From the ground up: Compost with another easy bin-free method

Compost is food for your lawn and garden

March 28, 2014 | 9:27 pm

Compost continues to be a hot topic in gardening. Compost enriches your soil, has been shown to suppress plant diseases and pests, reduces — and even eliminates in most cases — the need for chemical fertilizers and promotes higher yields. Compost is food for your lawn and garden. Last week, we talked about a terrific bin-free composting method called sheet or lasagna composting. This week, Linn County Master Gardener Lori Klopfenstein will share another bin-free composting method.

Q: What is new in composting?

A: My personal favorite composting method is called burial composting, or, in some circles, “Trudi Pits,” after Market Day founder and Chicago-area gardener Trudi Temple.

This is my favorite method because my yard is exposed to a great range of wildlife and it allows me to use large quantities of kitchen waste without attracting destructive foragers. You also can cook compost without anyone knowing, right in the middle of your existing garden. Here’s how:

Choose a location in your garden which is bare or contains a plant which needs to be relocated or removed. Dig a deep hole (3 feet by 3 feet is ideal, but if your space is more limited, make it smaller). Fill the hole to ground level with decomposables, such as garden debris, junk mail/newspapers, cardboard and kitchen scraps. Avoid animal byproducts, especially meat, or carnivores may dig up your pit before it has time to properly decompose.

If you have a vegetarian pet in your house, such as a rabbit, feel free to add manure from that pet (our rabbit bedding is made of recycled newsprint, so we add everything removed at each cage cleaning.) Top the pile with six to eight inches of soil leftover from the original hole, then top the hole with a steppingstone, large rock or planter. Doing this provides a visual bookmark of where the hole is located, as well as an aesthetically pleasing detail for the garden.

In six months the pit should be ready for planting, although it may need a bit of supplementary soil (easily acquired when you dig another pit) to accommodate for decomposition settling. Trudi claims that her pit soil is so rich that it will grow Astilbe in full sunlight.

As with any other composting endeavor, the true secret to success is the correct ratio of browns (carbon) to greens (nitrogen.) Examples of browns are fallen leaves, tree branches, wood chips/shavings, shredded paper and dried grass clippings. Examples of greens are fresh grass clippings, kitchen scraps, human and pet hair, manure from vegetarian animals (rabbits, chickens, horses, cows). Equal parts browns and greens by weight (not volume) is the key to successful compost cooking. If your compost is cooking too slowly, add greens. If it is foul-smelling or matted, add browns.

The smaller the particle size (especially in the case of browns), the faster the decomposition process. Smaller particles also encourage more bugs, and more bugs mean faster decomposition.

Finally, with bin methods of composting, air circulation and moisture are critical to timely and thorough decomposition. For more information about composting yard waste, visit Extension.iastate.edu/publications/pm683.pdf. This reference publication includes instructions for building a three-bin compost turning unit. If home composting is not your thing, simply add your produce waste to your Yardy each week.

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Questions on gardening, land use or local foods? Contact Michelle Kenyon Brown, community ag programs manager at Linn County Extension, mkenyonb@iastate.edu.

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