Sunday, October 11, 2009

In-Situ Composting

I am nearing the end of my first season of gardening in my biologically active container garden and that means it is time to assess successes and failures. Successes are pretty simple. The swiss chard and turnip pot was wildly successful and still is. The varmint protection systems had to be upgraded a few times, but ultimately held against some pretty determined varmints. Finally, my multi-layered pot, with beets in front, dill and cilantro in the middle and okra in the back, fared very well and provided a solid wall of green all summer long.

Failures were pretty easy to assess as well. I tried to grow marigolds and nasturtium as companion plants and both grew quicker than the plants they were supposed to help and took over. So next year the flowers go in the ground, not the pots. Eggplants, beets, tomatoes, beans, chervil, onions and gourds all failed to reach their potential, though of those the beets fared the best.

The biggest issue, though, was the soil. My starter soil was the leftovers from a myco-vermicomposting experiment I had done several years before. The soil was black, fine and a little sticky. My plants absolutely loved it. The problem was, there wasn't enough to go around. So I spread it out and thinned it out with composted and partially composted remnants I had around. Then I bought some composted wood chips from the local nursery. A few pots had several inches of this stuff on top. To all of this I added blood meal, bone meal, and an organic mixed fertilizer containing rock phosphate and greensand, among other things. A few plants seemed to lack nitrogen, but otherwise nutrients seemed to be fine. The plants in the pots that were primarily my homemade soil did just fine. The store-bought compost, however, was problematic. It was too chunky and made for excellent drainage. So excellent, in fact, that the plants couldn't manage to collect the water before it drained away. Seedlings would sprout and then dry out, despite being watered twice a day. The plants that made it floundered and failed to grow much.

In an attempt to get some well-needed soil amendment, I am going to be trying something a little new. I have previously tried composting at my house, but without some draconian measures, it has proven difficult to keep the javelinas out of my compost. They break into my container, break the container, and either eat or make a mess of the contents. For the last several months I have been giving my compost to the neighborhood bins. However, this weekend I was able to fully put one of the pots to bed for the winter, harvesting what remained of the beets and pulling up everything else. Since this bin has already proven itself javelina-proof, I pulled the soil out from the middle and pushed it up the sides, giving me a good place to put all of my scraps and trimmings. I also encountered a number of worms while digging, which means that they are there and ready to do my composting for me. With any luck, some or even most of it will be composted and ready to use by spring. Then I can use it to boost my soil for better nutrients, better biological activity, more worms, and better water-holding capability.


  1. One in-situ method I use is to get a refuse bucket with a tight-fitting lid. Drill a number of holes in its bottom and sides and then sink the bulk of it into the soil, leaving just the lid exposed. The worms seem readily able to keep up with our household (2 adults, mostly vegetarian) scrap generation.

    I tried this for the first time this past summer. I sunk the bucket into my asparagus bed.

    I am hoping for great things this spring (year 3 on the bed.) ;-)

  2. Bill - I have known a number of people who just dig a hole in the garden and dump the compost in. No need to make a pile. They just let the worms take care of it. After years of doing this, they have amazing soil. I was planning on using your method for disposing of dog waste at my next house. I am also going to use a similar method for kitchen scraps. Nothing else I have tried so far has kept the dog out. She doesn't seem too smart, but when it comes to getting into compost, she's a genius.

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