Compost Piles in Your Garden Rotation

Reader Contribution by Cindy Conner
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Every few years it is good to reevaluate what you are doing. Take a step back and try to look at things with new eyes. Think to yourself –What would happen if I did this? or How would things be if I moved this over to here? That’s what I did with my compost piles and they went from bins made from pallets along the north edge of my garden to piles with no bins on a garden bed as part of my garden rotation. This change began with thoughts of harvesting all the goodness that leached from the piles. Also, my garden methods had changed over the years and once I was harvesting all my compost-making materials from my garden using biointensive methods, it made sense to have the piles on the beds. You can read more about my compost rotation plans at Homeplace Earth.

Each year I plan to have more than 60 percent of my garden planted to cover crops and compost crops that will provide material for compost making. The stalks and straw from corn and small grains are my main carbon sources and the biomass from legumes, such as clover, alfalfa, and winter peas provide material rich in nitrogen. All through the winter my garden is green with cover crops. In the spring I let them grow to maturity, or almost to maturity, and cut them with a sickle, rather than tilling them in earlier and not getting as much as I can from them.

Plants have reached their most biomass when they are flowering and that is the time you would cut (harvest) the legume plants for compost material. The carbon sources of stalks from corn, sunflowers, and Jerusalem artichokes or straw from grains such as wheat and rye are cut at the end of their life cycle. The compost crop I might cut early is winter rye interplanted with a legume. Rather than let it grow until the grain is ready, I cut it when the rye is flowering and leave the plants lie in the bed to provide mulch for the next crop, which is something transplanted, such as corn, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, or squash. The mulch suppresses weeds and composts in place, gradually feeding the crop now growing in the bed. My DVD Cover Crops and Compost Crops In Your Garden shows me in action through the season managing these crops with hand tools.

Once compost piles were no longer along the north side my garden, other ideas started presenting themselves to me. I could bump out the fence and add a hazelnut hedgerow. There was also room for basket willow, another couple garden beds, and an apple tree. My outdoor washing station moved to that side of the garden. There is still a spot that I’m reserving for a small pond along that north side. You can see all these features on my permaculture map in my book Grow a Sustainable Diet. What will your imagination conjure up for your garden once your compost moves out of the bins and onto the garden beds?

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