Tony O’Neill, gardener and author of the popular “Composting Masterclass” and “Your First Vegetable Garden,” combines lifelong passion and expert knowledge to simplify the art of gardening. His mission? Helping you cultivate a thriving garden. More on Tony O’Neill
There is a heated debate about composting tomato plants. Some people have no objections to composting tomato plants, while others are outraged at the mere thought of composting. Plants are, by definition, composed of vegetable matter and will decompose due to this composition.
When working in an idealistic environment, composting tomato plants is a difficult task. Failure to do so correctly may result in problems the following season, so most farmers prefer to discard their potato plants and forego composting entirely.
However, it is best to avoid composting in a basic garden compost heap unless necessary. Although tomato vine stems are tough, they do not decompose as quickly as everything else in their environment. The seeds of stray tomatoes left on the vines during composting may also cause the emergence of rogue plants wherever the compost is dispersed in the garden.
Their children will likely not be worth picking if they are not worth picking. According to research, most compost heaps do not reach a temperature high enough to kill fungal spores and diseases that the plant may be harboring regularly. Some risks are associated with composting these plants, including insufficient material breakdown, undesirable volunteer plants’ growth, and disease spread.
It is possible that composting potato plants will cause problems that will persist in the compost for several years and that this will result in serious damage to future crops—not only tomatoes but also other plants in the nightshade family, such as bell peppers, potato plants, aubergines, and chili peppers.
Putting it simply, composting tomato plants is not a healthy activity. Let’s look at each of the issues arising from the exercise.
Volunteer plants in the garden
The composting of fruit and tomato vines increases the chance that some seeds will survive the winter and germinate, resulting in seedlings appearing in random locations throughout the garden in the following spring. Always remove the fruit from the vines and dispose of it in the trash rather than adding it to the compost pile to avoid contamination.
A temperature of at least 140°F must be maintained in the compost pile for two weeks to kill the seeds.
The fact that you have extra tomatoes you didn’t have to work for may be a good thing, depending on your perspective.
However, try not to get too excited about it!
Although volunteer tomatoes can produce a large harvest, if you have grown hybrid varieties, it is also possible that they will produce no fruit at all. Furthermore, they may harbor infectious agents that can potentially spread to the rest of your crop.
Even though it is generally recommended to remove volunteer tomatoes, farmers occasionally give in to their curiosity and allow a few to germinate.
I recommend removing any volunteers from any areas where tomatoes were grown last season and from any areas where tomatoes will be produced this season, even if there are only one or two.
If you notice them on your compost pile, flip it over and dig them in. They won’t hurt anything.
Infected tomatoes pass on their disease to the next generation
The spread of disease is the most dangerous associated with composting these plants. It has been shown that if microbes in plant material survive the composting process, they can reappear and wreak havoc on the following season’s crop.
In the middle of an unmanaged compost pile, many bacteria and fungi can survive on plant tissue and produce toxins. For example, viruses such as late blight and early blight can survive the winter on vines that have not fully decomposed.
The pile must be kept at a high temperature to compost potentially diseased plants safely. To accomplish this, the temperature must be maintained between 131 to 170°F.
Composting is critical to ensure that plant material degrades properly and that pathogens are destroyed.
Place suspect tomato plants in a second pile far away from the garden and discard them there, along with weeds, grass, and any other vine plant material that does not decompose well or contains unwanted seeds, instead of trashing them in the garden.
Some diseases can survive even when properly composted, including fusarium wilt, verticillium, and bacterial canker. If you suspect your plants of harboring disease, removing them from the pile is generally recommended. This will save you time and aggravation in the long run.
It is strongly recommended that you create a second pile if you have the space available. All you have to do is keep it out of the way and avoid using finished compost in your vegetable beds.
Inadequate breakdown of the materials
Tomato vines are huge and may not decompose properly if thrown into the compost without being separated from the rest of the compost. Aside from the potential for disease transmission, Vine compost is unpleasant. Before tossing it in, always break down plant material into smaller pieces to avoid creating a large vine-strewn mess.
Composting is an art form in itself. Correcting ratios can mean a great result or a smelly, slimy mess. To learn more about composting, check out this blog post or watch the video below.
Management of piles
With the associated risks, which include insufficient material breakdown, the spread of diseases, and the presence of volunteer plants in the garden, there are numerous concerns to consider when looking ahead to potential problems. To what extent is it ever worthwhile to compost tomato plants?
As long as you maintain proper management of your hot compost pile, you should be able to keep it between 131 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Moisture, oxygen, and a well-balanced mixture of materials are all essential components of the composting process. A good air circulation system is necessary because it prevents beneficial bacteria from breaking down the material alive and thriving.
Turning the pile is recommended a minimum of five times every 15 days to increase airflow through the pile. Additionally, water is necessary for the survival of those bacteria. Maintain a moist but not soggy pile of materials.
Maintaining control over the materials you’re adding is also critical. Strive to balance “green” nitrogen-rich and “brown” carbon-heavy material.
It is recommended to maintain a ratio of three to four parts, “browns” to one piece, “greens.” When you add food scraps, green plant material, or grass clippings to the compost pile, it is essential to include dead plant matter, leaves, and straw.
Depending on the methods and management practices you employ, it could take anywhere from three months to a year to completely break down the material into compost that can be utilized.
Do not be alarmed!
Make your own decision about whether composting those tomato plants is a worthwhile investment of your time. When deciding whether or not to go ahead with it, remember to follow these guidelines:
Any material that exhibits signs of bacterial or fungal disease should be disposed of or separated.
Break up large pieces of tomato plants before tossing them in.
Adequate airflow, relative humidity, and equalizing green and brown materials will keep your pile hot and active.
Like other plants, tomatoes can be composted to create a nutrient-dense soil amendment. The only thing required is more thought and consideration to get it right.
The following are some of the benefits that come with composting tomato plants.
Increasing the rate of growth
The importance of some nutrients found in synthetic fertilizers, which are often lacking in compost, has recently been recognized by plant scientists, making compost an even more valuable soil conditioner. In addition, because tomatoes are long-term heavy feeders, they benefit from the slow-release effect of compost on their growth.
Vermicomposting and composting
In terms of recycled products, compost is the ultimate because it improves the soil’s condition while also doing so naturally. Ectoparasites, such as earthworms and beetles, eat food scraps and yard waste and shred them into smaller particles consumed by bacteria and fungus.
Composted material has the properties of improving soil fertility, increasing aeration, and providing nourishment to plants, as demonstrated above.
In the presence of earthworms, primarily red wigglers, vermicompost can be produced, a mixture of composted waste and castings made from the excrement of the worms.
When should tomato plants be composted?
Because you now understand several reasons you should not compost your tomato plants, you might wonder when the best time is to compost tomatoes. The answer is yes, as you may have guessed. According to the USDA, gardeners can compost tomato plants as long as the plants are free of fungal and bacterial diseases.
Spotting wilt virus and curly top virus-infected plants will not survive long on a dead tomato plant because the disease will kill them before they can reproduce.
As a result, composting should be used for such plants. Composting also results in the breakdown of plant matter into smaller pieces. Before placing the plant matter in the compost pile, break it into smaller pieces to avoid contamination. Good compost pile management is essential for converting spent tomato plants into compost used for gardening.
For tomatoes to perform optimally, the soil must be rich in minerals, including minerals obtained from composting the plants.
On the other hand, pure compost may be deficient in important minerals that tomatoes require to perform at their best. You can make the best compost by combining soil from the local landscape with granite dust, compost, and topsoil.
FAQs on Can you compost tomato plants? (This will surprise you)
What do you do with old tomato plants?
The best solution is to dispose of the plants in a municipal garbage can or compost bin. Early blight, Verticillium wilt, and Fusarium wilt are all soil-borne diseases that affect tomatoes. Crop rotation is another good way to limit disease transmission.
How often should you turn compost?
Every 4-5 weeks, the average composter flips the pile. When turning the compost pile, ensure that items from the center are moved to the margins and materials from the outside edges are transferred to the center.
Can I put moldy fruit in my compost?
Moldy food (vegetables and fruits) can be thrown into a backyard composting bin anytime. Mold cells are several microorganisms that help with decomposition and are safe in a backyard bin.
Conclusion on Can you compost tomato plants
A healthy tomato plant is a happy plant, and a happy plant produces the best-tasting tomatoes. You can keep the disease from attacking your tomato plants by carefully composting them. When planting your tomatoes, choose a location with well-drained soil and plenty of sunlight.
Planting them too close together is not recommended; instead, plant them at a moderate distance apart. Tomatoes thrive best when they are grown in a row. Spacing also promotes proper air circulation, which results in healthier plants.
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