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Old Compost and the Surprise Tomatoes

June 30th, 2014 by Trisha

Did you know that tomato plants, as well as most other plants grow like weeds under the right conditions? I didnt. Great garden soil is the key. I always have such a hard time growing healthy tomatoes and getting high yields. I thought my soil was adequate. I got a real surprise when a few tomato seeds sprouted in an old compost bin. What was more surprising is that these plants didn’t need my help at all. I havent even watered them, and it’s been hot! Unlike the tomatoes in the veggie garden that I baby – picked the perfect varieties, planted correctly, fertilize, water often and weed daily… these surprise plants are at least double the size. How did this happen?

Tomatoes I planted. bah! puny

My surprise tomatoes. hows that for wow factor?
great garden soil

So whats the deal? How did these tomato plants grow like THAT? Its all about the soil.

Great Garden Soil!

Last year, this garden used to be a humongous compost bin. It was a smelly eyesore, right at the street where people walk by to attend our sales. It had to go. I wasnt exactly sure what to do with the area until some of last years tomatoes that I threw into the compost germinated in the soil. This year, its fully decomposed and has created amazingly great garden soil. Light and fluffy, well draining yet retains moisture, and full of nutrients that tomatoes need to grow. There’s at very least a good 6″ of compost here.

great garden soil

Growing great tomatoes doesnt have to be hard if you start with great garden soil. Keep adding as much rich compost as you can get your hands on and watch your tomatoes grow like weeds!

UPDATE! August 2014
The tomatoes grew so great, I was psyched to see how well other plants would do here. I ran around the nursery on a mission to “save my babies”. I snatched up handfuls of the pipsqueaks and the poor, sick plants, crying for help. Having to sit in 1 gallon plastic containers in the bright hot sun, some were nearing their demise. Quickly, with very little thought, I filled in the rest of the garden, fastest garden I’ve ever planted… In 2 months, every single plant is thriving, some quadrupled in size! I watered this garden exactly twice. Once when the plants went in, and once a week later.

2014 experiment great garden soil

growth with great garden soil


worms? YES! with great garden soilI honestly have never seen anything like it in real life. Click the photo to enlarge. I HAVE seen this many worms in my research on vermicomposting (worm composting). Digging this up was every bit as gross as the photos online. But if worms mean great garden soil, this soil is beyond amazing.

I didnt stake those surprise tomatoes.  I wanted to see how they’d grow without my ‘help’. So the plant flopped and tomatoes rotted underneath all summer. When I cleared the last tomato and dug to plant ornamental grasses, I found this clump. Worms must really like rotten tomatoes. I am not complaining! I’m very tempted to dig the rotten tomatoes out of the compost pile and spread them throughout all of my gardens 😀

Call me a lazy slob, but I like the idea of composting straight on top of an existing garden. Geoff Lawton, the permaculture king, calls it “chop and drop”.  Prune your plants and drop the debris right under the plant. Its how nature does it. Since its messy, we have wood chips standing by to cover the future compost, so the garden looks presentable. If youve seen the film ‘Back to Eden‘, they attribute amazing growth to woodchips as the magic ingredient. I use woodchips all the time and its a fantastic ingredient for compost and an awesome weed suppressing mulch. I also believe that grass clippings is an essential ingredient in compost. As the grass clippings would begin to smell, we’d throw on a layer of woodchips. In the original compost bin, the main ingredients were exactly that – woodchips (brown) and grass clippings (green). We threw in a lot of yard debris and plant material from the nursery as well as a few garbage bags of used coffee grinds donated by Starbucks. The more the materials the better for great compost,  but our base was woodchips and grass clippings.

UPDATE! July 2015… 1 Year Later

After 1 year, this garden has grown like nothing Id ever experienced in my 7 years of gardening. And literally, its the talk of the town! The plants are bigger, healthier and flower more profusely than anywhere else in the yard. There is only one explanation. Great soil! Now, Ive learned a new method for starting a garden… Build a compost bin first! It takes a year before I plant a single plant, but its SO worth it.

amazing garden with great garden soil
great garden soil - garden
great garden soil  garden 2

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