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If your vegetable garden is not quite what you want it to be, chances are… you need to work on your soil. Why? Because great soil is the foundation of any thriving vegetable and fruit garden.
If you are a seasoned grower, you may have heard the mantra: “Feed the soil, not the plants.” After working on an organic farm and picking the brains of many talented growers, I have learned that this is the “secret” to successful and sustainable organic agriculture: build the soil over time.
Although it’s great to be a gardener in always-sunny Florida, we have a particular challenge with our natural soil here. In fact, the #1 concern that I hear from local gardeners is:
So ESPECIALLY in Florida, there is one thing a productive garden depends on, even as much as it depends on water. And that is:
Organic Matter for Successful Soil Building
Particularly in sandy areas, good garden soil depends on REGULAR inputs of quality organic matter to add life systems to our barren, beach-like soil.
Instead of trucking in a bulk-load of compost — spreading it and forgetting it until the season is over and you realize you didn’t get quite what you wanted out of your garden — what you must do instead is make organic matter a regular part of your garden regimen. Build your soil gradually and over time.
We have developed the Compost CSA with this principle in mind: soil-building is a constant and essential process. That is why our Compost CSA members have chosen to make a commitment to their gardens by joining our program to receive soil amendments on a monthly basis along with educational materials that offer help in the process of building great garden soil! Keep reading to learn more.
FYI: We are currently testing Gainesville’s first Compost CSA program with a handful of members. Enter your email address here to be notified when we re-open the membership program to the public:
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Why Organic Matter Matters
Organic matter, or compost, is an essential soil-builder and the foundation of life in any successful garden. This is how it works in nature, too.
Consider the forest floor:
- On the ground, there are layers of leaves and other decomposing plant matter. Think of this as the mulch in your garden.
- Beneath this decomposing matter is the humus, the rich, fresh, compost-like organic matter that has been broken down by active populations of microbes, fungi, and worms in the soil. This layer of humus is where plant roots receive most of their nutrition. It can be compared to the layer of compost that you add to your garden every few weeks.
- Beneath the top humus layer is the topsoil, which is often rich in humus that has been assimilated from the upper soil layers. In your garden, the compost becomes like topsoil as you water the ground and allow the organic matter to incorporate itself deeper into the soil.
- Lower still in the forest floor is the subsoil, which contains lower amounts of humus and organic life. Imagine that a poorly-managed vegetable garden is like straight subsoil without any humus or decomposing organic matter.
By thinking of the forest floor, we can understand why regular additions of organic matter are vital to a healthy garden. Because a plant’s feeder roots are located within the top 1 to 3 inches of the soil, this top layer of rich organic matter is ESSENTIAL to providing nourishment to your plants.
Good soil requires regular inputs of life and nutrition (in the form of compost) in order to maintain an environment needed for your vegetable and fruit-bearing plants to thrive.
Quality compost will introduce microbial and fungal colonies that work to gradually build soil structure, just like in the forest. By adding thin layers of compost around your plants every month to two weeks, you feed these microorganisms so that they can continue doing what they do best: building your soil.
In Gainesville we have created a program specifically designed to help gardeners build soil life over time: The Compost CSA.
Join the Compost CSA: Community Supported Agriculture Redefined
Each month, our Compost CSA members receive:
- A bucket of the most premium local soil amendment in town, made from local restaurant food scraps — including a wide range of nutrients from fresh vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, coffee grounds, egg shells and more!
- A spray bottle of Worm Castings Tea, a potent foliar spray and liquid soil amendment made by nature’s #1 recyclers: earthworms!
- Exclusive access to The Compost Collective, a members-only portal filled with educational articles, audio interviews and videos on how to use your share of compost to grow amazing food. Our educational program helps guide you through the process of building your soil.
- Restaurant deals from participating local restaurants, available only to our Compost CSA members.
How We Turn Restaurant Food Waste Into “Black Gold” for Gainesville Gardens
Gainesville Compost is a premium soil amendment that gives rebirth to your soil. And it’s LOCALLY-MADE with bicycle power.
How it Works: The Gainesville Compost Process
The Gainesville Compost Bike Crew collects food waste from local restaurants and turns it into a vital soil conditioner for home and restaurant gardens. We are closing the loop between waste and food!
(Image credit: Diana Moreno)
(Image credit: Diana Moreno)
Gainesville Compost benefits restaurants, community gardens, and home gardeners. We are proud to do this work to benefit the community and are grateful for all the attention we have received for this initiative.
Even Gainesville newspapers & bloggers love Gainesville Compost!
Building the Soil Food Web
In the book Teaming with Microbes, author Jeff Lowenfels says we must shun chemical fertilizers in favor of a new purpose:
To garden in a way that strengthens, rather than destroys, the soil food web — the complex world of soil-dwelling organisms whose interactions create a nurturing environment for plants.
As we said earlier, a productive garden requires regular inputs of compost to feed and maintain the living soil food web. Gainesville compost contains all the right food for your garden, including fully-decomposed restaurant food scraps, worm castings, and a host of beneficial microorganisms that promote life in your soil.
It is all about the microbes! By adding beneficial microbe cultures to the garden on a regular basis (via quality compost), you encourage the conditions for building good soil structure and developing a web of beneficial life that has the potential to fight off threatening pathogens or diseases.
How Do I Receive My Share of Compost?
We invite the Gainesville community to support and participate in this innovative new composting program, and receive locally-made compost for successful and sustainable urban gardening.
The Gainesville Compost CSA is a spin-off of the local farm CSA model, where community members pay to join a season-long membership with a local farmer to receive weekly produce throughout the season.
Aside from being the financial enablers of the Gainesville Compost program, Compost CSA members receive compost products on a regular basis at the local markets.
Somewhat like a traditional CSA, a Compost CSA membership gets Gainesville gardeners regular helpings of locally-made compost and worm castings teas to build healthy and productive garden soil.
Compost CSA members also receive educational tips and tutorials for gardening with compost, and weekly face time with our local compost experts at the farmers’ markets.
The Gainesville Compost Blend
Locally-made Gainesville Compost is a blend of materials from restaurants in Gainesville, Florida.
Gainesville Compost contains:
- Fruit & vegetable scraps
- Coffee grounds
- Egg shells
- … AND a mixture of vermicompost (with worm castings), a worm compost made locally with Florida-bred worms and Gainesville food scraps
A Gainesville Compost CSA helps improve the soil food web in your garden so that your fruit and vegetable plants can better access nutrients, grow strong, and provide you and/or your family with nutritious food.
We also give you access to our educational Compost Collective portal where you can learn how to use compost to build thriving garden soil over time.
Nourish and promote life in your garden and it will nourish and promote life in you!
Join the Gainesville Compost CSA today!
Update: Please Add Yourself to the Waiting List
We are developing the Compost CSA program with a small group of members and will be with you shortly when we re-open the program to the public. Please add yourself to the waiting list below.
Thanks for your patience, we look forward to serving you as the next Compost CSA member!
IMPORTANT: Sign up below to be notified when we re-launch the Compost CSA:
About the Author: Chris Cano is Compost Experience Officer (CEO) at Gainesville Compost, a Pedal Powered Community Compost Network founded in Gainesville, Florida in 2011. Gainesville Compost is a project of BikeCompost, which works to promote bicycle power and community composting nationwide.
Living in Gainesville? Ask about our Green Bucket program.
Get your food waste collected by bike. Get compost back. Get access to restaurant deals from
our composting partners. Sign up below for the details plus a discount on your first month.