Compost Garden Beds NOW Before Spring Planting
The saying “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax” has been attributed to Abraham Lincoln. The 16th president was talking about preparation. This kind of mindset applies to everything from chopping down trees to planting gardens. Since we are talking about gardens, the big 4 are soil, sun, fertilizer and water. You will need these to grow vegetables. Of these four essentials we have ultimate control of two; soil and fertilizer.
The most common amendment is compost. Compost is decomposing organic matter that changes ‘dirt’ into ‘soil. If it’s done decomposing there is no microbial activity and it’s called potting soil. The most common ingredients in commercial compost are leaves, grass, tree and shrub trimmings and agricultural crop stubble. Depending on where you get compost, you might find plywood, 2x4s, fence and furniture pieces. If you make your own you can add any kitchen scraps you would be willing to put in the garbage disposal. Since compost is such a valuable resource, we use it carefully. Rather than add compost after harvesting a crop, for example, we wait until a few weeks before planting the next crop to ensure that none of the compost nutrients are flushed away during rainy spells.
Most bagged compost is in a 2 cubic foot or 40# bag (1CF). Bulk compost is sold loose by the yard or other volume measurement. So how much do you need to compost garden beds? For flatbed gardens, I look at adding 3 to 4 inches of compost and mixing it in the top 7 to 8 inches of soil. Adding 3 inches to a 100 square foot garden will take 0.9 cubic yards of compost. That’s 13, 2 cubic foot bags or about 26, 1 cubic foot bags. A volume measurement for a 6-foot pick-up bed is 2 cubic yards. How much material (compost, top soil, etc.) it will hold depends on its weight. Click here for an easy to use volume calculator. The fine folks at Living Earth Technologies can help you with bulk material. I have found it beneficial to use more than one type of compost in a vegetable garden.
For raised-bed gardens, I double the amount of compost. I also add about 25% bagged topsoil (about 70% sandy loam and 30% fine compost). Till, fork or shovel the mix in with the top 3 to 4 inches of our native soil.
And here comes the shameless plugs. We sell 4 types of compost, top soil, and a multitude of fertilizers along with hardwood and cedar mulch.