Seasonal Gardening: Hot Compost Pile, Bare-Root Fruit Trees and Potato Beetles

The Seasons of the Garden column shares seasonal gardening news briefs on maintaining a hot compost pile in the home greenhouse, transporting bare-root fruit trees and inhibiting feeding by potato beetles.

| January/February 1987

The Seasons of the Garden column shares seasonal gardening information and tips with MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers. 

Seasonal Gardening: A Greenhouse Hot Compost Pile

A fresh compost pile in a home greenhouse can provide heat and CO2 , increasing both the yield and vigor of indoor plants. And maintaining a hot heap doesn't have to be a grueling chore.

Bob Kornegay worked out the secrets of greenhousing with compost in two winters of gardening in the multipurpose green-house/bioshelter at MOTHER'S Eco-Village. In Bob's design, compost bins were built directly under his plant beds, so that the pile's heat would warm soil instead of air. That way the plants kept growing well even on the coldest winter days.

The carbon dioxide given off by the pile removed a common limitation on greenhouse plant growth—lack of atmospheric carbon for photosynthesis. (An unvented greenhouse can use up all available CO2 , by mid-morning.) The end result: Bob's crops produced more prolifically than ever and were so healthy they had no pest problems. If you've ever raised crops in a greenhouse yourself, you'll appreciate what an achievement a no bug greenhouse is!

Having to start a new compost pile every time an old one cools down is a big chore. But Bob soon learned that if he mixed fresh manure or calcium nitrate into a cooling pile, the extra nitrogen would boost bacterial activity. The pile would "kickstart" itself and give off lots of heat for a couple more weeks.

Bob solved another problem: ammonia. When a pile first heats up, it releases ammonia gas, which can wipe out crops in a closed-in greenhouse. Bob's answer was to build only one new compost pile every winter (his kickstart technique was the key to that), and to construct it before the weather got cold so he could vent the greenhouse thoroughly during the ammonia stage. With those problems licked, Bob found indoor composting to be a key to indoor growing success.— PS. 

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