There is a popular myth that citrus fruits like lemon and orange cannot be composted as they are highly acidic, and sometimes tomatoes are included in this list as well. While tomatoes are acidic, they do not belong to the citrus family and may, in fact, be beneficial to your soil. So can you compost tomatoes? Let’s learn more about it.
Yes, tomatoes can be composted when used in moderation. They are rich in Potassium and are a vital part of green material in your compost, giving nutrient-rich humus. However, to buffer the acidity in tomatoes, add lime or eggshells and supplement the compost with adequate brown materials.
How to Compost Tomatoes?
Tomatoes are delicious and healthy red fruits filled with water and essential nutrients that can enhance the soil quality by diffusing organic matter into your soil.
While composting tomatoes might be easier and similar to composting other materials, there’s a possibility of tomato seedlings sprouting in your compost. So you must be cautious about pulling them off at the right time.
Moreover, you can add your old, unripe, moldy, or rotten tomatoes to your compost, but remember not to include diseased tomatoes as they may carry the pathogens through your compost to the soil and destroy your garden. So it is essential to be careful while choosing tomatoes before composting them.
Tomatoes can be composted through hot composting or Vermicomposting. Let us look deeply at how to compost tomatoes using different methods.
Composting Tomatoes via Vermicomposting
Red wigglers love tomatoes as much as watermelon, muskmelon, squash, pumpkin, and cucumber. These water-rich fruits keep the worm bins moist and healthy, making the red wigglers’ job easier.
If you already have a wormery in your backyard, you can toss a few tomato slices into the bin along with some other food scraps. However, if you are starting a new vermicompost setup, here is a step-by-step guide you need to follow.
Step 1. Set Up Your Worm Bin
Take a wooden crate or plastic box and make holes across it. Cover it with a wire mesh and place it under your kitchen counter or in your backyard in a shady spot. Remember that your worm bin should not be exposed to much light.
Step 2. Prepare the Bedding
Step 3. Add Food Scraps
Add a few chopped tomatoes and eggshell pieces. Also, add other food waste like banana peels, apple cores, tea bags, coffee filters, and other kitchen waste that’s not oily or greasy. You also need to keep meat scraps away from composting in the worm bins.
Now cover the worm bin with gunny bags and let the food materials break down naturally for up to 2 weeks.
Step 4. Add Red Wigglers
Now, add a handful of worms to your wormery. The worms move towards juicy food materials like tomato fruit, watermelon rinds, pumpkin rinds, and cucumber. Now cover the worm bin with the gunny bags and let the worms act upon the food to make rich vermicompost.
Step 5. Maintain the Worm Bin
As the tomatoes contain adequate water, you need to be careful about the moisture content in the bin. The worm bin should not get too dry or too wet.
Your tomato fertilizer will be ready within 2-3 months, and after harvesting these worm castings, you can start a new batch by repeating the process. Dry the vermicompost for 2-3 days before using it for plants, and store it in the bags to nourish your garden for the entire season.
Composting Tomatoes via Hot Composting Method
The hot composting method is widely used to accelerate the composting process and kill the pathogens in the compost. It needs a balance between four major components to carry out the composting process effectively, i.e.
- Carbon-rich brown materials (dry leaves, hay, sawdust, wood chips, paper, cardboard)
- Nitrogen-rich green materials (grass clippings, eggshells, tea bags, coffee filters, vegetable skin, fruit peels)
- Moisture (Water)
- Air (Oxygen)
You need to maintain at least 140°F temperature to kill any harmful pathogens spreading from tomatoes. Also, maintaining this temperature will kill the tomato seed, and you can get rid of growing unwanted tomato plants in your compost bin.
You can either use compost bins or compost tumblers to compost tomatoes through the hot composting method.
1. Composting in Compost Bin
Composting via a compost bin is a popular method used for ages. If you have a compost bin set up, toss a few tomato slices and let nature work on them. But if you are starting composting from scratch, follow the below-mentioned guidelines.
Step 1. Set Up Your Compost Bin
Use a plastic or wooden crate as a compost bin and poke holes across the bin. Make sure it has a lid to prevent the heat from escaping and animals from disturbing the compost. Place the compost bin where it gets heated up quickly through the sunlight.
Step 2. Chop the Tomatoes
Collect healthy tomatoes and wash them with boiled water. Now remove the leaves and tomato vine and chop the tomato fruit into pieces. If using cherry tomatoes, you can toss them as a whole.
Step 3. Make Bed Using Brown Materials
Firstly, collect brown materials and break them into pieces. If paper materials are used, shred them finely and spread them evenly on the bottom of the compost bin. Brown materials act as food for the compost creatures and absorb excess water from the compost.
Step 4. Make a Layer Using Green Materials
Mix the tomato slices with other green materials like grass clippings, eggshells, tea bags, fruit, and vegetable waste. Make sure everything is cut into small pieces. Then add a layer of green materials over the brown ones and dampen the ingredients.
Green materials provide energy to the friendly microbes in the compost and aid in bacterial reproduction.
Step 5. Repeat the Layers
Prepare the bed by layering brown and green materials and seal them with a firm layer of soil on the top. You can also add manure to accelerate the process.
Step 6. Maintain the Compost
Turn the compost heap using a pitchfork to generate heat if the compost cools down. Turning the compost helps to raise the temperature and continue the cooking process. Also, check the moisture in the compost pile regularly and water it accordingly.
If you find the compost being soaked in water, add more brown materials to it. Use a thermometer and moisture meter for best results. Moreover, since tomatoes are acidic, you can add lime to neutralize them if you dump too many tomato fruits into your compost pile.
Within three months, your composted manure will be ready, and you can use it in your garden soil to enrich it with organic matter.
2. Composting Tomatoes in Compost Tumblers
Compost tumblers are yet another easy and effective method of composting tomatoes by utilizing the heat generated during the process. Let us look into the process of composting tomatoes using tumblers.
Step 1. Chop Tomatoes into Smaller Pieces
Wash the tomatoes and cut them into small pieces to hasten decomposition.
Step 2. Set Up Your Tumbler
Get a tumbler online or from the gardening store and place it in your backyard. If you already have one, clean it properly before tossing the materials.
Step 3. Collect Green and Brown Materials
Gather some brown materials from your backyard and cut them into small pieces. Then, collect some green materials like grass clippings and food scraps and mix them with tomato pieces.
Step 4. Add Composting Materials to the Tumbler
Mix the brown and green materials and add them to the tumbler. Remember to fill only 80% space of the tumbler. Now turn the tumbler to mix the ingredients well. Sprinkle water over the materials and close the lid.
Step 5. Maintain the Tumbler
Do not add additional composting materials once you close the lid. This will quicken the composting process. Remember to turn the tumbler once every 3-4 days to keep the internal temperature high. You will get finished compost within a few weeks, and then you can add the next batch of composting materials to the tumbler.
Can you Compost Tomato Plants?
Healthy tomato plants can be composted through the hot compost method after chopping them finely. You can use tomato leaf, fruit, tomato vine, or any other plant matter for composting as long as it’s disease-free.
But most tomato plants are susceptible to diseases like fusarium wilt, verticillium wilt, bacterial canker, septoria leaf spot, or tomato blight. They can thrive even after composting and carry the disease to the crops through compost. So it is not recommended to use tomato plants for composting at home.
Also, tomato plants take a while to break down, somewhere between 3-12 months, depending on the ideal conditions you maintain while composting. So, you need to maintain a temperature between 131 and 170°F while composting tomato plants to kill the pathogens and accelerate the decomposition process.
Moreover, it is recommended not to use the compost made from old tomato plants for your tomato garden or other vegetable gardens.
Benefits of Composting Tomatoes
Composting tomatoes comes with several benefits. Here are a few benefits you must know:
- Tomatoes are rich in Potassium and other vital nutrients and add organic material to your soil.
- Tomatoes are acidic in nature; thus, tomato fertilizer can be used for acid-loving plants.
- By composting tomatoes, you can save waste from going to landfills.
- Composting tomatoes is easy, cost-effective, and a substitute for synthetic fertilizer.
- Tomatoes add moisture to the compost and break down quickly.
Additional Tips for Composting Tomatoes
Whoever has a garden will definitely consider planting tomatoes as they are essential staples in our kitchen. You can find abundant tomatoes in the growing season and can delight your taste buds with the tangy flavor of tomatoes.
But if you find too many fruits in your kitchen, you can consider composting them to get rich fertilizer for your garden. Here are some essential tips that will help you compost tomatoes effectively:
- Avoid using chemically treated tomatoes for composting. If your tomatoes are not organic, wash them in hot water first.
- Cut tomatoes into smaller pieces before adding them to the compost and remove their stems and leaves. However, you can add cherry tomatoes as a whole.
- As tomatoes are acidic, add lime or eggshells to neutralize the pH of the compost.
- Remove the tomato seedling before composting tomatoes to avoid the sprouting of a tomato plant. The seedling may also become the source of weed seeds in your garden.
- Add brown materials like shredded paper, cardboard, newspaper, or dried leaves to soak excess water in tomatoes and balance the compost.
- Turn the compost to generate heat if using the hot composting method.
- Do not compost tomatoes from diseased plants or old tomato plants carrying any fungal spores.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you compost whole tomatoes?
Yes, you can compost whole tomatoes along with tomato vine and leaves. Tomatoes are filled with water and break down quickly, making them an ideal composting material. Moreover, it adds Potassium and some other vital nutrients to the compost.
Can I use tomato compost for other plants?
Yes, as long as you are composting healthy tomatoes, you can use tomato compost to fertilize other crops. Tomatoes make good compost as they are rich in nutrients.
Can I reuse compost from tomatoes with blight?
No, it is not recommended to reuse the compost from tomatoes affected by blight. Tomato blight is a soil-borne disease that can spread through your compost to tomato plants and other solanaceous crops like potatoes and eggplants in your garden and damage them.
Can you put rotten tomatoes in a compost pile?
You can use rotten tomatoes in your compost as rotting indicates that the decomposition has started. Using rotten tomatoes in your compost pile will hasten their decomposition.
Is tomato brown or green part of compost?
Tomatoes are considered green composting materials as they are rich in water content. So, mix them with brown materials to balance the compost.
Like many other fruits, Tomatoes can be composted as they are rich in nutrients and water. They make the green components in the compost pile, enriching the compost with Nitrogen and acting as a soil supplement. However, make sure to add them in moderation as they are acidic and may alter the pH of your compost.
While composting tomatoes, avoid using fruits affected with pathogens or diseased plants as they might contaminate your whole compost and spread in your garden. So next time when you see any waste or rotten tomatoes in your fridge, do not have a second thought; just compost them.