Chop-and-drop your dead vegetables

How to Chop-and-Drop Your Dead Vegetables

The frost has come with the cool autumn weather and the vegetable garden is spent. Do you remove all your spent vegetables and put them in the compost? That seems like a lot of work—is there an easier way? A great way is to chop-and-drop your dead vegetables and compost them in place.

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It’s always a little sad when the garden is hit by the first hard frost and the vegetables start to die. But this cycle is an important part of how your garden is rejuvenated for next spring’s abundance.

This is the time to help build soil and return fertility that was lost through the harvests.

Often people compost their dead vegetables in compost piles. While this can be a great option, you may not get enough material to benefit your whole garden if your garden is relatively small. Plus, in my view, this is just more work then you need to do!

When you’re using a compost pile, you need to watch the ratios of your browns and your greens to optimize the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio. You also need to turn the pile occasionally to keep it well-aerated.

The easier option is to compost in place and chop-and-drop your dead vegetables.

This will save you time and energy and return fertility to your garden. Ready to learn more? Great! But before you keep reading, make sure to grab your free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet all about chop-and-drop!

The Basics of How to Chop-and-Drop Your Dead Vegetables

Get started with chop-and-dropping your dead vegetables

While chopping and dropping your dead vegetables will take time, it’s a great way to mimic nature and return fertility to your garden soil. Plus, it supports all sorts of beneficial soil life, which will in turn support your garden!

Chop-and-drop is a fantastic technique that I highly recommend. If you want to learn more about the benefits—and why you should chop-and-drop not just your vegetables, but your other plants, too—then make sure to check out my blog post all about chop-and-drop.

While it seems really simple to chop-and-drop your dead vegetables—just cut them up and drop them on top of your mulch—here are a few tips that will help you get the most out of it.

First, make sure you don’t pull your dead vegetables up out of the ground. To get the most from chop-and-dropping your dead vegetables, you need to leave the roots in the ground. Just cut them off at the soil edge and then cut up the part above ground.

This way, the roots will decompose in place and add organic material directly to your soil. While this might seem like a small amount of organic mater, if you do it year after year, this will add a lot of great organic material deep down in your soil.

It will also feed beneficial soil life, like earth worms!

Second, make sure to chop up your vegetables into small pieces. I like to aim for no more than 6 inches (15.24 cm) long.

These smaller pieces will look nicer and also break down faster. Don’t worry if some pieces are longer. Just aim for this smaller size.

If the vegetables are really thick, like kale trunks, then I chop them up even smaller.

Third, place any new much down first before you start to chop-and-drop your dead vegetables. I like to spread a layer of leaf mold to my garden beds each fall. Then I chop-and-drop my dead vegetables on top of the leaf mold.

This way, the dead vegetables can help hold the leaf mold in place and keep it from blowing away!

That really is it—this is a simple technique, but one that will build your soil fertility in place and save you the time and energy of building and maintaining a compost pile.

Final Thoughts and How to Get Started in Your Garden

Time to start today. Chop-and-drop your dead vegetables

While it doesn’t always look pretty, I know that under and within the mulch and chop-and-drop material, my garden is filled with life. This life will transform the dead vegetables and mulch into amazing soil that will, in turn, help my vegetables grow in the spring and summer!

You might be worried about diseases arising from leaving the dead vegetable material in place. Generally this won’t be a problem. Many diseases, such as powdery mildew, are already everywhere, and using mulch or chopping and dropping dead vegetables won’t make it worse.

In fact, it might even help, because having a diverse network of beneficial fungi and bacteria could keep the bad ones at bay.

If you do notice a vegetable with a disease you want to avoid, then you can skip it just to be safe. You can dispose of the infected plant however you normally would.

Wild Tip:

In my own garden I've noticed that brassicas like broccoli and kale can create pest issues when chopped-and-dropped. This is due to their large stems that seem to be perfect habitat for pill bugs. But if you chop these veggies up small you can minimize this issue. You can also just compost these veggies to be safe. 

But don’t let that stop you from chopping and dropping the rest of your dead vegetables!

The key is to just get started. At first, depending on how mulch soil life your garden has, it might take a bit for everything to break down. But once your soil life builds up, all the chop-and-drop material should be broken down by the following summer.

This is a simple method that, along with regular mulching, will help boost your garden’s productivity and save you time and energy.

Do you use chop-and-drop? How has it worked for you? 


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Daron

Daron is a restoration ecologist, lifelong gardener, and founder of Growing with Nature. He created this site to help people enjoy wildlife, grow food, and help heal our living world. He has managed the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he’s applying principles of restoration and permaculture to transform his property in western Washington to forests, wetlands, hedgerows, food forests, and permaculture gardens. He holds a Masters in Environmental Studies and an Associate of Applied Science degree in Water Resources. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children.

  • Dennis says:

    I really enjoy your articles. Very helpful to me. I am just starting a new homestead in a climate that is considered high desert outside of Helena MT. Keep up the great work! I look forward to implementing what you are teaching me.

    • Daron says:

      Hello Dennis,

      Thank you so much for the kind words and I’m very happy to hear that you are finding the blog posts useful! Good luck with your homestead and feel free to leave a comment any time! Thanks again!

  • John Steve says:

    Your opinion if this method helps the bad bugs survive? Area south Texas.
    Best, Steve

    • Daron says:

      Hello John,

      Thank you for your comment! If you know your garden vegetables are infested by a bug you are trying to eliminate then hot composting might be a better option for you. But in most cases a healthy soil created by mulching, chop-and-drop, and no till will result in a balance where predators help to keep the pests under control. One thing to keep in mind is that dead vegetables generally don’t support the same critters that eat living vegetables. In general decomposers (critters that eat dead plants) don’t bother living vegetables.

      In my own garden I often find predators of the pests that bother my garden. For example, aphids were a problem for a while but then a bunch of ladybugs showed up and soon the aphids were gone. I also find ground beetles, garter snakes, and centipedes which all help keep pests under control.

      Hope that helps!

  • Vanessa Alarcon says:

    Can you do this with creeping fig vine?

    • Daron says:

      I’m not familiar with that vine. But my recommendation is not to chop and drop plants that root from cuttings. For those a hot compost pile is probably the best option.

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