Organic Gardening

Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

Add to My MSN

Ed Stone’s Rotational Composting

2/15/2013 10:53:54 AM

Tags: rotational composting, garden composting, Barbara Pleasant, fertile soil

Ed Stone 

Minnesota gardener Ed Stone has developed a super-simple passive composting system for improving the soil in his permanent beds. I suggest calling it rotational composting, because each bed takes a turn as the primary composting site. Ed’s system combines the benefits of double-dug intensive beds with passive composting. Here’s how it works.

• First, six or more permanent beds are created. Ed uses twelve beds for his diversified vegetable garden.

• Kitchen and garden waste is collected in two or more barrels, bins, or stationary composters. The wet kitchen waste is layered with mulch or leaves to promote decomposition and discourage pests, but the bins are treated as collection points for organic waste, not primary composting sites.

•Each year, one bed is designated as the compost bed. Ed plants potatoes in that plot. When the potatoes come out in August, he begins removing soil along with the potatoes. The soil is loaded into a lawn trailer and hauled to two piles, keeping the top and bottom soil separate. When the bed is excavated to 26 inches, he spreads a layer of the previous topsoil. Then he dumps in the summer’s collection of collected compostables, then more topsoil, then vines, leaves, apples, or whatever autumn brings. When all the previous topsoil is in, he leaves the bed until spring.

ed's corn•As soon as possible in spring, Ed spreads the winter’s collection of garbage into the bed and covers that with set-aside bottom soil so that the soil layer is at least 10 inches deep. Ed uses the newly renovated bed to grow onions, lettuce and other shallow-rooted crops.

•The next season, the renovated bed is planted with minimal cultivation. It takes four years or more (in MN) for the material in the deepest parts of the bed to rot completely, so you avoid deep digging for a couple of seasons. As time passes you cultivate a bit deeper, so that by the fifth year, you are incorporating the now rotted organic matter into the soil.

•Depending on how many beds you have and how rapidly your soil digests organic matter, you can rotate beds into compost every 5 to 12 years. Shorter intervals would work better in warm, moist climates where the soil seldom freezes and things rot fast.

Ed Stone began working on his system 30 years ago, when the idea of deeply worked, intensive beds captured his interest. “At first I was doing "external" composting, but realized it wasn't a lot more work to put the garbage right into the beds,” Ed says. “You end up with soil that is super stuff, and most plants like sweet corn, potatoes, onions, vines will really grow in it.” 

Related Content

Earth Gauge Tip of the Week: Pumpkin Harvest

Facts on the links between weather and pumpkins and what you can do with leftover pumpkins.

Dan Chiras on Net-Zero Home Energy Homes

This two-day, alternative building workshop featuring energy expert Dan Chiras will be held March 13...

Passive Solar Homes vs. Passive House Standards: What’s the Difference?

Passive House standards incorporate passive solar design principles, but the two labels don’t mean t...

Edamame Soybean Plants Are Tough

Edamame soybeans are tough,fast-maturing plants that can withstand extreme garden conditions. They h...

Content Tools

Post a comment below.



Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 66% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.