Small Home and Small Space Composting

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.

The simplest, most effective small home and garden compost method.

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.

Pot Composting Made Simpler and Easier

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.

Magic Compost Pile

I have come to think of this little dirt pile as my “Magic Compost Pile”. It started life out about four years ago as what was purported to be, horse manure. The only thing it had in common with actual manure, was it had particles of straw no larger than one-quarter inch.

Over the years nothing grew in it, or on it. I was starting to wonder if I made a mistake bringing it home and planting two snowball bushes at its foot. This summer changed all that.

I collect vegetable scraps, tea bags, coffee grounds and anything else compostable in the crock pot insert shown in the picture. It’s maybe a gallon in size. It was taking forever to fill it, before I went on the Whole 30 diet. Since then and changing a little to the paleo Diet, it is filled about once a week to week-in-a-half.

I have another ‘heavy duty’ compost pile that is slowly working its way through collected bags of leaves. Leaves are not unless they get a lot of help, quick compost material here in the southwest. I have lots of time, and am not in a hurry. I let it do its thing, though I add something every once in a while.

I did not want to go through the work of trying to dug through leaves and twigs to deposit my vegetable scraps, so I decided I could do worse than trying to turn the dead horse manure into something useful. That turned out to be an awesome idea. Every gallon of vegetable scraps, tea bags, etc, added over the summer was gone in a few weeks. All that I find are an occasional tea bag tag.

Some of the seeds from different fruits started to sprout, so I dug little gallon size holes around them. In late August, a yam plant poked itself through the compost pile. Some other seeds sprouted as well. Yet the majority of what went into this little pile was gone so quick, I thought an army of rodents were showing up at night and having a feast.

I started carefully smoothing the top layer, and would go out each day and look for digging, or tracks. There were none. The only thing unusual about the process I think is odd are the kitchen scraps. In the summer, by the time they make into the pile, they smell like vinegar, and have a green fungus going to town in the material. It also sort of plops into the hole as a fused piece.

I doubt this amazing compost speed will carry over the winter. As you can see the pile is only a few feet tall at best. It is against a west fence wall, so it does get light most of the day. With the summer temperature in the mid nineties, it probably heats up much more than it would on its own.

As I was adding another gallon of kitchen scraps today, I thought I talk about this mighty little compost pile while I think of spring just around the corner. I got the idea of using a crock pot insert from my post on pot composting. I haven’t used the pots last summer as everything I added to the pile was eaten so quickly, it almost seems like magic. If you look at the categories, I have links to other compost posts under gardening.