Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tomato Vines and Composting.

Having trained the tomato vines this year to stay inside the wire cages has paid off in an unexpected way. When it came time to pull the plants out of the ground, all I had to do was gather all the vines together at the top of the cage for each individual plant, pull that group of vines with two hands until the roots broke loose, and then lift it straight up out of the cage. It required no fighting the cage at all, because the three foot long metal fence post that I used on each cage held them pretty firmly in place.

After removing the tomato vines, I untied the fence post from the cage, lifted the cage up, and pulled any stray weeds from the cage material so it would be ready for next year. Then I pulled up the post and stacked them as well. It was all well worth the trouble of keeping the vines growing inside the cages by checking each one every day or two. Another benefit from using the field fencing material for the cages was that when the cages were bent or distorted from their original cylindrical shape, all it required to straighten them out was a little tug here and there. No forceful bending was required because the fencing material is wound, not welded.

As I removed each plant, I piled them up by the edge of the garden where I would be able to run the lawn mower over them to prepare them for composting. That requires some work, but it's well worth it for accelerating the composting process.

This is one of my tomato vines that I just couldn't resist measuring. From the base of the plant, not the root, to the end of the majority of the vines, it measured 13 feet! That's a big tomato plant!

As you can see, 23 tomato plants of that size make quite a pile to mulch up with a lawn mower. But, it will sure be worth it for the resulting benefits for the compost pile.

After mowing them up, pile by pile, there would be these residual vines that escaped the blade of the mower. I would just take a lawn rake and rake them up into a pile, then raise the front of the mower up and lower it onto the pile. Upon completion of the mulching of the vines, to clean the area of the small pieces that would smother the grass, I used the lawn rake again and raked those residual clippings onto the garden area for tilling into the soil later on.

As you can see in the area after the tomato plants were removed, in my opinion, there was a low occurrence of weed growth due to the thick vines blocking out the sun so the weed seeds couldn't germinate.

Here are the processed tomato vines in my hot composting area. In their mulched form, they are a welcome addition to my composting efforts. I have been composting for a few years now. One of the main things I have learned through trial and error is that the smaller the pieces, the faster and more thorough the composting process. I try to make it a practise to turn my compost pile every three or four days.

Here is a picture for a size comparison between the mulched tomato vines and an ordinary ink pen. Notice that the vast majority of the vines are now small to tiny pieces. The microbes that perform the composting process work in from the edge of the material. Therefore, the more edges you provide for the microbes, the faster the composting process, and the greater the heat generated by their activity. Their activity consumes oxygen. That's why I think it is very important to turn the compost every three or four days to replenish the oxygen and keep the composting process going at full speed. Just think, if you only roughly chopped the vines into shorter lengths, say a foot or so, how much longer would that add to the composting process? Combine only rough chopping with not turning the pile and you can essentially add months if not years to the composting process. I need my compost before that length of time. I have read extensively on the composting process, and I disagree with most of what I have read and have watched in videos. But that discussion will be for another time.

This is what my blended compost looks like in the hot pile. When I turn the pile in three or four days from now, the green material will all be a yellowish brown. When I turn it the next time, it will all be brown. It will still need routine turning to replenish the oxygen, so I'll keep it up. If you are so inclined, you could turn it everyday, just for the exercise. You can really see the advancement of the composting process that way. It's like a science experiment.

Well, that's all for this posting. It's raining lightly today so I can't till the soil. Tomorrow, I'll probably be tilling up the remainder of the garden that hasn't been planted with cool weather crops, getting it ready for the rest of my vegetables.

Thanks for visiting and happy vegetable gardening!

Veggie PAK

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