I have been composting using different methods for several years now, starting with a basic compost pile. While the compost pile works well in many parts of the country, here in the high desert, a compost pile is not really effective. Due to the lack of rain, and lack of vegetation, composting in a pile is a lesson in futility.
I have found the lack of water, greens, and browns all at the right time to be a big problem. I can harvest weeds in the spring to feed the compost pile, but this is a short green season. If the rains do not cooperate, the greens become browns before too much happens. Through the rest of the year, it is easy to collect browns, but there are little to no greens and less water. The result is a dusty pile of material.
Composting in a standing barrel open at the top is slightly faster, with faster being relative. I started seeing compost in the bottom of the barrel after about a year. A year for a few shovels full of compost doesn’t really do much for anything bigger than a sandbox sized space.
I had come across and wrote a post about Pot Composting. Using four rotating pots with the oldest material in the bottom pots had some value. The link to the first Pot Composting post is here.
The Pot Compost material never really turned to compost as we normally think of compost, but when it was added to soil, it quickly broke down. If space or lack of open ground is an issue, the pot composting method works fairly well. I used kitchen scraps however, so if you are not into peeling your own vegetables and saving anything compostable, this method may be a very slow and tedious one.
I have had the best luck, if luck has anything to do with it, using the “Trench”, or Hole Compost method. This method is usually used where there is a formal garden. In my case, I have no formal garden, but I do do have a six by three foot pile of old worn out horse manure material that turned to dirt years ago. I do not use the Trench method though as I am not that organized to track where the last batch went.
Here is what I do. I have a covered Crockpot insert in the garage to collect kitchen scrap. When the pot becomes full I dig a hole to the right of where I last dug a hole. I empty the pot into the hole. Using an old plastic cooking spoon I scrape anything that didn’t fall out of the pot. I then cover the hole up. The hole is usually about a shovel blade deep, so there is not a lot of dirt on top the material. Generally within a couple of weeks, everything has been broken down and I can not find any remains of the last deposit.
I find this method to be the most effective and simplest. The kitchen waste itself provides the water needed, and the now robust soil does the rest. Even in the middle of summer when the temperature in the mid nineties, the most recent addition is completely gone in about three weeks.
Digging a hole and dumping in the kitchen scraps takes less than three minutes. No need to fuss over it, add water, make sure there is a correct mix of green and brown, add nitrogen, or any other chemicals. Simply dig a hole, add the scraps and cover the hole up. Microbes in the soil do the rest.