At the end of the growing season, piles of cleared crops are a common sight. But what to do with them all? You could add this material to an existing compost heap, but an alternative is to simply leave it – right there on the ground. Called ‘in-situ composting’, it's a fantastic way to build the soil for your crops next year.
Composting in-situ is a great way to cope with lots of spent crops or sudden gluts of kitchen waste, for example when processing fruits and vegetables for winter storage. Composting directly on or in the ground can divert organic material away from overflowing compost bins, while directly improving the ground for next year’s crops.
Composting on the Soil Surface
Finer material such as annual weeds, carrot tops and vegetable peelings decompose relatively fast. You can simply lay this material on the soil surface before covering it over with a thin layer of well-rotted garden compost or manure. This is a simple but effective way to supplement traditional end-of-season applications of organic matter. By spring the material should have rotted down into the ground, leaving behind a beautifully rich top layer of soil ready for sowing or planting into.
Composting in Trenches
Compost ingredients can also be buried in trenches to improve the nutrient content and moisture-holding capacity of soil.
Simply dig out a trench about one foot (30cm) deep. Compost trenches are commonly prepared for vegetables like climbing beans that are grown in rows – the rich, moisture-retentive soil left behind will ensure plenty of produce over the cropping period.
With the trench dug, simply fill it up with your compost ingredients. Suitable ingredients include annual weeds that haven't flowered, grass clippings, the chopped up remains of spent crops, and kitchen waste such as apple cores or vegetable peelings. Fill to at least four inches (10cm) deep, then cover over with a layer of leaves or grass clippings. Fill the remainder of the trench with the excavated soil.
If you plan to plant a row of crops directly on top of the trench and need to locate it in spring, simply mark the position of each end so you can easily find it in a few months’ time.
Composting in Pits
Compost pits use the same principle as trenches. Dig a hole, fill it with your organic waste and cover with a topping of grass clippings or leaves. You can space multiple compost pits in close proximity, creating pockets of nutrient-rich material that will feed the microbes and worms in the surrounding soil.
Compost pits create nutrient-rich and moisture-retentive reservoirs which are great for thirsty and hungry plants such as courgettes, squash and tomatoes. Plant directly on top of pits that were made in the autumn, or dig and fill fresh pits in spring then set one or more plants immediately next to or encircling each pit. As the material rots down it will feed the soil to encourage healthy, resilient growth and bumper yields.
As you can see, composting in situ offers a convenient way to process all that nutrient-rich organic matter back into the ground. It’s easy to do and next year’s crops will love you for it! As always, please share your experiences of composting in this way by dropping us a comment below.