Compost Trials: The Pit   4 comments

I don’t know how my dad did it. I’m about ready to throw in the towel on this whole pit composting thing. Or “soil incorporation” as the composting book that I got from the library called it. This is the form of composting that I am most familiar with, having grown up with it; although we knew it as “French composting”. During my entire childhood kitchen scraps and yard trimmings not slated for mulch or firewood would be dumped into “The Pit.” “The Pit” was basically a hole that snaked its way through our back yard eternally. The design was fairly elegant, actually, although the last decade has fuzzed my memory a bit. It was maybe 3 feet deep, with two flights. On the leading edge the top flight was always slightly more excavated than the bottom flight so that there was a step. The process went: dump organic waste into the back of the hole, dig out some of the leading edge to cover the waste, repeat. So the hole never got filled since the leading edge was always excavated in order to fill the back.

When we moved into our house this summer and I committed to composting all compostable material (defined as kitchen scraps, yard trimmings, and tissues), I defaulted to pit composting as a TEMPORARY method. Especially after discovering that 5-gallon buckets don’t make good composting bins. We didn’t have compost bins, and to be completely honest there are more important things that we need to spend our money on right now. Pit composting has the wonderful “free” feature. Unfortunately “free” means “labor-intensive”. Digging dirt is not easy, especially when the ground is baked in the summer and saturated in the winter. I don’t have the discipline that my dad had, so my process is more like: dig a 1 foot deep hole that is just over a shovel width wide and long enough for the amount of organic material to be composted, dump the bucket into the hole and hope that it is not more than 4-6 inches deep, cover it with the dirt I just excavated.

Since most of our back yard is concrete and I refuse to do this in the front lawn, the square of grass that we don’t have plans for yet in the backyard is perfect for the pit. In the summer the ground was really hard. I could not figure out why it was so hard to get the shovel through the first horizon since the grass was all dead. And once I was past the top few inches I could never get a shovel-full without having to bend down and pull out a large rock or chunk of concrete. Then fall came, the ground became moist and more easily dug, and I discovered that there is a plastic mesh about 3 inches below the surface. That’s what makes it so hard to get the shovel through! Someone please tell me that it is not normal to put plastic mesh under lawns. So I started peeling back a strip of “sod”, pulling out the mesh, digging my hole, and then filling it and replacing the “sod.” Then winter came with rains. And now the ground is saturated. I try to hold off on digging, but when our holding bucket and compost bowl are both full, there’s nothing for it but to dig mud. Mud is HEAVY! And I can’t find the plastic mesh in the mud to remove it, either. But at least I also can’t find any rocks.

So far I’ve made it through less than 10% of the grass patch, but I seriously doubt I’m going to make it too much further. It’s not all bad; in addition to the composting, there have been advantages. Namely removing buried rocks and concrete chunks, removing the plastic mesh, finding irrigation pipes and other pipes, and hopefully adding some health into what appears to my inexperienced eyes to be poor unhealthy soil. I am officially declaring “no more digging mud” and just piling the scraps when it is raining (or when I just don’t have time to dig, or when my back hurts). Since I have no intention to water the grass in the summer (and will therefore have baked soil again), the only times of year when it is even practical to compost this way are spring and fall. It’ll be a while before we actually have landscaping plans for the back yard, and I think the grass patch will stay as a grass patch, so there’s no aesthetic conflict with the pit yet. Whenever that aesthetic conflict does occur, though, it will be the final death-knell of the pit.

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Posted January 25, 2011 by mayakey in gardening

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4 responses to “Compost Trials: The Pit

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  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Compost Trials: The Pit « Love Knowledge Zeal & Fortitude -- Topsy.com

  2. When I moved to the house I am living in now and I planted my tomatoes, I kept finding a green mesh. Later my neighbor on the North asked me if I found the mess. Apparently the entire neighborhood had the mess put in under the whole yard. No one seems to know why. Our back yards slope so maybe it has something to do with that.

    • I’m wondering if it isn’t a shortcut for cheap sod. I can imagine that low quality sod doesn’t stay together when rolled like good sod. That’s my theory anyway. I didn’t find the mesh when I dug the holes for our trees in the front lawn, so I’m thinking that when the previous homeowner cemented over most of the back yard, they bought cheap sod for the square that they spared.

  3. Pingback: Compost Trials: The Heap « Love Knowledge Zeal & Fortitude

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