Till in Unfinished compost?

shelleykjApril 24, 2007

I have 2 garbage cans of unfinished compost. Here's my idea: Pile it in the garden for now, turning once in awhile, then till it in after last frost date, which is about two weeks away. Right now I can still identify quite a bit of it. Will this idea work or no? I know there are a lot of gardeners that hate the tilling idea, just hoping to use the stuff this year, plus we're incorporating the rest of the kid's sandbox, so we need to mix in the sand. The tomatoes last year liked the part we already added sand to, so this year we're using the whole space. thanks for any input everybody!


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pablo_nh(z4/5 NH)

Throw it in there and just double-dig it in now. You can till if you want- you can do it now. I use unfinished compost and don't till or double dig it in- just throw it down, plant, and mulch well.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2007 at 9:53AM
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Maybe another no-brainer question, but what exactly is double-digging? My dad was a farmer so his idea of starting the garden was hooking the tractor to the plow and let er rip!

    Bookmark   April 24, 2007 at 11:35AM
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hamiltongardener(CAN 6a)

I use unfinished compost all the time. I use it kind of like trench composting. It partially decomposes, then I throw it in a trench I dug or at the bottom of a new bed, then cover it with finished and soil.

I haven't had any major problems as of yet, but beware. Any seeds from your food will turn into plants.

I've had tomato plants and cantaloupe volunteers growing in both my compost piles and in garden areas that I've buried unfinished compost! I don't mind though. I think it's kind of cute. The first couple of times I left them because I couldn't bear to pull these little fighters out. Got some nice cantaloupes out of it too!

    Bookmark   April 24, 2007 at 7:26PM
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I would simply lay it on the garden bed, cover it with a mulch, and let the soil bacteria work it in for me. No reason to till that in if you have a good, active, Soil Food Web at work in your garden.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 10:43AM
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veggiecanner(Id 5/6)

The worms love unfinished compost. I use a post hole digger and bury kitchen waste for them, between plants. Besure to bury any squash or tomato seeds real deep or they will sprout all over the place.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 12:10PM
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This spring, I raked back all of my mulch from last year on my flower bed and put down a layer of almost finished compost. Then I covered it back up with the mulch. My plants are loving it!


    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 3:46PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

The problem with putting unfinished compost underground is the finishing process requires a lot of nitrogen. Where will it get the nitrogen? From everywhere it can find it. Being underground that eliminates getting it from the air, so it will take it from the same places the plants would be getting it.

But if you put it on top of the soil, then it could finish composting while you benefit from the finished part of the compost.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 7:35PM
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The nitrogen was what I'm worried about. So I think I'll pile it for now. Maybe add some alfalfa pellets to speed it up a little, I know some are rolling their eyes right now! Thanks everyone, I'm not new to gardening, just trying to find better methods.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 11:48PM
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pablo_nh(z4/5 NH)

I understand the hypothesis that you'll have a N deficiency, but I haven't seen it. Ever heard of a lasagna bed? :)

    Bookmark   April 26, 2007 at 6:44AM
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Same here... I've never 'officially' composted, I don't have the room and I figure that's what the ground is for :) Whenever I have yard clippings or kitchen scraps, I just scuff the ground with my shoe to create a shallow depression, throw the stuff in, and then cover it back up. It's close enough to the surface that it acts as a mulch AND gets enough oxygen to decompose. It also makes a nice lunch for my worm population. I don't use fertilizer and I've NEVER noticed a Nitrogen deficiency in my plants. I can see where it might come into play though if you were starting with low-nutrient soil and then you dumped a bunch of unfinished compost into it. My soil is composting on the top few inches, while the deeper soil is composted and feeding my plants.
I say if you've already got previous compost or nutrients in your bed, go ahead and pile on the unfinished compost. If you don't... better add something else. Good Luck Shelley!

    Bookmark   April 26, 2007 at 7:41AM
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pablo_nh(z4/5 NH)

Tweedbunny- even then- think about lasagna beds. That's uncomposted stuff on top of the soil. We recommend it for the worst possible soil conditions without hesitation. As soon as someone uses the phrase "Half finished"- there's an involuntary reflex that makes people's mouth say "nitrogen deficiency".

Heck- if really worried- then add those alfalfa pellets to the soil after the compost. Oops! they're uncomposted and will rob N as well (there's another one that we recommend for fertilizing "bad" soil).

    Bookmark   April 26, 2007 at 8:39AM
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^_^ Kind of silly isn't it? "Unfinished" or "Half finshed" compost means its still partially finished then, right? It's giving SOME nutrients.
I'm not familiar with lasanga beds. Is that what my method is?

    Bookmark   April 26, 2007 at 9:20AM
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pablo_nh(z4/5 NH)

Not exactly- in lasagna gardening you build a garden bed entirely out of layers of compostables then plant in it. Some let it compost for a bit, and some don't bother.

One theory that I heard was that N was taken up in the process of building up microbe populations- even in the case where a high N material was present (grass clippings, for instance)- then N was released as the material is broken down. I have doubts that the microbe population explosion stage lasts long at all.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2007 at 9:28AM
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Wow, so much info. I grew up hoeing a little trench, dropping in seeds, and waiting to see what happens! Oh, BTW, I've been getting the alfalfa pellets soft in water first, so, oh yes, they are composting in the garbage cans! So much that the lids just drip when I take them off to stir things up a bit. And like someone else in the Rose Forum wrote, it's supposed to be fun, not "work", and a lasagna bed seems like a lot of work, but then again, so does tilling!
Thanks everybody for not responding to my questions like I'm an idiot!

    Bookmark   April 26, 2007 at 1:43PM
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pablo_nh(z4/5 NH)

Lasagna bed is about the easiest way to make a new bed and get good soil. No removing grass. No tilling. Little weeding. Less watering.

Just pile it up and plant.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2007 at 1:59PM
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tracywag(Z5 NY)

I just had to laugh about you dad and his plow. My dad is the same way (grew up on a farm) and his compromise to a small (200+sq ft) garden it to rototil, usually twice in a week, before planting. I can not convince him of why this is not neccessary or even beneficial. He has an Ag degree from Cornell and 65 years experience. I am a computer geek. Case closed. Dispite the fact that I use my hands when planting out, the soil is so friable even a spade is overkill. It's all fun, though.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2007 at 10:45AM
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Don't worry about any nitrogen deficiency. In fact if you are growing certain vegetables, most soil is better without any special nitrogen additives.

We use unfinished compost all the time. Mounds of it. I prefer to have it about half composted so as it keeps breaking down over time via the weather, worms, etc.

Think of composting as a process and not as an event. You continually add to the soil over time and the organics from last year or a couple years ago are still at work for you. You are making soil and not just 'adding' to soil. There's more than enough nitrogen and 'everything else'.. nothing needs to be supplemented.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2007 at 4:09PM
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Tilling a garden is a relatively new concept. Visit Plimoth Plantation or The Hermitage and look at the gardens there. They probably provided Mel Bartholomew with the idea for square foot gardening.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2007 at 5:11PM
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I get a kick out of all the supplements and such pushed on to gardeners by the chemical companies. As aptly stated by many posters there's no need to worry about any magic recipe. Perhaps if you want to grow a 1000LB mutant pumpkin it needs extra nitrogen. Good quality growing soil, achieved through replenishing the organics via top dressing with compost is all that is needed.

Or you can add extra nitrogen and create sringy bug magnets and you can till and stir up weed seeds, then reach for the herbicides and upset the balance and invite in bad bugs and reach for the intsecticides.YUCK.

Be lazy and eco friendly by Just top dressing with whatever stuff is stewing in the piles. Forget the tilling and chemical fertilizers and sprays. Let the worms do the work and the beneficial insects eat the bad guys.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2007 at 6:44PM
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"Maybe another no-brainer question, but what exactly is double-digging?"

I just noticed that this was asked very early on and hasn't been answered.

Basically, you dig a trench as deep as your shovel (or spade), removing the dirt and putting it in a wheelbarrow. Add a layer of compost and use a garden fork to turn it over. Dig another trench right next to the first one, but instead of putting the dirt in the wheelbarrow, just move it into the first trench. Add compost and turn with the fork. Repeat until you've got a trench at the end of the garden with the compost turned under. Bring the wheelbarrow to the trench and fill it.

If you google double dig, you should find plenty of sites with more complete descriptions, pictures, etc.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2007 at 9:47PM
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tas123(z5 MI)

I can only speak from personal experience and nothing scientific, but once I mixed a load of partially composted leaves/grass into the top 6" of a 5x10 raised bed that had been filled with a mix of existing soil and purchased bagged manure (that smelled like good compost). The tomatoes and peppers I planted in it were the weakest things I ever grew until I had a soil test done about 2 months later and was told that it was so nitrogen-deficient that I needed to sprinkle straight urea on it. (Which perked the plants right up and they did ok for the rest of the season.)

Since that time, I am very hesitant to mix anything that is still in the process of composting INTO the soil...I'll put it on top perhaps, but not down where the roots are.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 3:46PM
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david52 Zone 6

I should mention that if you have resident raccoons, they will unearth what ever you bury in the way of partially finished compost. They leave finished compost alone.

At least my raccoons do.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 4:10PM
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I understand the hypothesis that you'll have a N deficiency, but I haven't seen it. Ever heard of a lasagna bed? :)

All above ground!

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 6:39PM
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pablo_nh(z4/5 NH)

Well, we have different experiences with it. I've double dug, mixed in, and layed on half finished compost without issues.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 7:44PM
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