COMPOST All leftovers, but recipe for success for gardeners

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 4, 2011

Compost is one of the hallmarks of an organic philosophy of gardening and it is alive and well in gardens throughout Warren County.

“You don’t realize the value of all the stuff that you are throwing away,” said Thomas Lewis, a gardener who lives in Lake Forest subdivision. “I have been composting most of my adult life, and I would not be without a compost pile.”

Lewis has a large drum-style composter and often keeps another pile in the backyard when he has a lot of extra materials.

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Grass clippings, shredded leaves, vegetable clippings, egg shells and coffee and tea grounds all may be incorporated into a compost pile.

“I put in everything but meat scraps,” he said.

Other items that should never be included are large chunks of wood; bones; shell; feces of humans, dogs or cats; diseased plant material; weed seeds or other noxious invasive plant parts; or fat, oils or grease.

Compost needs moisture — and occasionally aeration — in addition to a good balance of raw organic material. Then the microorganisms take over and turn the raw materials into humus or “green gold.”

Lewis has built a reputation related to his tasty tomatoes and generosity in sharing the fruits of his labor. He and his wife moved here just a few years ago from a home on the Ross Barnett Reservoir, where they also gardened. Before that, they had lived and gardened in Holmes County.

Using only small plots at each location, he has managed to get a significant harvest every season for more than 30 years.

He has even been in a friendly competition with his brother during much of that time, said his daughter, but, “Daddy always wins when it comes to tomatoes.”

“Compost has a lot to do with my success” he said.

Tomatoes are still producing in his garden. New growth is coming on with fresh blooms and tiny new tomatoes forming that promise a good crop of fall fruit. The plants are tall, about 10 feet to 12 feet.

The bed in which they grow is half-filled with compost worked into the soil. The friable soil allows the tomato roots to extend into the soil about 2 feet, Lewis said. Compost is desirable because it feeds the plants slowly and continuously, allows good air penetration to the roots, offers a favorable pH and holds water much better without becoming soggy than soil containing little or no organic material.

Lewis said there are several other practices he feels have added to his success. He puts Plant Guardian Biofungicide mixed with water into every planting hole.

He gets this product from, a company that advertises environmentally responsible products. This has eliminated root problems.

He also uses another of the company’s products, Tomatoes Alive, and declares that it is the best tomato fertilizer he has ever tried. It has the major nutrients in addition to numerous micronutrients.

“SprayNGrow is another product that gardeners need to know about,” he said. It’s a vitamin that enhances growth by activating dormant microorganisms, enabling plants to better utilize nutrients, according to the company website.

“ Varieties such as Early Girl and Better Boy seem to do better in this part of the country but I like Big Boy, July 4th, Park’s Whopper and Celebrity,” he said.

He grew some Brandywines this year as well but said they were more trouble to grow.

Never underestimate the importance of getting a soil test before you try to grow vegetables, he explained.

His soil, like much of that throughout Warren County, was too acid for vegetables and required the addition of lime. Fall is the best time to do this if you want to plant vegetables next spring. It takes several months for the lime to change the soil’s pH. Gardeners also need to choose a location with at least eight hours of sunshine, he suggested.

Miriam Jabour, a Master Gardener and Master Flower Show judge, has been active in the Openwood Plantation Garden Club for over 35 years. Write to her at 1114 Windy Lake Drive, Vicksburg, MS 39183.