It all starts in the soil! It is impossible to overstate how important a rich and fertile soil is to the health of your plants. The billions of micro-organisms in a healthy, fertile soil give your plants access to the nutrients they need to grow and be nutritious; they provide your plants with a loose and airy soil structure that is easy for roots to navigate; and they protect your plants from disease pathogens and reduce susceptibility to pests. Because it works so hard for your plants, soil needs to be fed and protected.
Fertilizing soil with compost is much better for soil fertility than chemical fertilizers, which kill beneficial microorganisms. We like to build two pallet compost bins for time efficiency, switching the full contents of one over to the other. Click here for a tutorial on building pallet composters.
Maintaining a good ratio between nitrogen (“green stuff” like fresh grass clippings, food scraps, and yard waste) and carbon (“brown stuff” like dried plants, dead leaves, and shredded paper) is key. We put 10 cm (4″) deep layers in our compost bins, consisting of one layer of green, one layer of brown, and then 1 cm (1/2″) of dirt to speed things up. This will leave out unpleasant odours, and will not attract rodents or pests. It will also maintain an internal temperature of 150°C, destroying any weed seeds, pathogens, and fungus before the compost is added to the garden.
Like your garden, make sure to water your compost pile regularly, especially in hot summer months.
The best way to use your finished compost is to feed it to a big batch of worms, which convert it into a rich and beneficial fertilizer for your vegetables. House your worms in a big wooden box outside, filled with your finished compost. The internal temperature will stay at 150°C all year if your box is big enough. Hay bales can be used to insulate the box and prevent the outer edges from getting too cold. Urban agriculture guru Will Allen only uses wormcastings and compost tea for fertilizer and insecticide for his entire market growing operation!