Best Compost Locations

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Composter pile

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.

Wooden compost bins

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.

Short term compost 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.

Raking leaves for leafmold

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

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Comments

 
"I shred my leaves one time, then put them in a pile. I use the leaves mixed with the green weeds in the summer to make a "hot" compost pile. Waiting 2 years for leaves to rot takes too much space (and too much patience). Save the leaves as your "brown" to mix with your "green" weeds in your compost pile and you will have compost in a short while. If you plan out your garden a few years with Garden Planner you can pick a current bed that needs a break and plan the compost pile there for next year's tomatoes or whatever."
Will on Saturday 6 April 2013
"Excellent points on using the compost pile as a rest/rotation, and being so practical with your leaves. A few years ago I got mad at a bed because it wasn't working right, things just were not growing well there. I composted on top of it for a year, and whatever was wrong got corrected."
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 6 April 2013
"Terrific information, Barbara. My husband has been reluctant to let me mulch the yard trimmings and kitchen sink waste for several years now. I think your article has convinced him that it's not one of my "goofy" ideas that no one's ever done before. (Here it is 2013 and he's just opened his first email account this week - not much of computer/internet user). I recently discovered GrowVeg.com, tried the free trial and signed up for the 1-year subscription. I couldn't imagine not having the fantastic tool for my garden planning. I've been recommending it to all of my friends, gardeners and wanna-maybe-gardeners. For about $2 a month, it's great to have a reliable resource for my questions, planning and one place to jot down and store my thoughts."
Deb Grossheim on Saturday 6 April 2013
"My future garden is overgrown with weeds and scrub trees, so I am planning on using this growing season to rescue it and planting in earnest next year. It is a terraced area raised from the rest of the yard by about 2 feet and edged with stone. It has not been used as a productive garden for at least a decade. This is my plan right now: to uproot as much of the undergrowth as possible, including pernicious Rose of Sharon bushes, burn the brush I collect, and use a tarp to smother the whole area for 3 months this summer, May, June, and July. In August, I am planning on double-digging and then putting in a green manure crop...then in the spring, working in more compost and planting. I have 2 questions. (1) I am in Zone 6. Can I plant a green manure that will grow over the winter and till it in the spring? (2) How does green manure work with compost?"
EmilyTheSecond on Monday 8 April 2013
"Oats make a great green manure to plant in August. In most of Zone 6 oats die from winter cold, so they are well on the road to rot by spring. You could also plant hardier grains, but you would have more to pull up/turn under in spring. On a slope, I'd stick with oats."
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 8 April 2013
"The reason I use an enclosed composter is: RACCOONS!!!"
crittergarden on Friday 19 April 2013
"Following your suggestion,I recently relocated my compost bins so that I could use the space for a new asparagus bed. However, at the very bottom of the piles I found a multitude of"white worms" (as they're referred to in French)which are always present in my compost and inevitably get transferred around the garden and potager, where they frequently eat the roots of my plants! I can send a photo if that helps... What can I do to get rid of them (other than feeding them to the hens?)"
Alison Perrin on Friday 3 May 2013
"Are you sure they are eating your plants? If they are slender and wiggly, they are a common species of decomposer often seen in damp organic matter in spring, but they don't eat plants. Many white "grubs" that curl into a circle do eat plant roots and should be removed. My chickens love them! I would use chicken netting to enclose the spot like a play yard, and get your chickens to clean up the site. "
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 6 May 2013
"My compost is mostly leaves and grass clippings. I found that too much vegetable and fruit waste was attracting the night raiders. Had the dog tangle with a skunk. I cover my compost bed with black plastic after watering it thoroughly and it seems to convert very fast. "
Wanita on Saturday 24 August 2013

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