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November 15, 2007

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Interesting. My husband and I have a big ol' batch of compost that we decided to save until the Spring. We have raised beds, though they're not built up with boards on the side--just mounds.

We decided not to use it now because we didn't want to take the chance of snow and rain sucking all the good stuff out of the compost before plants got to it. However, we did put it all over our Fall-planted peas, lettuce, carrots, etc. I'm sure there's a more scientific answer.

Also, probably a main reason we saved our compost is that we're incredibly slow garden cleaner-uppers and would probably be digging compost out of the snow in January to put on the just-cleaned pepper plant beds. So we saved it.

I usually clean out my compost bins in the fall and top dress my raised beds with it. I think your reasoning sounds good.

I do know that spring or fall, the compost will benefit the soil in a good way!

Patrick

Compost is best used fresh. If you let it sit around too long it starts to collect weeds, compacts and otherwise loses it's structure. The best thing is to use it as soon as it's ready.

I don't use a tumbler, I just have a pile. Like Carol I think, my usual cycle means my compost is usually ready in the fall. I collect is during the growing season and build a pile in the fall. In the spring I usually stir it, it's usually ready in August or so and I try to use it as soon after this as possible.

The nutrients can wash away, but really compost is not that rich in nutrients like a fertilizer, it's more of a soil conditioner. Well made compost has a humus structure that makes it very resistant to washing away.

You should be a little reasonable, but it's usually not a problem to use compost before it's finished. A few not yet decomposed pieces are not a problem, they will just break down in your garden. People that grow green manure crops intentionally dig fresh plants into the ground, and they usually decompose within a month or two. Some people who depend on a lot of mulch in their garden, if they have a compost pile at all, have a very small one. This is because they just put everything straight on the garden as mulch and let it decompose there.

Compost is really good as a soil conditioner. Whatever might be wrong with your soil, compost will usually fix. If you soil is heavy, compost will loosen it and help it drain. If your soil is lose and has a hard time holding moisture, compost will fix this too. The same thing is true with pH, compost brings your soil towards an ideal pH for most plants. The same thing with most nutrients, and almost any other problems you might have. Compost is also great for attracting beneficial insects and worms to your garden.

When you think about 'good things' or something like a fertilizer, this is not really what compost is. In the whole scheme of things, the most important nutrient is probably nitrogen, and if you don't use chemical fertilizer, growing nitrogen fixing crops like beans are a much more effective way to put this into the ground than compost.

Proper crop rotation is also very important to keep the nutrients in your garden balanced. For example some crops draw nutrients closer to the surface, and more available to other plants. Compost can help a lot, but it's not a complete substitute for good rotation practices.

Anyway, I'm going to stop now. This is probably a lot more than you wanted to know about compost...

Question is very good and last commenting Patrick seems to know everything about it :)

Brandon Nord

I'm very happy to have found this thread! I was just pondering the very same question as I began turning over my beds today for some late April planting. Through what I've found in my little amount of research I've conducted, it seems like 2-4 weeks before planting will provide optimal results, it's really not all that finicky. Any time you apply is going to be beneficial. . . even adding it once the plants have already become seedlings. Happy growing.

CombatTVgirl

A subject that my DH and I have been debating about all summer. We have HEAVY CLAY in our gardens. We moved to our house in May so we barely even got our gardens started before the 4th of July, so prepping the beds was out of the question if we wanted anything grown at all. But we saw a lot of stunted growth and we lost a lot of vegetables that couldn't take the compacted soil. I was thinking of adding some compost this fall after harvest, let it sit over the winter, then add more in the spring and mix it all in. Is that overkill?

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