Compost in Place — 4 Comments

  1. A compost heap is a necessary feature in the average garden. It provides a means of collecting the surprising amount of waste material which is gathered together during regular garden maintenance and it supplies the garden, or rather, the soil, with valuable organic matter. This organic matter fulfils several vital functions. It helps to improve the structure of the soil, especially the heavy clay types and the light sandy kinds. It encourages a vigorous root system and also acts as a sponge to retain moisture. Light, sandy soils tend to dry out rather badly and a high humus content is necessary to overcome this problem. Well-rotted composted vegetable waste can be used as a mulch around plants and between rows of vegetables where it will smother small annual weeds and prevent the surface soil from drying out badly.

  2. Composting in place is clearly the best way to make compost on a large scale. It’s the least amount of labor for the maximum amount of compost. Great system.

    That doesn’t mean that hot compost bins don’t have their place (not that Owen’s blog post suggested otherwise). In my opinion, hot compost bins are best used IN CONJUNCTION with composting in place.

    Hot compost bins are great at sanitizing potentially toxic organic matter. Anything that might contain disease causing bacteria or viruses would be best composted in a hot bin to kill any pathogens. Composting in place may not allow the compost to reach high enough temperatures to kill pathogens in any contaminated organic material.

    The most obvious example of this is Humanure. Any pathogens are quickly broken down in a hot compost bin.

    If any livestock become sick, it is often wise to hot compost their manure to prevent spreading disease to other livestock or wildlife, or contaminating water supplies or neighboring properties.

    Once the pathogens are broken down, then spread it out where appropriate.

    In my opinion, it’s smart to use both systems where appropriate. Compost in place the largest bulk of organic material that doesn’t contain potential pathogens to minimize labor, and hot compost bin the rest to sanitize anything potentially harmful.

    That said, composting in place is very underutilized and needs more “publicity.” As well as education about its limitations for sanitizing contaminated organics.

    Another good system for composting in place is “hugelkultur” which is essentially the same type of concept as described in Owen’s post… perhaps with some tweaks to the idea.

    There is also “Sheet Composting” which is essentially another name describing composting in place.

    Bill Mollison promotes what he calls, “chop and drop.”

    It’s all good. Each with some slightly different tweaks to various methods of composting in place.

    • Good points. One addition to our system that I didn’t mention is our compost bin for food scraps. This is a small scale thing outside our kitchen and so I didn’t bother mentioning it, but actually it is good to point this out. So we do compost our food scraps. What we don’t do is spend days and days gathering materials and building giant compost piles.

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