This approach to composting is one of the cheapest and easiest to set up. It is best for gardens that do not struggle with larger pest animals and do not require fast compost turnover. This method involves simply choosing an area of one of your garden beds to start building your compost. Ideally, you will be spreading the finished product over all your beds, but the area you choose will get slightly more nutrients as they leach out to the ground below. It’s a good idea to switch up the beds you use each year, so you can evenly distribute these nutrients.
To compost using this approach, you will build a classic compost pile using green and brown materials for each layer. This method generally falls under the umbrella of cold composting, not hot composting, so it will take a little bit more time than other methods. To get the most out of this kind of compost while also having the most space in your garden to grow crops, you can start your pile with your fall post-harvest garden waste, and allow it to cure throughout the winter and early spring.
You may be able to speed up the process in these cold months by stacking straw bales around your compost pile to insulate it (straw vs hay is important here: hay has grass seeds in it still, which cold composting will not kill off; these can turn into weeds in the future). This can then be used as a mulch in the next growing season!
If you need a refresher on the basics of compost, use our post on Composting 101 and this infographic to help get up to speed.
Here are some other things to keep in mind when composting right on your garden beds:
- This approach is very easy and very cheap, but it takes a while. If you need compost before the whole pile is finished, you’ll need to separate out some of the less broken-down compost and put that into a new compost pile (on a different garden bed) before spreading the more finished compost on your soil.
- As you turn this compost pile, you’ll need to keep the pile compact and high so that decomposition can still happen. If you spread it out too much, the pile will take a really long time to decompose fully. It can take some physical effort to shovel and maneuver the pile into this configuration every time you turn it. The more often you turn, the faster your compost will decompose – a good rule of thumb for cold composting is once every week or so.
- This method can attract pests to your garden. Make sure to keep your compost pile topped with carbon materials (browns) to soak up moisture and absorb smells. When you turn your pile, take these off first and add to the top again once you’ve finished turning it so you keep your nitrogen/carbon ratio constant.
- If you live in a wetter climate, you will also need to add more brown materials to the top of your pile, and follow the same process as above.