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Amending good soil already in place?

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Compost chopping

Post  jmsmall on 3/15/2016, 9:47 pm

I've read over the years that composting goes a lot faster when it's chopped, which makes a lot of sense. My composting includes kitchen scraps, leaves, and various weeds/trimmings from the garden. I'm allergic to grass so I hire out the grass cutting, and frankly am not sure yet if grass clippings have too much herbicide. So I'm reluctant to compost that for use in my garden.

So I've got a variety of things to chop!  Leek leaves, egg shells, avocado rinds from the kitchen all mixed in with coffee grounds. How do I chop that mess up? (we have one of those nice steel cans with the activated charcoal lid and accumulate all winter.) I put those in a rotating bin composter, and have a "pile" out back for bigger stuff.

Thistles, bindweed, etc from our "back 40" that we have to keep down; how do I chop THOSE things?

Leaves in the fall--I've seen these "fan choppers" for leaves; do they work?

Jim
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Amending good soil already in place?

Post  jmsmall on 3/15/2016, 10:00 pm

Too late to this forum!  Last year we built some nice raised beds, put in drip irrigation, and had a pretty good first year. We of course bought soil. (My wife who hails from North Carolina thinks buying dirt is just weird.)  

My question is, what about getting vermiculite and mixing it in along with some compost? It's really pretty nice soft dirt we got!

Jim
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Re: Amending good soil already in place?

Post  Scorpio Rising on 3/15/2016, 10:21 pm

Hey, Jim! Welcome from Ohio! Do you have boxes filled with Mel's Mix? It depends on what you are doing...have your read All New Square Foot Gardening? If so, did you say actual soil? Mel's Mix is soilless; peat, compost and vermiculite in equal parts.

Can you post some pics? That would help greatly!

glad you\'re here
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Re: Amending good soil already in place?

Post  Scorpio Rising on 3/15/2016, 10:24 pm

On the heels of that, I just worked a whole bunch of vermiculite into my existing SFG.  Needed lightend up, ya know?  Lots of nutrients, just needed a bit of loft.


Last edited by Scorpio Rising on 3/15/2016, 10:25 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Typo)
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Re: Amending good soil already in place?

Post  audrey.jeanne.roberts on 3/15/2016, 11:28 pm

I have a homeowner type chipper/shredder that I pull out when there's a lot to chop.  The reason chopping things up makes them break down more quickly is the increased surface area from chopping means more of the material is exposed to bacterial and fungal activity.

For tender items like leaves, weeds and garden remains, a weed whacker in a deep trash can can work.  Sometimes I just hand chop with pruning sheers - usually into 4-6 inch sections.
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Re: Amending good soil already in place?

Post  sanderson on 3/16/2016, 2:35 am

Jim,  Welcome to the Forum from California! glad you\'re here

It's never too late to join to join this Forum.  Have you had a chance to read All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew?  Strongly recommend the book.  It's an easy read and filled with everything you need to know about SFG in contained boxes.

So you bought "dirt", like as in real dirt?  Or was it a blend of dirt and humus?  Anyway, you have the beds and you had a good first year.  Over time, the plants will use up the nutrients in the dirt/soil.  So you have to feed.  Most people use fertilizer but in Square Foot Gardening, we use compost to "feed" the plants.  Actually, we are feeding the soil which feeds the micro-and macro- organisms in the soil which in turn release the nutrients in usable form to the plant. [See our current topic "Microbes...you gotta see this one !!!"]

There are 3 parts to Mel's Mix: equal parts of vermiculite, fluffed peat moss and multi-blend compost, at least 5 sources of compost.  Adding vermiculite makes it lighter but it also holds and releases water, air and nutrients to the plants.  Peat moss makes it lighter and friable and aids in water retention.  Compost is the 3rd and the most important part of the mix.  So you added some vermiculite and that is a good thing.  Now, compost.  If you can add 50% more in volume to the dirt and vermiculite, you should get some great results.  One of the five equal parts should be a composted barn manure (I like horse manure).

You can make your own blended compost with leaves, Starbucks coffee grounds, dried grass (you are allergic to grass), chopped alfalfa hay or spent bedding straw, small wood chips or board sawdust, seaweed (Razz ), kitchen scraps, some weeds and garden trimmings (I think bindweed is a no-no but maybe someone will comment on it).  I get wilted produce and fruits from the vendors at the Farmers Market at the end of the event).  There are different ways to "chop" up some of the ingredients.  Gardening pruners, lawnmower, Weed whackers, chippers.

Please use our Search Box for 'compost.'  There are 300 threads on compost.

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Thanks for the comments.

Post  jmsmall on 3/16/2016, 8:51 am

We have several raised beds about 18" to two feet high, three feet wide by ten to twenty feet long. The "dirt" was a gardening mix, don't exactly know what's in it but it's nice and light in my hands so I suspect it has a lot of good organic stuff in it. Doubt any vermiculite, it doesn't have the spots in it that I see on pictures.

I just finished skimming SFG and like the concept. We did three foot "rows" last year and got a lot of good greens, some interesting scarlet runner beans, cucumbers, cabbages, etc. None of my friends had much luck with tomatoes last year around here, and ours weren't great either. Kept splitting. DW thought it might be uneven watering?

Radishes were terrific but didn't get too many (I think we need to learn to replant and the SFG looks like a good way to make that happen.) Wife and I think planting a denser, closer together garden makes sense (as does my daughter.) They got a nice indoor "sprouting" rack and I'm pretty sure seeds are pushing their way skyward at her house.

Also DW wants some flowers in some of the squares like marigolds etc.

Denver can be very dry and hot, or cool and wet; weird mountain weather. The vermiculite actually sounds like a great idea to hold water.

Last year was our first year of really getting hammered by Japanese beetles!  Can't tell you how many thousand beetles I picked off of vines and roses and tossed into soapy water, then on into the compost to increase the nitrogen "naturally."

On the compost chopper, I have a small-branch shredder that I guess I'll give a shot. The main issue is shredding real damp stuff, and leaves. The lawn mower thing sounds reasonable too.

Thanks again for all your discussions. It's 6 AM and daylight savings took my sun away in the morning; maybe I can post some pictures.

Jim
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Re: Amending good soil already in place?

Post  donnainzone5 on 3/16/2016, 12:29 pm

For small amounts of compost material, I sometimes haul out my Chinese cleaver and whack away on a plastic cutting board. 

Likewise, my eggshell technique is simple.  I collect rinsed shells in a large baggie, let them dry out, and use an empty wine bottle or rolling pin to crush them.  Some people use a blender, but that didn't work well for me.

I don't think I'd risk composting bindweed, or any other invasive weed.  I did toss some purslane into the compost last year and will have to see what happens.
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Re: Amending good soil already in place?

Post  sanderson on 3/16/2016, 1:42 pm

Donna, thanks for commenting on bindweed. I couldn't remember for sure.

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Re: Amending good soil already in place?

Post  Scorpio Rising on 3/16/2016, 6:58 pm

Wow, I wasted all those dead Japanese Beetle corpses.. Mad Not this year!  They were all over my pole beans, it was disgusting.  I hate them!  And they do not even belong here!  I can tolerate some of the native pests, but not the introduced mega-pests with no natural predators to keep them in check!

Thanks, Jim!


Last edited by Scorpio Rising on 3/16/2016, 6:59 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Forgot to say thanks!)
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Japanese beetles compost or chickenfeed?

Post  jmsmall on 3/16/2016, 7:33 pm

My daughter is getting chickens this week, an urban Paleo gardener in training. She tells me chickens love love love japanese beetles.
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Re: Amending good soil already in place?

Post  Scorpio Rising on 3/16/2016, 7:52 pm

Hmmm, interesting. Eliot Coleman in "Four Season Harvest" talks about the joys and benefits of duck ownership. Wonder if ducks like 'em? thinking I live in a suburban setting. Not sure how the neighbors would take poultry...lol
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Re: Amending good soil already in place?

Post  AtlantaMarie on 3/16/2016, 7:58 pm

Hi Jim. Don't think we've met yet.... I've been out of touch quite a bit the last few days... Welcome from Atlanta, GA!
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Hi back, I've been on this board for 24 hours

Post  jmsmall on 3/16/2016, 11:52 pm

so it wouldn't be surprising...
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