Make compost in small pits in the garden

Soil health


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Make compost in small pits in your garden. Put fresh or decomposed kitchen and garden wastes and manure directly in these pits. The materials rot and add nutrients to the soil as your garden plants are growing. This is called basket composting in the Philippines.

HOST: If you grow vegetables, flowers, fruits, or field crops, you probably know how valuable good compost can be. Compost really improves the soil so that crops will be strong and healthy. Usually when you make compost, you make it in a pile or in a container near the garden. Then when you need it, you bring the well-rotted compost to the garden.

Let’s think about another method of composting that is done right in the garden. This is a method that will save you time and effort. Instead of making all of your compost in one place, you can do it in a series of holes or small compost pits spread throughout the garden plot. Put your kitchen and garden wastes directly into these small pits before planting the garden. The materials decompose there while your garden plants are growing.

The Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center in the Philippines uses this method of composting. They call it basket composting and people there say there are many advantages. First, you don’t have to wait four or five months before using the waste. You just put the fresh kitchen and other waste directly in the garden. Second, the small pits hold the compost in place right in the garden where the nutrients are needed for the plants. They are like little reservoirs of nutrients and moisture.

Here are the steps to take if you want to try basket composting in your garden. This method of composting will have the best success if you use it in raised garden beds with lots of loose soil.

After the plot is prepared, collect the materials you need to construct the basket compost pits. For each pit you will need:

1) Seven bamboo stakes, each 30 centimetres (12 inches) long, and 2 or 3 centimetres (about 1 inch) wide.

2) A long strip of flexible bamboo, 12 metres (40 feet) long, and 2 or 3 centimetres (about 1 inch) wide. You could also use a long coconut stem, or strips cut from the trunk of a banana or plantain tree.

3) Kitchen and garden wastes, manure, leaves, and other organic materials.

Now start the first pit. It should be located in the centre of one of the raised beds. Drive the seven bamboo stakes into the ground to form a circle 30 centimetres (12 inches) in diameter. Drive each stake half way into the ground.

Weave the long flexible bamboo strip in and out of the stakes, as if you are making a basket. Start weaving at soil level and continue to circle around and up until you reach the top of the stakes. You are moving the strip around and up in a spiral pattern. It’s like constructing a small circular fence. If you don’t have long strips of bamboo or some similar material, you can use a lot more bamboo stakes and space them very close together to make the fence.

After you have constructed this little circular fence, dig out all the soil inside it to a depth of 12 centimetres (5 inches). You have now completed one basket compost pit. You must now make several more in the same way. They should be spaced in a row about 1/2 metre (1 1/2 feet) apart, from one end of the garden bed to the other. To make compost in each of these pits, (gradually) fill them with fresh kitchen waste and fresh manure if you have it. You can also use well-rotted organic material, but it is best to put the most rotten material in the bottom of the hole. After the pit is filled with these things up to ground level, fill the fenced-in area above the ground with grass, weeds, and leaves (especially leaves from legume plants or trees if you have them). Whenever you pull any weeds out of the garden, just put them in the nearest basket compost pit.

When you plant seeds or seedlings in your bed, plant them 6 to 8 centimetres (2 to 3 inches) away from the compost pits. At the beginning you should water the seeds or seedlings directly, but as the plants get established, their roots will grow towards the closest compost pit. You can then just water the compost pit. It has now become a wonderful source of moisture and nutrients for your plants.

After you have harvested your vegetables, the material in the pits should be well-decomposed so take it out of the pits and mix it well into the soil in the bed. Make new compost in the pits the next time you plant vegetables in the bed.

Again, here are the advantages of basket composting:

1) You can immediately use your kitchen and garden waste in the garden without waiting the usual 4 – 5 months as in other methods of composting.

2) The pit holds the compost in place so the nutrients are not lost.

3) The pits are like little reservoirs of nutrients and moisture.

Basket composting is most successful with the raised bed or double digging method of gardening. This method is described in detail in:
More vegetables from your garden – Package 15, Item 10
Some other DCFRN items which refer to gardening and/or composting are:
Vegetable gardening (Part 1, 2, 3, 4) – Package 7, Items 1, 2, 3, 4
Making your own compost – Package 15, Item 9
Trench-bed gardening for dry lands – Package 9, Item 7

Information sources
1. Interview with Roy Alimoane, Trainer/Farmer Supervisor, Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center, Philippines, recorded by Jennifer Pittet.