Compost Use

When growing things, be it fruit trees, veggies or lawns there are so many variables and so many factors that there is no one right way to go about it.  Some people swear by tilling compost into the soil others are hardcore no-tillers or lasagna gardeners. By no means are we experts on soil, gardening, landscaping or agriculture – but below are compost use tips we’ve aggregated from research, customers, and lessons learned. Take them with a grain of salt and always use your own best judgement.

Orchard + Vineyard

Omeg Orchards – row spreading with Whatcom spreader

Establishment (bare root): Excavate a planting hole slightly shallower and 2 to 3 times the width of the root structure. Uniformly blend compost with the excavated soil at one (1) part by volume compost to 2-3 parts by volume soil. Ensure roots are pointing down and not curling back towards the surface. Backfill and firm the soil blend around the root system within the planting hole. Always water thoroughly after planting.

Carter Orchards top dress with straw

                                                                       

Annual maintenance or distressed block treatment: In The Gorge we have seen fruit trees applied at 2-5 tons per acre of trees. Directional spreading in the planting rows has been accomplished with spreaders or trailers and shovels. Some orchardist like to then cover compost with straw for additional moisture retention and wind protection.  Application is most preferable in the fall or secondarily the spring.

To help you estimate your tree row application needs, check out this Orchard Row Application Calculator we developed.  Feel free to contact us to discuss your specific orchard needs.

Note: The nutrients contained in compost should be considered when applying fertilization. They will typically offset plant nutrient requirements, thereby potentially reducing fertilizer application rates. Ask us for recent lab data.

Veggie + Flower Garden

Top dressing an existing bed (my house)

Establishment: Compost should be uniformly applied over the entire area at an average depth of 1-2 inches and then incorporated to a depth of 6-8 inches. Higher application rates of compost may be used if the compost is incorporated to a greater depthRake the soil surface smooth prior to seeding or planting. The soil surface should be free of large clods, roots, stones, and other material that will interfere with planting. The amended area should be watered thoroughly after planting.

Mosier Valley Organics – compost backfill on asparagus

Lower compost application rates may be necessary for salt sensitive crops (e.g., strawberries),  while higher application rates may be used for plants that require greater amounts of fertility (e.g., tomatoes).

Maintenance: Top dress existing planting beds with 1-2″ of compost ideally in the fall or secondarily the spring prior to planting. Applying in the fall allows nutrients to leach into the soil over the winter months. Click here for a compost use calculator.

 

Seeds and Starts

Mosier Valley Organics-basil starts (this greenhouse is really cool and made from the old automatic doors of a hospital)

This is where people can get the wildest variations. While you can plant directly into our compost (see below) we recommend variation in a seed or potting mix. Peat moss, coconut husks, and bark chips are all great components in a compost seed mix (we hope to have our own next spring). A fluffy and diverse mix will give your seeds a strong start.

A note on thermal compost: We typically perform a sensitive plant bioassay (fancy term for planting from seed) on our compost prior to selling it. We use red clover and cucumber because they are particularly sensitive to “hot compost” and persistent herbicides. So far this season we have not had a failing bioassay on our compost – meaning you are safe to plant need seeds and starts directly into our compost.

Lawns

Establishment: Compost should be uniformly applied over the entire area at an average depth of 1-2 inches and then incorporated to a depth of 6-8 inches using a rotary tiller or other similar equipment. Rake the soil surface smooth prior to seeding, planting or sodding. Plant seed and re-rake to ensure good seed to soil contact. Always seed, plant or sod during the recommended period of time in your region. Water the heck out of new grass seed and keep the water going to ensure good root establishment.

Maintenance: Annual topdressing with a finer grade compost (1/4” – 3/8” screened) is a good maintenance practice on both cool and warm season lawns. This can be done before or after core aeration to reduce compaction and improve moisture holding capacity. Drag or rake compost into the aeration holes. Cool season lawns can be compost topdressed in the early spring or fall. It’s best to apply compost to warm season lawns in the spring just prior to the active growing season. The area should be watered thoroughly after any seeding. Deep and infrequent watering will keep a lawn healthly.

Trees & Shrubs

Establishment: Excavate a planting hole slightly shallower and 2 to 3
times the width of the root ball or container. Set the root ball on firm soil
so that the top of the root ball sits slightly higher than the final grade.
Uniformly blend compost with the excavated soil at one (1) part by volume compost to 2-3 parts by volume soil. Compost with higher amounts of salts and nutrients should be used at lower rates (e.g. 1:3 or 1:4 parts compost to soil). Backfill and firm the soil blend around the root ball within the planting hole. Always water thoroughly after planting. It should be noted that whenever possible, trees and shrubs should be planted in a mass planting bed, where multiple plants are established in a larger amended bed. This technique allows for greater planting success.

Note: plants like azaleas and rhododendrons prefer acidic soils and typically are not happy in a yard debris based compost like ours. 

Maintenance: Apply a coarser compost mulch (1” – 2” screened) over the garden bed to conserve moisture, for weed suppression and/or for aesthetic purposes.  Note: The nutrients contained in compost should be considered when applying fertilization. They will typically offset plant nutrient requirements, thereby potentially reducing fertilizer application rates.

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