What vegetables are best to plant in a plot filled with unrefined compost?
June 2, 2009 5:52 AM   Subscribe

What vegetables are best to plant in a plot filled with unrefined compost?

I have a small (3' x 4') garden bed that is filled with compost that got pulled a bit too early. (Mostly grass clippings and leaves). So it's very clumpy at this point and no amount of raking is going to make it better. Are there some herbs or vegetables better suited for this sort of soil than others?(I'm in Zone 6/Massachusetts)
posted by jeremias to Home & Garden (12 answers total)
Best answer: You will need to till it before anything will really take off there. If the soil is solid and not loose then the roots will not be able to break through and take a good solid hold of the ground.

As for planting veggies, I would start with something simple and go with tomatoes. You could probably get away with 5-6 plants in that small of an area. Tomatoes need about a foot of space between them. If you could I would give them more but if space is limited then whatever. Also if you go with tomatoes I would also buy tomato food for them. The stuff I get is a red crystal mix. Put it in a pitcher/watering jug/etc and pour it at the base of the plant. Good stuff and should help to feed the plant in case your soil isn't too good.

Peppers are another option. Same thing applies.

I would stay away from root veggies because they require a very fine loose soil to really grow good.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 6:36 AM on June 2, 2009

Is there any soil or is it just the compost?
posted by electroboy at 7:00 AM on June 2, 2009

Response by poster: There's a bit of of soil, but it's really about 80% compost in a slightly raised bed. The soil would be about 18 inches down and probably fairly impacted.
posted by jeremias at 7:20 AM on June 2, 2009

At 18" down, the soil is not going to count for anything. If the "compost" is mostly made up of recognizable leaf pieces and grass clippings then it's not really compost yet; it's leaves and grass clippings, and I doubt it's a good growing medium for much. The nutrients in it aren't yet available for the use of other plants, and if it continues to compost then it may heat up enough to kill some plants.
posted by jon1270 at 7:45 AM on June 2, 2009

Response by poster: Well, I should have defined "unrefined" a bit more. :)

It's unrefined compost in the sense that it's been sitting in the bed since last fall, it's just that it didn't really break down as much as I thought. So it's probably more accurate to update the percentages to 50% soil 50% compost.
posted by jeremias at 8:19 AM on June 2, 2009

The problem with unfinished compost is that it doesn't have a lot of available nutrients for the plants, and may actually deplete your soil of the nitrogen it does have, depending on what the various decomposition microbes need. That said, I've seen tomatoes grow in a pile of grass clippings, but you may not get great results.

I'd put the compost back in the pile and wait until it's finished. You can still use it to mulch your plants if you can't get rid of it, but it's not going to make a great growing medium.
posted by electroboy at 8:22 AM on June 2, 2009

This probably isn't much different than Straw Bale gardening in which case anything will do OK but you'd want to avoid tall stuff like corn.

Personally I'd plant some zucchini, a pumpkin (the vine of which could extend past the boundaries of the box if that's ok), pole beans, swiss chard and tomatoes. Potatoes would work well too though you don't really have enough space to make it worth while.
posted by Mitheral at 8:58 AM on June 2, 2009

It's probably broken down a lot more than you realize, although some uncomposted matter, like sawdust,sometimes uses nutrients while composting. It will continue to compost, and probably break down fast at this point. I'd grow whatever you fancy, and think of the top layer of compost more as mulch. I like to grow veggies that are less common, too expensive at the supermarket, or really nice to have handy, like kale, lettuces, esp. arugula, tomatoes, basil, cilantro and snap peas.
posted by theora55 at 9:09 AM on June 2, 2009

posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 10:33 AM on June 2, 2009

Best answer: Get yourself some chicken manure. Fresh from the chicken is best, but the stuff you buy at a garden center will work too. Mix it in with the uncomposted compost. (For an area that's 3' x 4' and 18" deep, I'd cover the bed with manure that's 2" deep, maybe 3", then mix well with a spading fork.)

Water the bed well. Mix again. The mixture should have the moisture of a wrung-out sponge.

After a couple days, the pile should be warm to hot. If it's not, add a little more manure. Keep it moist always, as above.

In several weeks, you will have finished compost. THEN you can plant. (But you should probably mix in a cubic foot or so of topsoil -- again from the garden center -- in order to provide structure and water-retention.)

Meantime, you can go ahead and buy your pepper and tomato starts. Plant them in 5-gallon buckets or large pots for the time being. When your compost is finished in a few weeks, transplant them.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:47 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Meant to add -- once the pile heats up, turn it over and mix it well every 4-5 days for, say, two weeks. Then leave it alone and let it finish its work.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:49 AM on June 2, 2009

Best answer: It's kind of hard to tell whether your compost is "far enough along" or not since we can't see it (muck about in it with our piddies, etc); as has been mentioned a couple times already, if it's still working, it could cause problems with just about anything you plant.

That being said, let me also tell you this little fact: I have a three-bay compost bin (thanks, Spousal Unit!). Bay 1 is for new composting materials--kitchen scraps, garden remains, lawn clippings, etc. When bay 1 is full, it gets turned over into bay 2 (Isn't that passive voice lovely? Like it just HAPPENS! Sure doesn't FEEL like it just happens), and when bay 2 is full, it gets sifted into bay 3 as completed compost, aka dirt. Every year, despite the "rawness" of bay 1, tomato plants and cucumbers sprout from it, and they are more often than not the most vigorous plants in my garden, so I transplant them and take my chances on what they will produce (if anything).

So. You might take a chance on maybe one indeterminate tomato plant in a cage right in the middle of the bed with maybe a cucumber vine trailing off each end. I'd stick in four basil plants in a square around the tomato, and you can tuck dwarf marigolds into the interstices to ward off pests and for a flash of color amongst the green.

It sounds like the bed is already there, just waiting; why not try it? What will you lose? Half an afternoon's labor? Ten bucks for plants and seeds? On the other hand, you may have lovely fresh vegetables through the summer and a pleasurable spot to rest your eyes. I'd roll those dice!
posted by miss patrish at 6:59 PM on June 2, 2009

« Older Beyond 2666   |   Help me become my organization's 'new media' guru! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.