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Digging kitchen scraps straight into the soil  RSS feed

 
Tim Kivi
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My wife won't let me use a compost bin, saying it'll attract insects. She also says it's a waste of money.

So I've been digging kitchen scraps straight into garden soil every few days. Even with a shallow hole I've had no rodents or insects other than ants going crazy for it at times. But after a day or two the ants mostly disappear.

My soil is clay-based. After a few weeks I pressed the ground where I first dug in the scraps, and the ground seemed to collapse! Most of the scraps had already disappeared, becoming just a smelly goo. All of my vegetables are shallow rooted so they might not even reach the rot below the surface.

What do you think of this method?
 
Joshua Parke
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Ecosystems attract insects.  It's a good thing to have the diversity.   A worm bin could work in your situation very well.  It'll still attract various bugs and insects though.

Years ago I had an abundance of kitchen scraps that I was trying to compost.  I learned that kitchen scraps don't compost well by themselves, so I did what you are describing.  I dug a hole and put in all the kitchen scraps that weren't composting in my compost spot.  Then I covered it with soil, thinking that in a few months I would dig in that spot and find lots of nice compost.  I was wrong.  I had the same experience you had, the scraps go anaerobic under the soil and it turns into a nasty mess.  So I began to do something I learned from ruth stout's information and reinforced by Paul Wheaton when I was at his place.  Just put the kitchen scraps under the layer of mulch, and use a different spot every time.  It works better because the scraps are in the mulch layer where the micro-organisims can get to it, and the scraps will stay aerobic as they break down, which means they won't turn into a glob of smelly goop as they do when buried.
 
Harry Soloman
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Location: Pennsylvania, Dauphin County
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A good compost does not stink.  You can also get indoor compost maker with a filter and such you can put in your kitchen like a trash can but its a mechanical compost machine.

Another idea is a worm farm.  They do not stink if correct and the biology is good, same with the compost pile.

I suggest doing some reading and gain an understanding of the composting process.  Understand about temperature and what happens to certain types of microbes at various temperatures.  Then understand what those microbes are and why and why not you would want to do compost correctly.
 
Tim Kivi
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Harry Soloman wrote:A good compost does not stink.


I've done quite a lot of reading of composting but none of the methods are applicable to my circumstances, which is why I'm trying this alternative method.

So when they say it "shouldn't" stink, is it actually harming the soil if it does stink? I forgot to mention I've recently started adding dry leaves and twigs to the mix to to get about a 1:5 ratio of food scraps to dry leaves/twigs, but I haven't dug it up yet to know how it's going.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Just put the kitchen scraps under the layer of mulch, and use a different spot every time.
  This is definitely the way to go.  Now.... we are assuming that you mulch! 
 
Tim Kivi
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Joshua Parke wrote: Just put the kitchen scraps under the layer of mulch, and use a different spot every time.


Does that attract cockroaches, rodents etc. when it's so close to the surface? I've read about trench composting and they say have it about 30cm (12") below the surface to keep undesirable animals away.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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So when they say it "shouldn't" stink, is it actually harming the soil if it does stink?
  Yes.  If the 'compost' stinks it is rotting and not compost.   The reason this is bad is because the types of bacteria that associate with rot are not good for your soil systems, and it takes a long time for the soil to regain its balance in that spot, since anaerobic bacterial slimes are so hostile to the more beneficial aerobic bacteria.  Anaerobic bacteria, while active in all soils, should never dominate enough to create stinky slimes.
I forgot to mention I've recently started adding dry leaves and twigs to the mix to to get about a 1:5 ratio of food scraps to dry leaves/twigs,
  This may work, depending on the size of your dry material.  Smaller material will break down/join the wetter material better.  One bonus of fibrous carbon material is that it will automatically add air to the mix, which will help to keep the balance towards the aerobic bacteria.
 
r ranson
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You can dig kitchen scraps right into the soil via a method called trenching

What I do when I harvest something, I dig a trench at one end of the section, about a foot to 18 inches deep, one foot wide and three feet long.  Put the kitchen scraps in, maybe chop them up with the shovel a bit, then dig the next trench adjacent to the long side, using the soil from the new trench to fill in the first.  That way, each trench fills in the last and there is a trench waiting for me anytime I have some compost.  Once that section has compost in it, I lightly spread some lime, rake the surface level, and then plant the next crop. 

The upside of this is that the compost breaks down rapidly in the soil, there's no smell, it's deep enough that the critters don't dig it up, and one only needs to deal with it once.  It also means I don't need to dig the bed to prepare it for the next crop - since adding compost aerated and loosened the soil for me. The down side is that not having heat means that any seeds in the compost will grow.  The upside of that is free volunteer veggies. 
 
Dale Hodgins
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A keyhole garden with a large enough composting area, would not require a composter to be purchased. Any excess moisture would drip down into the carbon-rich lower level. Worms and other critters would distribute the material. Think of it as a large worm bin that doesn't become sticky and saturated. It can be set up so that leafy growth obscurers the view, so that there's nothing visually unpleasant, for your wife.
 
Su Ba
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Digging kitchen scraps right into the soil will work as long as one keeps a few things in mind.

... As r ranson pointed out, any seeds in the scraps may germinate. Personally I don't find this to be objectionable.
... If only dealing with a small amount, say a quart or so, at a time, then simply dig a two quart sized hole. Dump in the scraps. Full in the hole with some of the soil, and mix the soil and scraps together (stir or chop). Them complete topping off the hole with the rest of the soil. By mixing soil in with the scraps you won't end up with a gooy smelling wad of rot.
... For larger amounts, r ranson's method of trenching works. When I do it, I'll dump a bucket of scraps making the layer about 2"-3" deep. Then I'll top it with a shovel or two of soil, mixing the soil in a tad by chopping. Then fill in the trench with soil.

Smelly goo indicates that your soil does not have an active population of soil microbes, which in turn indicates that the soil is low in organic material. So it will take some time and effort to get your soil healthy enough to handle globs of kitchen scraps without it rotting.

A few things to keep in mind....
... Temperature has a bearing on how well the kitchen scraps will break down. Cold soil can slow or almost stop the process.
... Soil moisture has a bearing too. Too dry, and material will not decompose well. Too wet and decomposition is prevented.
 
Panagiotis Panagiotou
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Dale Hodgins wrote:A keyhole garden with a large enough composting area, would not require a composter to be purchased. Any excess moisture would drip down into the carbon-rich lower level. Worms and other critters would distribute the material. Think of it as a large worm bin that doesn't become sticky and saturated. It can be set up so that leafy growth obscurers the view, so that there's nothing visually unpleasant, for your wife.


Are you talking about the african one?
 
Tim Kivi
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Ok now I'll always include a lot of dried leaves and twigs with the scraps. Hopefully it'll be healthier. I have to get rid of HEAPS of leaves and twigs from a tree I cut down so I'm happy to dig it in.
 
Hester Winterbourne
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I tend to think burying organic matter like this is more a way of disposing of stuff than actually turning it into usable nutrition.  It's not commonly natural for plant matter in its raw state to find itself a foot underground, so there isn't the soil life there that's equipped  to deal with it.  Which is why it turns into goop.  I know lots of people who dig huge trenches for their runner beans at the start of the growing season, and fill them with raw compost material, but I think part of the benefit they get is actually from the extra water retention that this creates.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Are you talking about the african one?

Yes, most of the information you will find, especially YouTube videos, will show people in Africa building Keyhole Gardens. Many of these are in areas of low rainfall or seasonal rainfall. It can be quite dry and dusty, away from the garden, during the dry season. There will be certain times when these folks find abundant resources to gather in the wild. But during lean times, a garden like this can be very important to them.

I watched one video where they were harvesting. These gardens produce lots of leafy greens, but also tubers and other root vegetables. These keep well, weather stored in the home or in the garden, and they can be used when other food sources are scarce.
 
r ranson
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Hester Winterbourne wrote:  It's not commonly natural for plant matter in its raw state to find itself a foot underground, so there isn't the soil life there that's equipped  to deal with it. 


In nature, I agree with this.

... then again, many wild animals bury their food.  So it's not unknown in nature.

I think the microbes can adapt to new conditions.  Also, composting isn't just relying on soil microbes.  There are invisible beasties on the kitchen scraps capable of breaking it down into compost, and worm, and other bugs...

When I first start trenching in a new garden, there's no obvious benefit to the plants for the first two or three months.  However, after that time, there is a drastic increase in how well the plants do where the compost has been trenched.  Digging aerates the soil which allows the aerobic bacteria already on the kitchen scraps to do their thing and break down the compost into soil.  Earth worms go at least two feet deep (depending on the time of year) in my garden. 

Yes, I think in some parts of the world, it wouldn't make sense to trench compost.  But it would difficult to know what works at a specific location until one tries it out.


Where my family comes from, trenching compost was standard practice in the 19th Century and before.  It helped increase soil fertility over the generations.  The practice skipped a generation with my grandfather, but his garden was never as vibrant as his brothers or his sons who all trenched. 


If you're looking for something a little easier than digging, here's my new compost bin.  Not the best photo of the compost bin part, but I'm still working on my roof, so I'll take photos when that's done.
here's a great big thread on keyhole gardens
 
Genevieve Higgs
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Things that in my experience make compost deniers into compost believers:

Emptying the collection bin as frequently as possible...like twice daily if needed.  And wipe it out with grass or leaves so it's immaculate.  Later on point out that composting has made the regular garbage lighter cleaner nicer.

Use the freezer to hold the collection bin if it's not going to be emptied uber often... and still keep it immaculate

Keep grass clippings or leaves on hand to always cover over the pile.  Never leave anything that looks like food on top.

Don't use a plastic bin... it looks like a nasty garbage can and evokes negative feelings.  A subtle wood structure or tidy pile in an out of sight location is more appealing.

Start off with "nice" compost materials...for example "rats don't eat coffee grounds and they repel insects" ...wink wink nudge nudge. Once the habit of composting is in place it's easier to expand to other materials.

Be the person who cleans the kitchen - that way you can divert the composting materials without much notice. 
 
Tim Kivi
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So today I dug some big holes in the garden bed to start a shallow hugelkultur bed. I've been burying kitchen scraps for 4 months. Here's what's happened:

- Everywhere I previously buried kitchen scraps had almost totally decomposed.
- The earth smelled truly sweet where the scraps had been. I've always heard this is what compost smells like but it's the first time I experienced it.
- The only part where it was rotten and gooey was where I'd placed a large, uncut rotten cauliflower stem.
- The soil was still heavy and clay-like.

So now I know not to put huge pieces of scraps in. Otherwise digging scraps is working. But now I won't dig it as deep and cover it with a mound of mulch; after a few weeks it'll have mostly dissolved and I can just mix it around. I'm also going to add dry leaves to the mix to add more carbon and air.
 
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