and have 3 dozen toms in my raised beds and tiny leeks I need to transplant into larger areas as well as a few coles (including VV's school cabbage plant). However the last two years my toms have done very poorly- maybe because I am using compost bought and made but no fertiliser. BTW the garlics I planted with dog fertiliser under them are doing a lot better than the ones just in the old compost- but I am afraid to eat them so will only use them for seed. Am using the copious amounts of dog fertiliser for the fruit and decorative trees but since I don't yet have a donkey or cow (do you know donkeys poop in a pile? if they didn't eat the garden beds I'd have one already) and want to stay organic and mad cow disease free what should I buy for fertiliser. BTW please recall my two pups would happily and fragrantly roll in any manure I bring on site, though I do have a poorly managed year old compost pile of cow manure alternated with leaves grass and shredded paper I can use without them digging it up. LJ.

Gabrielle Marsden said...

hey sis,

I recommend a balanced organic fertilizer. There are many varieties. Off the top of my head your beds might benefit from epsom salts and lime. They also probably need some nitrogen. More on that later. Start off with a balanced organic fertilizer.

I don't know what a 'tom' is. Do you mean 'tomato'? They have some pretty specific needs. Again, I intend to elaborate more in another post.

If I were you I'd lightly top my beds with your old compost if it is past your dog's interest it is probably ready. If they still want to roll in it, keep it in your pile. Perhaps a compost tea could be made from it. And again, that's a whole new topic.