When lecturing to garden groups, I often begin by emphasizing the importance of setting aside space for composting. "You would not move into a new home without some kind of garbage can, which is how your composting area should work in your garden," I say, and suggest various composting methods that work well in veggie gardens. I was therefore delighted to find plenty of options for positioning compost among the garden objects you can now add to your garden plan. You can choose between open piles, round or square enclose compost bins or tumblers, all of which earn their space in the garden when situated in the right spots.
Shall we start with enclosed bin? I think a stationary compost bin, bottomless garbage can, or some other composter with a lid or cover is essential, because it hides kitchen waste and dead plants from view. As often as not I throw a pail filled with fruit and veggie trimmings and coffee filters "down the hole" and put on the lid and walk away. With an enclosed bin you can come back later to cover your banana peels and gloppy paper towels with old mulch, dead plants, or leaves, but being this casual with an open heap will lead to a mess. Once you have a stationary composter or other enclosed compost bin, you have no excuse not to compost.
Twice a year, in spring and fall, I take down my composter, chop through the material inside, and give it another few weeks to finish rotting. Meanwhile, I select a new location for the composter that is easy to access from the house and is inside the garden, either in cultivated space that has not been deeply dug for several years, or more often in a spot where I plan to create a new bed. The ten thousand creatures that inhabit a compost bin improve the soil below and around the bin, but this benefit of composting is often wasted. Consider the slow plan unfolding in the pair of wood compost bins shown above. After a couple of years, the bins can be taken down and moved to a fresh site, with their former footprint ready to use as a fertile new bed.
Short and Long Term Compost Heaps
On any given day, there might be three or more heaps of spent plants and weeds sitting in my garden. One of these is what I think of as the master heap – a large, long-lived pile that I locate in a spot where I plan to start a new bed, or where I might plant a future crop of pumpkins or winter squash, which love growing in old compost heaps. Each spring, I choose a new spot for the master heap.
I have no time or energy to waste once summer comes, so instead of hauling weeds and pulled plants to the master heap, I make little compost heaps in any vacant spots in my garden. These green heaps usually stay in place for a month or so, or until they shrink down so I have less stuff to move to the master heap. When garden space is not needed for a few weeks, it is better off under a pile of rotting vegetation than growing up in weeds.
Leaf Mold Matters
As much as I advocate composting inside the garden in the interest of passive soil improvement, I think it’s best to collect and compost leaves close to where they fall. Setting up a wire containment bin for leaves is easy, and I’m more likely to gather up leaves if I have a place to put them. Simply fasten some garden fencing to a few stakes, and you have a leaf bin that will eventually yield leaf mold.
In my climate, a bin filled with leaves that have been lightly shredded with one pass from the mower will rot into a fine material to use as mulch by spring, but whole leaves may need two years to mellow into leaf mold. Constant moisture aids the process, so it’s always good to locate a leaf mold bin in a shady spot where it can be doused with water in dry weather.
Once you get your composts located, you can explore the endless design possibilities that come with the new GrowVeg features, like growing gourds on a pergola or celebrating your garden’s entrance with a pair of flower-filled containers. This video will show you how to use all the treasured hidden behind the top right button and your GrowVeg plan, but do the right thing. Put compost first.
By Barbara Pleasant