What is the best kind of compost to use in my vegetable garden?

Lauren5522January 9, 2012

What is the best kind of compost to use in my new raised bed vegetable garden? Would alpaca compost be safe/good to use? Any other suggestions?Do I just mix it with some topsoil? I'm trying to do it organically.

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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Are you talking about straight manure or compost with manure added to it (aka manured compost)? Or plain compost which is any organic materials without manure added?

Straight manure is great IF it has been age/stockpiled for 60-90 days first. Fresh manure from any animal isn't recommended for the food garden. If you are going to apply fresh then the recommendation is that it be applied 90-120 days prior to planting.

Manured compost - a mix of all sorts of organic materials such as hay, straw, bedding, table scraps, etc. plus some manure is also great stuff IF the manure isn't fresh.

And plain compost - quality depends on what all was added to make it - is also beneficial but not as high in nutrients. Does wonders for the soil tilth but it takes time for it to supply nutrients to the plants.

Keep in mind that all compost requires time for an active soil bacteria herd to develop. The micro-herd is required in order to convert the compost to useable nutrients for the plants. So the first year you will have to supplement the nutrients with other organic or non-organic nutrients.

You'll find many more discussions about this all over on the Soil & Compost forum here so be sure to check it out.

Do I just mix it with some topsoil? I'm trying to do it organically.

Well you mix it in with soil. Ratios vary from 1/3 to 1/2 compost and the rest soil. Whether or not you use topsoil all depends on its quality. Lots of things are call 'topsoil' and some of them do NOT belong in a garden so get the best quality dirt you can afford.

Good luck with your new garden.


Here is a link that might be useful: Soil & Compost forum

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 5:58PM
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It depends. I seldom see a need for mixing, since nature will do it for you, much better than you can, if you just wait. There is an advantage in mixing in clay, which will stimulate earthworms to range u8p and down the soil, and break down the soil more deeply.

Very little structural advantage with lighter soils, unless you are trying to save every last nitrogen molecule in compost. Which is what Dave alludes to, your compost is probably OK in most nutrients but light in N, because half of it was gassed out during ageing, and perhaps another 25-50% of what is left will be lost if you just topdress.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 6:09PM
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As Dave mentioned, beware of bags labeled "top soil" I used several bags of "top soil" in my raised bed a few years ago, and nothing would grow. Some research revealed that a lot (all?) of the stuff they sell with this label is actually "forest products" which means composted leaves and other things from the forest floor, which would be great for bushes and trees, but not for vegetables. Veggies prefer bacterially dominated compost, trees prefer fungal dominated compost. Tree leaves decompose with mostly fungal activity. What you want is mostly bacterial activity in your compost, which is how hay, straw, bedding, table scraps, etc, decompose (with a few added leaves, okay, but not all forest products). So do mix it in with real topsoil, which is the top few inches of earth in your yard (or don't mix it, as glib points out is an option.)
The book Teaming with Microbes is a great resource on the types of compost and how to use it (though the authors don't like manure, which is just plain silly imo.)

    Bookmark   January 10, 2012 at 4:17AM
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janezee(Sunset 5, 8b, Whidbey WA)

Alpaca, bunny, and goat manure are safe to add directly to the garden. They are very good for vegetables. Adding vermiculite will help with moisture retention, important in raised beds.
Have you read the All New Square Foot Gardening book yet? It's very helpful. There is also a great forum for it at

Here is a link that might be useful: Square Foot Gardening

    Bookmark   January 10, 2012 at 11:09AM
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organicdan(z5b Nova Scotia)

Without addressing the nutrient needs of a soil test, any matured (cured) compost is good for your soil. Understand that the organic matter is the primary benefit towards feeding the soil. If manure is employed, age it at least six months OR add it in the fall so incorporated. Consider also the advantages of a fall cover crop that can be incorporated in the spring. Any immatured organic matter (compost or manure) added in the spring should be 2-4 weeks in advance of any seeding or transplant to avoid toxicitiesand nutrient lock-up; allow the organic matter to assimulate.

On the matter of nutrients, organic matter is the driver of soil biology and chemistry. Maintenance and renewal of organic matter keeps the soil organisms active, thus making nutrients available over time. Any nutrient deficiencies are best determined with a soil test and organically approved nutrient supplements; check out the OMRI site.

About topsoil, do your research, get references and/or check with greenhouses/extension services/landscapers. Know what you are getting is sound advice. Insist on an analysis of the soil.

Consider also the use of cover crops for soil improvement, nutrients and organic matter. There is lots of credible info on cover crops.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2012 at 9:00AM
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