How much compost?

reginak(z7 Maryland)May 4, 2005

I am starting my first garden beds this week and next. A rectangle about 20' x 60', plus a 20' circle. Brand new beds. I'm going to do my damnedest to get out all the bermuda & various other weeds, and then I want to work in lots of nice organic matter before covering with black plastic mulch and planting, mostly tomatoes, veggies & other fruit. Would a truckload of Leafgro be overkill??

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That's an awfully big garden to start out with. You really might want to think about starting smaller this spring and then working on expanding the beds in the fall and in coming years. That suggestion aside, no that is not too much leafgo. If anything, it is not enough. Also, nix the black plastic mulch. Ugh. Instead, use several layers of newspaper, damping them down as you go with water, and then covering the newspaper with a nice organic mulch like straw, chopped leaves or shredded bark. This method will control weeds as well as the black plastic, requires no special irrigation techniques (a challenge with plastic mulches), and has the added benefit of working to enrich your soil quality as it very gradually breaks down.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2005 at 3:44PM
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sfmiller(z7 MD)

Mary's right: You'll need a big truckload to make much of a difference. If my math is correct, you'll have a bit over 1500 square feet of garden space (1200 for the rectangle and about 314 for the circle).

A cubic yard of compost (27 cubic feet) covers 324 square feet 1" thick, so you'll need about 5 yards of Leafgro per inch of compost over your entire bed space. 15 yards (a good-sized dumptruck load) gives you 3" coverage.


    Bookmark   May 4, 2005 at 7:22PM
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blueheron(z6 PA)

Agree about the plastic mulch. It's not a good idea. For one thing, it doesn't let light, air or nutrients get to your soil.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2005 at 8:29PM
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lynnt(Z7 MD)

And the plastic will break down into nasty little inch-square shreds impossible to get out of your soil. From one who knows.

If you have clay as I do, what has worked well is to incorporate FOUR inches or more of a mix of five parts leafpro to one part sand. Many places will deliver it premixed like that-- I get it that way from DC Materials. And add an inch or two of horse manure too if you can get it. I have never regretted using a higher proportion of organics in a new bed, and the sand greatly improves longterm drainage.


    Bookmark   May 5, 2005 at 9:14AM
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reginak(z7 Maryland)

Ugh.... OK, unfortunately I don't subscribe to the newspaper and I don't think anyone on my block does either. I'll have to seriously scrounge (imagining dumpster-diving in the mixed-paper recycling bin at Public Works), but it sounds like newspaper's the way to go. Then I'll have to see what kind of regular mulch I can get cheap in quantity.

So one truckload of compost might not even be enough? Whew. OK, I'll order 2 loads of compost and one of mulch. :o)

Yeah, Mary, I know I'm starting toooo big. It's those maniacs over on the tomato forum who've done it to me. I was only going to grow a dozen tomato plants, now I'm up to about 60. Sheesh. Plus everything else.

About the bermuda grass: should I Round-Up it? Or do you think I can get rid of it with a few passes of the tiller? I think I've read somewhere on GW about first tilling shallow, then deeper, and last using a tiller with long tines, called finger-tines or something like that, to pull out the roots. But I can't find the thread now.

The thing about using Round-Up is that I'd really like to get the whole thing prepared and at least mostly planted by the end of next weekend. I took off work this week and next to get this done. Fraid waiting for Round-up to work would set me back too much. No?

    Bookmark   May 5, 2005 at 9:49AM
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Brent_In_NoVA(z7/6 VA)

Like others have said, that is a pretty good sized home garden. I see by your profile that you have not done a lot of gardening before. Even a 20' x 20' garden has lots of room for veggies. Aside from the size, I would make sure you limit the number of different types of plants that you start out with.

The answer to the question "how much compost?" is always "more than you have", but 4" would be a good start. Is this area currently lawn? Bermuda grass? If so, then you probably should have started getting rid of the grass a month or two ago. I hear that Bermuda is very hard to kill. Personally I would not want to use Round Up on a food garden, but I know that a lot of farmers use the stuff. Do you plan to till?

- Brent

    Bookmark   May 5, 2005 at 9:51AM
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reginak(z7 Maryland)

I see by your profile that you have not done a lot of gardening before. Make that none! First-time homeowner. Crazy as a loon. Overdoing it. I'm in grad school along with a full-time job, too, so I have no doubt this is going to get away from me before it's all over for the year. LOL

Planning to till, yes. It's a mixture of bermuda grass and a wide variety of weeds. I wish I could have started earlier, but I was taking the dreaded statistics this semester, and really felt I should focus on that till it was over.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2005 at 10:09AM
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reginak(z7 Maryland)

Dear neighbors,

Having browsed around on GW for a while, I'm struck with the idea of cinder-block raised beds. I could lay down wet cardboard on the bottom, build up the walls two blocks high, then fill with a soil/compost mix, plant, and mulch. Wouldn't that be enough keep the bermuda from growing up into it?


Oh, and, sources for cheap cinder blocks? Especially sources that would deliver them?

    Bookmark   May 5, 2005 at 11:24AM
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creatrix(z7 VA)

One block high ought to be fine. Lowe's will deliver, but some others may be cheaper, look in the Yellow Pages under brick.

You're also going to need a LOT of stakes and ties! Start scrounging old stockings, sheets (to be ripped into 1-2" strips) and anything else you can think of to tie up all those tomaotoes! String is too narrow and will cut the stems.

Remember, you need to rotate the location of tomato plants every year- all vegetables, really. You shouldn't plant them in the same place for 3-4 years if you can. I did every other year and came down with terrible fungal problems.

But I don't think you'll be planting as many tomatos next year- Maybe you can make a fence out of the stakes!

    Bookmark   May 5, 2005 at 8:17PM
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reginak(z7 Maryland)

One block high ought to be fine. You think? 8" deep to smother bermuda grass?

    Bookmark   May 6, 2005 at 7:52AM
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creatrix(z7 VA)

With the wet cardboard/newspaper at the bottom, yes.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2005 at 10:48AM
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reginak(z7 Maryland)

OK, thanks. That's good to hear. Any alternate opinions out there?

As for stakes and ties, I'm planning to do Florida weave with rebar stakes. My beds will be 4' wide and I'll have 2 rows of tomato plants; I'll pound the rebar into the ground through the holes in the cinder blocks beside each plant and weave twine between them in a figure 8 around both plants, every few feet of growth or as often as they seem to need it. I actually have some bamboo too, that I would rather use as tomato stakes than as living landscaping (although it doesn't seem to be a running type), so if I get around to cutting that down soon enough I might save on rebar.

Time to go shower after morning's gardening, lunch, and then start again. Ah, this is the life!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2005 at 1:30PM
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Any alternate opinions out there?

YES! Take a deep breath and rethink all of this. You are waaaaaay overdoing this. You are a new home owner, with (presumably) things you need to do with the house, you are working full time, going to school full time, and now you want to become what amounts to be a full time farmer????

By taking on the raised bed project, you are throwing good money after bad (I'm assuming you have already purchased the 60 tomato seedlings). You are about to create so much work for yourself that it won't be fun. And what the H E double hockey sticks do you plan to do with all the tomatoes that you hope to produce?

Till up an area that will hold 20 tomato plants. The first tilling should be enough to pull up the Bermuda grass in hunks. Pick up the Bermuda turf and place into a pile and let it compost for the nest year or two.

Order in 1-2 YARDS of compost, till that in, and plant the 20 plants and give the rest away.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2005 at 1:22PM
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reginak(z7 Maryland)

I appreciate your concern, graywings, but.... really, what's the worst that could happen? I could fail!! Well, so what? It's a vegetable garden, they're all ANNUALS. Next year I learn from my mistakes, I start over, maybe I do less. What does it hurt if I go overboard this first year?? I'm 37 years old, this is my first chance to dig in some dirt of my own. I'm excited about it!

That said... I've already gotten talked down to three or four 4x20' raised beds, plus the circle, and I might not even do the whole circle. Annoyed because I couldn't rent a pick-up truck today and I haven't been able to get compost & soil delivered yet, and won't be able to really get started until Monday. Plus I wasted the best part of the day going to meet the organist for a friend's wedding I'm going to sing at, and they didn't show up. But. I'm still excited about this project, excited about growing veggies, and -- oh, this is where I come to discuss with other people who are excited about gardening! I don't come here for DIScouragement! Bah.

Oh, and I didn't buy 60 tomato seedlings, I grew about 125 from seed. (and will take many of them to the swap). Plus a lot of other things from seed. All I've bought (other than seeds) is a 9-pack of sweet potatoes, for $2.67. And almost everything I got is open-pollinated, so I can save seeds for most things and not even spend that next year.

Sorry for the tirade, I'm sure you DO mean well. Rest assured, I do have my eyes open, and I am prepared to be totally overwhelmed by about, oh, mid-June? LOL... we'll see how long it takes!

    Bookmark   May 7, 2005 at 4:44PM
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From one compulsive seed addict to another: I think you'll be fine (as long as you aren't dragging a toddler around on top of everything else.) Wish you lived next door to me. But since you don't, please let me know where your tomato stand will be :) It really is fun....

    Bookmark   May 7, 2005 at 8:34PM
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Laurel7286(3b Wyoming)

Regina--I cannot wait to meet you on Saturday! What enthusiasm!! I say "go for it"--experience is the best teacher. I would, however, contact one of the local food banks and ask them to send someone out once a week after the tomatoes start coming in. LOL!

You don't say what varieties of tomatoes you have grown, but I can tell you that if they are indeterminate and heirlooms that your stake-and-string method of support will not be sufficient. My (homemade) tomato cages are 6' tall concrete reinforcing wire and are not, repeat not, sufficient to support some varieties of tomatoes in raised beds.

I will bring some basil to the swap, to fill up some of your beds; you will need it with all those tomatoes, and it's a great bee attractor.

See you soon, Laurel

    Bookmark   May 8, 2005 at 7:19PM
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reginak(z7 Maryland)

Somehow I missed your post yesterday, Cynthia. Thanks to you and Laurel for the encouragement!

Boy, yard work is tiring. I must be really out of shape, LOL! I must have spent 1/2 hour today just bringing the tomatoes out in the yard from the screened porch and then back up again. Ugh. I think I will harden them off the rest of them way using floating row cover after I build the beds and plant them. They've gotten a good start already, being on the porch.

Laurel, they are about 30 varieties of indeterminate heirlooms. I got the idea over on the tomatoes forum. I gather that I can prune the plants if they start to get out of control. We shall see! I did plant some basil too - 8 varieties, LOL! In fact, at this point I am going to the swap more to get rid of plants than to pick any new ones up! And really, to meet folks.

Cherries: Isis Candy (bi-color), Riesentraube (red), Green Grape, Yellow Pear, Sungold, Black Cherry, Snow White, Sara's Galapagos (beyond cherry, a currant type)

Regular: Gregori's Altai, Marianna's Peace, Brandywine (Sudduth's), Dr. Wyche's Yellow, Regina's Yellow, a Regina's mystery cross (from a GWer), Pineapple, Green Zebra, Aunt Ruby's German Green, Arkansas Traveller, Cherokee Purple, Cherokee Green, Indian Stripe, Neve's Azorean Red, Orange Heirloom (from a GWer), Lithuanian, Tidwell German, Redfield Beauty, Matt D'Imperio, Lumpy Red, and it looks like I'll be trading for a Nepal and Manyel from rad_win here on this forum. And one novelty called Stick, that grows like a clipped poodle (look for it in the Tomato forum, there are good pictures). Possibly Noire de Coseboeuf, Gold Ball, and Lida Ukrainian, which were in the seed tray that overturned before anything sprouted and all got scooped back in all jumbled up, then a lot of them came up (mystery basils and peppers in that one too).

Cynthia, here is a farmer's market here in Riverdale Park, about 3 blocks from my house. Maybe I'll wheel my wheelbarrow down there some Thursday afternoons and let some of the farmers there sell the tomatoes on consignment (not to set up in competition with them).

I mentioned on another thread, I still think it's a great idea -- we should have a harvest get-together round about August.


    Bookmark   May 8, 2005 at 8:28PM
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reginak(z7 Maryland)

I called the Dickerson facility (Montgo.County owned, state-run), about getting a truckload of compost. Well, the minimum order is 20 cu.yds. and they only have leafpro, no soil to mix it with for my raised beds. So they suggested a couple of companies to call and order from, couldn't get either of them, so I called D.C. Materials. When I said it was for a vegetable garden, the guy said, "Oh, then you want ORGRO." I said, "I do? OK, Orgro."

Called back to Dickerson, to tell them I wouldn't be wanting their truckload after all, and to ask them if they agreed that Orgro is what I want. She said definitely not. Orgro is made from human waste, which doesn't bother me any more than chicken poo as long as it's properly composted and sterilized, but according to her there are problems with heavy metals and you shouldn't use it for veggies. She was perturbed enough to insist on calling D.C. Materials herself and chewing them out, and telling them to call me back and change my order. They did, so I'm getting Leafgro mixed with soil.

So I guess that's 2 cautions: careful with D.C. Materials, and careful with Orgro.


    Bookmark   May 9, 2005 at 11:03AM
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"From one compulsive seed addict to another: I think you'll be fine (as long as you aren't dragging a toddler around on top of everything else.)"
Hmm, I AM dragging a toddler 'round with me on top of also making a huge garden bed and am even MORE crazy, but LOVE lurking and seeing all these candid & lively discussions (see Roundup)! You folks are so fun & helpful, I can't wait to meet you all Sat!
:) Leslie

    Bookmark   May 11, 2005 at 8:00AM
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reginak(z7 Maryland)

Yeah -- well, I don't have toddlers, but I am OUT OF SHAPE. Mama Mia. OK, gotta go shower and get working again. The soil/compost mix will be delivered between 9 and 11 and I haven't finished framing out even one bed yet. Sore, tired -- and HAPPY! :o)

    Bookmark   May 11, 2005 at 8:20AM
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lynnt(Z7 MD)

I get stuff from DC materials -- I get 5 parts leafpro mixed with one of sand, and that tilled into the top 6 inches of clay has given me lovely beds.

Enjoy the cinderblox!


    Bookmark   May 11, 2005 at 11:23AM
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reginak(z7 Maryland)

15 cu.yds. Minus a few wheelbarrow-loads.

Tomorrow I go looking for day-laborers. My back hurts, and I feel like I'm going to pass out...... Done for today! Cinder blocks, and wheelbarrows full of dirt, are damn heavy!

Thank God I love this kind of weather - but tomorrow I promise to get up at first light and do some work before the heat of the day sets in. And Friday is supposed to be cool. It will be nice to go back to work with a tan on Monday.... No, let me restate that. It won't be nice to go back to "work" (ha! THIS is work, that's just thumb-twiddling!). It will be nice to go with a tan. And God willing (please, God!), at least a couple of beds finished and the tomatoes in! There's the swap this Saturday, and I have weddings to go to the two Saturdays following, and my brothers and brothers-in-law are coming Sunday 5/22 to help move my fence.

Tomorrow I'm going to go to the farmer's market down the block, and talk to one of the people selling bedding plants. I'll take a sample tomato so they can see how nice and healthy they look. See if they want to sell any tomatoes I have left over, and whatever other stuff I decide to give up on by then.

Tomatoes are starting to bloom in their cups, as is the huckleberry and just today, the alpine strawberries too.... BUT, I think feeling like I'm gonna pass out is a very good sign that I'm doing too much, so -- well, we'll see what I can get done. If I can get the rest of the beds built throughout the year, well at least I've shown myself that I can start many, many things from seed (for next time).

Thanks again, Lynn, for the suggestion of CASA for day laborers (and for the cinder blocks, of course!).

    Bookmark   May 11, 2005 at 4:13PM
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