Pit Composting

Off the keyboard of Lucid Dreams

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Published on Epiphany Now on December 8, 2013

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Compost is about like anything else as an isolated subject. It can be as simple as a stinky anaerobic mess in a pile, or as complicated and expensive as a mechanical device with aeration holes that spins on a timer. Personally I’ve tended towards the former during my career as an aspiring green thumbist. When I first started gardening in 2007, composting was the first piece of the gardening puzzle I gazed upon with Aspergian hyperfocus. I read books written about composting and nothing else. I studied composting…a process that occurs naturally, regardless of the books or the study on my part. I made large piles of organic nitrogenous materials mixed with the more ubiquitous carbonaceous biomass, at the perfect ratio of 1/30…or 1/20…depending on your source, and I turned those piles with a pitchfork on a regular frequency. I sprayed the piles with water to keep them at that perfect and mythical “wet as a wrung out sponge” dampness. I even stuck pvc pipes with holes drilled in them down into the piles to increase oxygenation. All of this effort was to achieve the perfect black gold to amend my intense garden beds with, and to do so as quickly as possible because that was the challenge. For a while, I was composting kitchen scraps (and anything else of organic origin) with a sense of pride and achievement. After I tackled the art of making perfect compost, my gaze was focused elsewhere in the gardening world, and I began my decent back towards anaerobic piles covered up with enough biomass to stunt the stinch.

After reading Gaia’s Garden, I was convinced that the compost pile was a waste of effort for myself. You have to pile the kitchen scraps up somewhere, at a bare minimum, to create compost. Then you have to apply that compost somewhere, at least for it to be of some use to you. Last season I dumped a five gallon bucket full of kitchen scraps into a simple compost bin, and covered it up with straw or mulch or weeds, and repeated all season long. I probably dumped 20 buckets onto a heap that stayed at about 3 feet in diameter and about 3 feet tall…all year. The compost was literally being eaten by the soil life, and I imagine it became so rich in that place that nutrients began leaching into the sub soil, into the water table, and away. While this situation is certainly better than sending all of that biomass to the landfill, it wasn’t much of a yield for me. I ended up with one wheel barrow load of compost that I applied to one bed. All of that effort just for one garden beds worth of amendments. Granted, any chance to participate in any kind of garden alchemy, I’m game, but this seemed too…inefficient for my liking. I’ve since converted from composting in piles above ground, to pit composting.

Pit composting is an idea I can get behind. It’s simple, effective, and it minimizes work on my part which frees me up for other things (like telling my son no, and stop that, and put your wiener up). It certainly isn’t a method for everyone. Dig the hole deep enough, and cover it up, and even dogs will leave the mess alone. You can literally compost anything you want (pending it’s actually compostable in the first place). You won’t have to concern yourself with nitrogen/carbon ratios, moisture, or oxygen content. No turning of a pile, no checking of temperatures with compost thermometers, no worrying about a pile bursting into flames, no worrying about unwanted volunteers sprouting up, no concern for attracting varmints, and no obnoxious smells to piss the neighbors off.

Dig a hole
Dump 5 gallon bucket full of kitchen scraps in hole
here you can see that I dug the hole on the down hill side of a berm
Allow local feral fauna to inspect and taste kitchen scrap slop, to determine it’s of no interest
Fill hole back in
Enjoy couch meditation in front of the idiot panel with your children, secure in the knowledge that you are saving kitchen scrap from the landfill, and increasing the fertility of your land by enlisting thousands of different life forms beneath ground to do your work for you. If you listen closely, you can hear the earth worms thank you.
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