Composting is a gardener's best friend. When I was growing crops on 2 acres, I had a large compost pile that was enclosed in a three-sided box made out of pallets. I would carry all my raw material to the bin and when composted I would shovel it into a wheelbarrow and take it to my crops. This was a great deal of leg work. Eventually I was composting so much that I had to upgrade to the three bin design so that turning the pile would be easier and be more efficient for the different stages of composting. But this was still a tremendous amount of back breaking labor.
Now that I am small-scale homesteading, on a 1/4 acre, I don't have the space for a large compost pile and I am always trying to think of ways to save steps. So I came up with my own method that I call Direct Composting.
Direct Composting is simply composting directly into your gardens or raised beds in my case. When the plants in a particular bed are harvested and I need to pull them out, instead of carrying them to a compost pile and turning the heavy material, I simply dig a trench in the bed and break the spent plants into pieces and lay them, spreading them out, in the trench. I add a little soy bean meal, or poultry grain or bone meal sprinkled on top of the plants then cover it all with the dirt I removed from the trench. The soy bean meal acts as an activator and also fertilizes the soil in the case of bone meal.
As the soil in the beds gets hot and rain saturates the soil, the plant material breaks down rather quickly. There are also already lots of earthworms in the beds so this process actually feeds them and makes more worms and lots of worm castings directly in your bed.
Sweet potato plants being direct composted and buried.
In comparison to a compost pile this process seems to work faster and definitely more efficiently. In four weeks, the sweet potato plants that I trenched in this raised bed are completely gone, all but a few of the thick vine stems.
About two weeks after I buried the plants, I sowed wheatgrass seed (wheat berries) on top of the soil, lightly raked in and used this to make supplemental feed for my flock of hens. Before a hard freeze I will also turn under what is remaining of the wheatgrass, which will make more organic matter over the winter.
In my large raised beds I simply use these as a compost bin. I throw plant remains and kitchen vegetable scraps such as potato peels, directly into this bed and then layer with horse manure, coop cleanings and fall leaves. Add some new soil to the top and voila! Over the winter it does its thing and in the spring sow your seeds and get outta the way!
By spring, this bed will be rich, healthy and ready for seed sowing without any additional amendments or fertilizer. Whatever I decide to grow in this bed in the spring will take off with this compost rich soil and mid-way through the spring growing season, I will side dress the plants that will be in here with some aged horse or chicken manure. This is what growing organically is all about.
Save time, work and money by using direct composting. Your soil, plants and your back will love you for it.
For more great gardening tips and to purchase organically raised asparagus crowns and raspberry plants, follow Itzy Bitzy Farm's Blog at www.ItzyBitzyFarm.com.