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What should you do if you don't have enough compost for all your garden beds? — The Grow Network Community
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What should you do if you don't have enough compost for all your garden beds?

I have 30 garden beds. I just cannot make enough compost for 30 garden beds or have enough worm bins. What is a gardener to do if they don't have enough compost or worm bins?

I have plenty of cow manure and straw for mulch. Can i just add fresh cow manure to the garden beds in the fall instead and lay straw /autumn leaves on top for mulch? Would it be at least as good? Or about half as good? Or how would it be compared?

Or , could i grow cover crops on these garden beds instead of using compost?

What other options are there for an organic gardener that just cannot possibly make enough compost?

Thank you,


  • Monek MarieMonek Marie Moderator Posts: 2,225 admin

    Hi @ashleyvann Welcome to Grownetwork!

    Your idea will work. If you were to use leaves I would break them down so they compost better. I mow mine, then add them.

    You can also find things for free to add to the garden beds. (Newspaper, shred it) sawdust or wood chips (know source and if its aged that is better, Grass clippings, what ever you can pick up or have dropped off - preferably for free. I would stir it up together a bit so it will break down right on you bed.

    There is also a garden method call lasagna gardening that you could consider. I have used it for years with good success. https://morningchores.com/lasagna-gardening/

    If you have room you could also get chickens or rabbits. They really help break things down and give you more manure. My chickens prepare my beds for me every year.

    What kind of climate do you live in?

  • Michelle DMichelle D Posts: 366 ✭✭✭

    I don't know what the correct answer is here. I am curious to hear what others have to say. I can tell you about a bad experience that I had with cow manure in a garden bed. When we bought this house my husband decided to do a wonderful thing for me and put in a new garden bed. The soil in the area was full of rocks and broken up concrete so we decided to build up. After building a frame he went to he grandmother's farm and loaded the trailer with partially composted manure. He put a layer of manure, a layer of leaves, and then some top soil. It took forever for that manure to compost and I had problems with that bed for years.

  • Monek MarieMonek Marie Moderator Posts: 2,225 admin

    @Michelle D It helps to stir any materials you have together to get it to start to break down. Either stir it or make thin layers and it will break down faster. If you have time (fall is best but spring will work too, cover you pile with black plastic for a few weeks. It will help the material to break down faster and if you have weed seed in manure it will break it down.

    With any manure you have to take into consideration age and if it has weed seeds in it. I got free hoprse manure one year. It was lovley and the gourds were huge but so was the ragweed and wild morning glories.

  • Lisa KLisa K Posts: 664 ✭✭✭✭✭

    With the manure you can make a "Tea" which can then use a clean (no chemical) sprayer over the 30 beds.

  • Monek MarieMonek Marie Moderator Posts: 2,225 admin

    @ashleyvann @Lisa K I had thought of compost tea. It would definitely improve the soil, go further and I have heard it prevents some insect issues

  • frogvalleyfrogvalley Posts: 635 ✭✭✭✭

    Growing comfrey (or other greens) and adding it or making a "tea" for the bed.

    Placing logs on the bottom and then filling in with branches, twigs and then leaves. Make sure to water it. I might purchase compost to fill just the top if I want to grow something this season before the lower items are decomposed. It cost less than filling it with all compost.

    Find a tree service and ask for the mulch, grass, leaves, etc.

    Add seaweed/water vegetation.

    Add dirt from the yard or other areas and mix it in.

    Use sand and/or small rocks from a local stream/river. It adds nutrients, takes up space and loosens the soil.

    Ask a nursery for any old plants. They throw them out all the time.

    Find a local greens grower. Down the street we have one and they throw out tons of greens when they cut them off as they package. They are great for chickens and other animals.

    Pull the leaves off trees and use them. Don't forget pine needles for those that are acid loving.

    Find a restaurant and ask them to save plant leftovers.

    Barter/buy straw.

    I routinely grow things in beds that have leftover food items waiting to decompose just like a forest/field.

    All of these things can be mixed and matched especially if you are going to wait.

  • Lisa KLisa K Posts: 664 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @frogvalley reminded me that if you have a Starbuck's near you they give away their used coffee grounds and possible other food businesses might do the same.

  • frogvalleyfrogvalley Posts: 635 ✭✭✭✭

    Good point @Lisa K ! I totally forgot that I've gotten fish parts from the grocery stores that clean their fish. Lots of stuff out there.

  • SharieSharie Posts: 216 ✭✭✭

    Can you talk to some local landscapers or tree removal companies? Depending on where you live, they might be happy to dump their scraps like lawn clippings, chips, etc. It saves them the dump fees.

  • JodieDownUnderJodieDownUnder Moderator Mid North Coast AustraliaPosts: 897 admin

    @ashleyvann A big warm welcome to TGN forum. You’ll find this group informative, trusting and oh so knowledgeable.

    wow 30 garden beds is huge but resting some is a good idea and growing cover crops, like a legume, peas and beans or a mix, will do the beds wonders. If you can expand your compost area. I ask my neighbours if I can pick up horse poo from there paddocks. A local racehorse trainer lets me come and empty his sawdust and poo trailer into my compost. I rake up deciduous leaves. I’ve even paid for a load of quality mushroom compost to be delivered and shovel that onto my beds and compost. The guys who trim trees from power lines dump me a load or two of wood chip, I let that sit for a while so it’s not too hot and starts to break down. I’m sure you’ll get loads more ideas from other TGN members to help you on your way. Let us know how you get on.

  • nicksamanda11nicksamanda11 Posts: 240 ✭✭✭

    I think all of these ideas are great. I've used quite a few of these things over the years. I mainly do a back to eden garden now but tried a couple of hugelkultur beds as well. If my woodchips aren't broken down enough i just dig a little hole in them and fill it with soil that i make (peat moss, vermiculite, perlite, i make my own bone meal and put in there, clean horse or clean cow manure (be very careful with this cause lots of people spray their fields and it comes out in the poop or they feed their animals crap you don't want coming out in your soil), and sand) and plop in a plant or seed. So far so good.

  • dipat2005dipat2005 Posts: 413 ✭✭✭

    The garden beds at duplex (there were three) were rather messy when we moved in and yet three year s later looked great! I smoothed the soil out a bit then added cardboard and more soil on the top. Rexius has all kinds of compost etc. and I would use something called Nature's Best. Even though I live in a corner apartment now and I have plenty of growing space. Kast tear was mostly an experiment. This year I have planned what I want to grow but I haven't gotten the Miracle Grow yet. Last year used two bags of Miracle Grow and had no weeds. There were a few grass sprouts. On the East side of the apartment there is full sun which is where I mostly want to plant this year. I am still having blurry vision which makes it difficult to drive and I am so sunlight sensitive I am going to start going out later in the evening or earlier in the morning so I can get the gardens ready. It will be good to get some sunshine (with dark glasses).

  • burekcrew86burekcrew86 Posts: 222 ✭✭✭

    We mulch up our fall leaves and put a thick layer in the garden in the fall. Over winter it really breaks down well and in the spring we till it into the soil.

  • flowerpower *flowerpower * Posts: 254 ✭✭✭

    @ashleyvann Are you actually asking how to fill the garden beds up to the top, when compost is scarce? If so, I can say that "dirt" , chopped up twigs, rotting wood, or gravel can be placed on the bottom of the beds and the compost placed in the top 8 inches. Compost can also be mixed with regular top soil as the top 8 inches. I am guessing at the 8 inches level. I am planning on moving my top soil and placing rotting wood underneath. Using rotting wood is new to me.

    I do not like using manure period, but if it is used it must be rotted first. Not sure if anyone mentioned that manure can contain chemicals as well as seeds, and plant diseases like "clubroot". Clubroot is horrible. The chemicals can be medicines like antibiotics given to the animals and they may survive composting. One chemical which is used on grass crops is "Graze-on" and it will stay in the soil for 20 years and kill all garden plants except grasses.

  • frogvalleyfrogvalley Posts: 635 ✭✭✭✭

    @flowerpower * I don't use manure either for the very reasons you express.

    Good luck with using the rotting wood. I had a dry stream going through my property from a correction of an error made by my home owners association. I filled it using the Hugelkultur method, but in a depression. I was able to get rid of many downed trees, limbs, branches, twigs, leaves and mulch without putting them into the governmental waste stream. I felt like a beaver putting them all together like a puzzle. I could walk and drive over within hours of creating it to access my backyard at no cost to me.

    We've been doing the same method for all our raised beds and have saved not only a ton of $, but it's more fertile, holds moisture and quick.

  • water2worldwater2world Sherry Jochen Sevierville, TNPosts: 372 ✭✭✭

    Great question @ashleyvann . I have enjoyed reading all of the suggestions. Good info!

  • TaveTave Moderator In the AndesPosts: 673 admin

    Good question and good comments:) David the Good put out a new video a few days ago that I found very helpful. How to fix a mulch shortage. He also has a good video on how to stretch your compost by making DTG fetid swamp water.

  • Merin PorterMerin Porter Editorial Director Southwest Colorado (Zone 6a)Posts: 760 admin

    I like the idea of trench composting -- I tried it last year, and it seems to have worked pretty well, although of course I've got indented areas in the large bed I used the method in, since the fruit and veggie scraps have rotted over the winter and compressed a bit. With 30 beds, I know that would be a lot of digging and burying, but maybe you could rotate the beds you trench compost in between spring/fall plantings? Not sure this idea would work for you, but thought I would throw it out there..... Let us know what you decide to go with, and how it works out for you!

  • marjstrattonmarjstratton Posts: 390 ✭✭✭

    I have been using spent coffee ground in my potted plants to fertilize them. I throw all of my kitchen scraps in one of my out doors beds. We bury the compost with dirt, (when we remember). Anyway, I really do need to get a compost pile going so that I have enough compost for my beds.

  • VermontCathyVermontCathy Posts: 676 ✭✭✭✭

    No gardener ever has enough compost!

    Leaf mold is excellent compost, but it takes several years to break down unless it is mixed with nitrogen-rich greens in the right proportions. Last year I put a layer of brown leaves about 2" thick on top of all my beds and left it there for the winter. The lower parts of it started to decompose, while the top did not. Then when spring began, I removed the uncomposted leaves off the top and added them to the regular compost pile.

    I typically buy about 1 - 1 1/2 cubic yards of locally-produced compost every other year. Part of this refreshes existing beds, and part is used to create new beds. There is no way I can make enough compost myself to achieve the level of fertility that I want.

    However, in an existing bed with adequate fertility, just adding an inch of good compost to the top should be sufficient to keep it producing. I can usually produce enough from kitchen scraps and leaves to do that in most of my beds.

  • toreytorey Moderator Posts: 3,072 admin


    A belated welcome to TGN!

    Have you checked out "Our Front Porch Welcome" at: https://community.thegrownetwork.com/categories/our-front-porch-welcome%21-%28please-read-before-posting%29

    Or the Introductions section at: https://community.thegrownetwork.com/categories/introductions

    For starters, don't use fresh manure on your garden. It will be "hot" and likely burn any of your plants. Different manures have different "heat" levels; some compost quicker than others. There is at least one exception to the fresh manure rule and that is llama manure. It can be applied fresh and comes already pelleted for use! :)

    If you are sure of your source, composted manure is a wonderful addition to your garden. But as others have suggested, if there was any Grazon (or a variety of other chemicals) used on the feed or bedding for the animals or antibiotics that have been given to the animals, then the manure will be contaminated. I get my well composted manure from an old ranch that has never used chemicals on its hay or its animals. You will likely get weed seeds, though. Manure from a large operation (such as a feed lot or enclosed pen housing) may be contaminated with E-coli.

    Similarly, when buying straw, make sure it hasn't been grown in fields that have been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides or chemical fertilizers. All can have lasting effects.

    I have never tried it, but the Hugelkultur beds certainly sound like a great way to create new growing spaces.

  • Lisa KLisa K Posts: 664 ✭✭✭✭✭
  • OwlOwl Posts: 244 ✭✭✭

    There’s truly never enough mulch or compost! I have meat rabbits and they produce a ridiculous amount of poo! We built gutters under their pens to dump all that poo in bins that I empty in which ever bed needs it most. As my raised beds compact, I fill them in with poo, leaves and clippings from a local yard guy, (who only does yards that don’t get sprayed) and wood chips we got from a tree service that we found working on the side of the road as well as cardboard the grocery store gives me and a little bagged “top soil” I get from Home Depot that smells like cow poo but grows wonderful veggies. I guess it’s probably closer to lasagna gardening but, since we had a bunch of trees harvested in the same year we built our raised beds, there’s an element of hugelkulture there too.

  • VermontCathyVermontCathy Posts: 676 ✭✭✭✭

    @Owl I think people who keep animals have a much easier time getting enough sources of fertility for their gardens. A little bit of manure is worth a lot of plant matter.

  • frogvalleyfrogvalley Posts: 635 ✭✭✭✭

    I was just cleaning an area of weeds and found lots of pots from last year filled with dirt. Just in time as I was trying to top off my raised beds. I dumped them all on the top and will dump some sand, blood meal and part of a bag of small pebbles into it then mix it just a little. I like to mix up the blood meal so my dogs don't get into it. Everything else works it's way down into the ground without mixing.

  • flowerpower *flowerpower * Posts: 254 ✭✭✭

    @frogvalley How much top soil is needed on top of the wood, say to grow short root veggies like rutabagas and carrots, but not potatoes? I topped up a raised bed with rotted wood but its my first time trying this. The raised bed was always needing watering about once a day in sunny weather too, so I am hoping the wood will help keep it moist.

  • frogvalleyfrogvalley Posts: 635 ✭✭✭✭

    @flowerpower * I put logs down and fill the space around them with branches, limbs, twigs and leaves then mulch. Then I add potting soil, dirt, bonemeal, compost, topsoil, straw, and anything else I have/want for about 3-6 inches depending on what I'm growing and sort of mix it. I then add some some pebbles and handfuls of sand. Not as in a layer, but scattered - they work themselves down on their own. We are not growing commercially nor do we depend on the garden to supply most of our food, but I need my beds to produce something the first season they are filled as that's just the type of person I am. Our beds are like a forest floor or a field in that things just get tossed in and they become better and more able to nourish plants over time. I'm not a garden expert by any means and don't spend lots of time in it, but I try to build the foundation as economical and efficient as possible.

    We grow mostly flowers, edible flowers, medicinals and culinary herbs. They aren't as picky and are easier to manage than plants you raise to produce large quantities of food.

    The wood will help keep it moist if you get rain.

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