Spot composting in existing beds?

I've got some 10+ year old flower beds (well, actually there are flowering shrubs, bulbs, perennials) that I had originally amended with peat moss, fine wood chips, etc. My soil tends to be rather fine silt-like stuff on top of clay. I did dig down and turn over all the muck by hand. Over the years, the soil has reverted back and doesn't hold moisture very well and gets a thin crust on the top if I don't mulch. The lower level of clay is really dry and hard again. I had seen an episode on "The Victory Garden" years ago about gardener in IL who dug small holes in her existing beds and buried mainly veggie scraps but I don't remember the details. This really appeals to me since digging up established shrubs, vines, etc isn't practical for me. I already have a big compost pile of mainly yard waste with oak leaves, veggie scraps, some paper, egg shells and coffee grounds but I just emptied it to amend other areas. Rather than waiting until next year for another batch to be ready, I thought spot composting would be ideal. Are there any tips to be shared regarding this method? Should I add a little fertilizer or other amendment?

Gold Beach, OR(Zone 9a)

I have done that, its easy to do, just took about 4 cups of fresh compost at a time and dug holes about 12 inches deep to bury it in. I also had an area that the water did not penetrate well. I dug narrow holes about 14 inches deep, filled them with moistened Soil Moist polymer, then topped it off with soil. That worked wonders and then just top dressing with mushroom compost, (bagged from garden center) and coffee grounds once a year got the worms working. Its beautiful soil now with little work. Get the worms working instead of digging, they work hard and do such a nice job!

Rebecca - Did it take long to see the benefits? I'm thinking that the ground here won't freeze for another two months so I can dig little holes everywhere and bury the veggie scraps and there should still be enough time to attract the worms. If my compost pile is any indication, there won't be a shortage of worms. I'm hoping to see some results by spring or am I being too optimistic?

Gold Beach, OR(Zone 9a)

No, once the worms move it things happen fast. Especially if you top dress it with something tasty for them, coffee grounds, etc. The soil moist really helped me as worms will not work in dry and it kept the soil damp. My soil was like powder and the water did not penetrate, once it was damp below the surface, everything florished.

When you say top dress with the coffee grounds, do you mean to cover up the veggie scraps with dirt and then put the grounds on top of the dirt or put the coffee grounds in the hole on top of the scraps and then cover the all of it with dirt? Coffee grounds I got.

Gold Beach, OR(Zone 9a)

Coffee grounds are great stuff. I usually will top dress with them, but mix them a little in with the dirt. If you put a thick layer of pure coffee grounds you will get a fungus and mold that is nasty. They are also great to just sprinkle anywhere you may have snails and slugs. It will keep them away. If you add it to your compost you will get many, many worms. They love coffee grounds! Once a year when I do my main weeding, I top dress with mushroom compost mixed 50/50 with coffee grounds. Then I know the worms will get up to the surface and work. I get huge bags from the local coffee shop so I always have plenty. I used no fertilizer or pesticide. People think I am organic, nope, just lazy!!

I'm heading out today to bury some veggie scraps and coffee grounds. By the time the ground freezes, it'll look like moles have invaded that area. :) Thanks for the tips!

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Even though the question has been answered, hope you don't mind if I link my article on 'spot composting'

Sally - thanks so much for posting that link. Great article and very motivating! I thought I had read it once but I only "searched" the forums. I especially like the note about sprinkling the coffee grounds to give the illusion of great gardening soil. My very fine silty soil is a taupe color when dry. Yes, fashionable.
I did run around the yard, gathering up green stuff (the leaves haven't turned here yet) - broken Hosta leaves, floppy lily leaves, bent Iris leaves, etc. Sat on the patio and cut them into smaller pieces (I didn't want a big Iris leaf sticking out of the hole, signaling to the raccoons where I buried the goodies). Mixed it all up with veggie scraps and the coffee grounds and filters. I thought about putting the grounds out as top-dressing but thought they might work better in with the "blend" to encourage the worms. I ended up digging about 6 holes, minimum 10" deep. I did however buy 6 bags of composted manure this afternoon to spread as a top dressing - I'll mix it in with the top 3" of soil. While I'm not planting anything now, it might encourage a whole gang of worms to move in over the winter. I'll be out there digging holes until the ground freezes.
Thanks to both of you for the info!

Las Vegas, NV(Zone 9a)

I live in a custom home guard gated community. The CC&R's do not allow compost piles. I knew I could fine a way around that rule. We have been here at this home 8 years. Since move-in I have always composted small holes at a time working my way around the garden. I was enlightened about coffee grounds last year from a DG soil composting thread. I did go to Starbucks and they were very willing and helpful. Because I am 67 they were always asking if I needed help to my car. I just smiled and hauled my treasure out to my car. Sometimes I needed to make two trips because they are always in very small parking lots and there never is any place close to park. Then I read about placing the coffee grounds on top and then water. The worms think of coffee grounds as ice cream. With the moisture, they rise to the top, meet each other, have a love fest, then enjoy the coffee ground. Next thing you know you have many baby worms, and they do not need "Heath Care".

skwinter - Coffee grounds as a worm aphrodisiac? Your description is very visual. LOL Maybe I need to rethink my approach of mixing the grounds in with the scraps. My theory was getting the worms down further to help break up some of the hard stuff under my silty soil but maybe I need to rethink that. Hmm, maybe I need to get to my local SB and get a bag of coffee grounds to do an all-over top-dressing before the ground freezes. Two pots of coffee per day at home will take a little longer to cover the area before winter.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Glad you enjoyed the article, CindyM,
skwinter, I love how you beatthe association!
Starbucks is not always consistent with the coffee ground thing, but the one nearest me , and busiest, is saving them in a big trash can. Sometimes the batch is so heavy I HAVE to have the guy bring it to the car! Whoo hoo! If he is willing I am happy to let him. --and if I didn't buy a drink I may tip him. Last time I got that I covered about twenty square feet with a thin top layer.

I can imagine that wet coffee grounds must make a heavy load. I'm going to call this morning to see if they save or have any that I can haul away in my trunk. I have two nearby so hoping the odds are in my favor.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

What a great thread!

When I lived in South Florida, I had the opposite problem to what I have here in NC - there black sand - here hard clay!

In Fla I used what I called "trench compositing" - similar to the one sallyg has explained, but I would dig a trench and fill it with kitchen scraps, burying the scraps as I went along. Once the trench was filled, I set my seeds.

Here in NC, I have used the "dig a hole and put in the kichen scraps" - both methods work great.

One thing... any thing that has seeds... don't be surprised if the seeds sprout, either soon after being dug into the soil, or in the spring. I have grown to love volunteers, you never know what you are going to get :)

Honeybee - I was just thinking about that as I cut up a wrinkly apple for the kitchen scrap pail. Hmmm - apples, tomatoes, zucchini - I may end up with a veggie plot after all. :)
I'm lined up to pick up SB coffee grounds from two locations this afternoon. Yippee. Called ahead first to make sure. Is it a corporate policy for them to offer the grounds to gardeners? They were so nice about it.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Cindy - this year I had volunteer cucumbers, melons, arugula, shallots, carrots and tomatoes!

The black beans (turtle beans) I grew earlier this year have set seed and are currently producing more beans! And seedling carrots are coming up all over the place.

Maybe my colder winter will kill off the seed viability? Or it might make "weeding" a little more challenging next spring.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Cindy - I don't know the anwer to your question, but anything is possible.

You certainly will need to know which ones are weeds, and which ones are baby veggies if/when the seeds do come up next spring. Sometimes they all look so much alike that you have to wait for the "true leaves" to develope before weeding out the unwelcome ones.

OK - I draw the line at de-seeding my kitchen scraps. :) I'll be able to tell my perennial from any veggie seedlings so I'm good there. Since I have only half-day sun in one small bed, about the only veggies I grow are a couple of tomatoes and peppers and some herbs.
Spread the first batch of coffee grounds and compost today and it's now raining so that will save me from having to water it all in. Maybe worms under the moonlight tonight? Also spot composted in planting holes for a couple of shrubs I moved today. They might even forgive me for moving them once they settle in.

Norristown, PA(Zone 6b)

I have a friend who has been doing this for years all through out her large beds. She particularly loves burying any scraps and body parts from seafood. When we go to restaurants, she gets doggie bags for everybody's shrimp and crabshells and fish bones and skins. She has the most amazing gardens.

A lot of composting goodies from fish body parts. I'll have to remember that. DH not into seafood except for deep fried shrimp so not much opportunity though.
Still have another big bag of coffee grounds to get out onto the garden in the next day or so before they start turning moldy. Might make another run for more this weekend.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Hi Cindy- Yes it is corporate policy to give Grounds for Gardeners. But when I asked at a couple of smaller, inside-another-store ones, they gave me that blank stare. LOL So it is best to call ahead- plus someone else might have just picked up grounds so you don't want to waste a trip.

Just so you know- those seedlings you get may not be of the same quality as the fruit they came from. Its a hybrid thing. Despite that, I have two peach trees from pits , that I am going to nurture. And several volunteer tomatos stayed growing in my compost pile this summer. I have had and seen some great volunteer pumpkins.

Honeybee- I am surprised you get lots of carrot seedlings. where do you buy carrot flowers? LOL

Mid-Cape, MA(Zone 7a)

Hi Cindy- Yes it is corporate policy to give Grounds for Gardeners. But when I asked at a couple of smaller, inside-another-store ones, they gave me that blank stare.

SallyG, I got the look at the Starbucks that I go to, which is located inside my large Stop 'n Shop supermarket. Then the barista told me that she had heard that it was no longer Starbucks' policy to give out Grounds for Gardeners.
But nowhere have I heard that the company has revoked this program. I'm wondering if it would do any good to call the company and press them a bit on this. There is no other Starbucks for me to visit within several miles.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Well, as far as I know (for what THAT"S worth!) it's still in effect. I think it comes down to--does that location feel it's worth their effort.
At one point, I saw something about packing up the grounds in cute little bags and putting those in a basket out in the seating area. But that's gotta be a chore and if they went un-taken--a maintenance problem. Can't have stinky bags of grounds sitting there! The 'compromise' my store has reached is setting aside one trash can for all the grounds. If someone asks they'll dump all their brewer things, close up the bag and give it out.
I keep meaning to contact the manager of "my" starbucks and praise her for being cooperative.

I also have a huge WAWA (convenience and gas store) that must go thru a lot of grounds, but I feel shy about asking them. Its a combo of--does the store have enough output to make it worth YOUR while, and is there enough customer demand, and is it easy enough to accommodate while working, to make it worth THEIR while.

Norristown, PA(Zone 6b)

My Starbucks does the cute bags in a basket thing. Just got some yesterday. Sometimes when I go in the basket is empty. At those times I just ask the staff if any are available and usually they have some not yet bagged and will give me some. But I have gotten some excuses and rejections at other Starbucks before, so it really is basically up to the employees or local store management.

Make sure you keep going in this time of year as they will stop saving or bagging them as the demand dwindles. I've had 2 stores tell me they only do it in the summer.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

sallyg -

Honeybee- I am surprised you get lots of carrot seedlings. where do you buy carrot flowers?

Carrots are biennial, so if you leave some in the ground, they will flower the second season. After the flowers dry up, the seeds will spread themselves around.

Gold Beach, OR(Zone 9a)

If you talk to the manager and make it easier for them to save the grounds for you than to throw them away, you will be up to your neck in grounds. I took in a large garbage can and a small one. I put the small one near the coffee machines, it is a standard 13 gallon that holds the standard plastic bags. They toss the coffee, filters and all in there then when its full, they take that and put it in the back in the large one. I come in once a week and empty it out. Its usually full of convienent plastic bags full, one for each day. It saves them money and I do MAKE sure its easier for them than using a regular garbage to dispose of them. I have been picking up all the coffee grounds for 5 years now. Oh and above the big can I have a note with my phone number on it in case it gets full during the week for some reason. They love it as it saves them doing anything with the grounds at all.

If you are interrupting workers for grounds or if you are not consistant and it becomes a bother for them, they are in business so its easier to toss the grounds.

Other places it would be worthwile would be the local hospital cafeteria, senior center, businesses. If I did not have more than I need I would also hit the small drive through places, seems they would LOVE to have someone pick up the garbage free, and perhaps if they bagged it for you you could even drive thru to pick it up!!

Its like black gold. When I have extra like I have had for the past few weeks, I just spread it lightly on the grass. You can see exactly where I have done so as it greens up fast and it helps hold in moisture. When I do that I do not mix it with anything, just spread it thinly. Only problem is the next day you see all these birds and you KNOW they are snacking on your worms.....

When I hit up the two stores the other day, one store had them in those cute little gardener's foil bags, the other in a big plastic bag. I didn't hit the one in the hotel/theater complex even though it's probably pretty busy. Hmm - top-dressing on the lawn, heh? I'll have to try that and have just the spot in mind to experiment.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

he hee Honeybee! I thought you implied that something you were tossing in the garden, was giving carrot sprouts- That did not compute. Thanks!

rebecanne- you are really helping them out- I bet they love you

I've been continuing with the spot composting and top dressing with store-bought composted manure and SB coffee grounds. Is there anything else that I can add easily among the existing plants? Alfalfa pellets, dried molasses, etc? Or is this overkill for a non-vegetable garden? Hoping that anything I'm adding now will have time to work into the soil over winter. Of course, the ground will freeze here in another 6 weeks or so.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

CindyM - you can spot compost with anything that doesn't contain meat, grease or bones - including crushed egg shells.

If you want stuff to break down fast, put the scrapes through your blender with some water - then dig a hole, and pour it in! Or dig a trench around your plant, and pour the stuff in there.

Not much goes to waste in our house - either the dog eats it, or it goes into the compost LOL!

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

On the other hand, some composters use EVERYTHING!

Norristown, PA(Zone 6b)

Thought some of you folks might be interested in this:

PuddlePirate - I have seen that article before and I was quite impressed with it and even mentioned it to my daughter last year since she was trying to rejuvenate an old garden plot at her new house. I did add a bunch of shredded paper (old tax files) to the compost bin when I emptied it a month ago. Because I'm working with an existing bed with plantings, I can't build up the soil level too much.
stormyla - I've thought about compost tea and might try it next year. I've repeatedly read how it improves the health of plants. For now, top dressing with composted manure and coffee grounds with the eminent ground freeze will have to do.

Norristown, PA(Zone 6b)

Cindy, I'm in the same boat as you. Every year I haul truckloads of composted leaf mold from the township's "free" pile. I top the beds with about a 2 inch layer. Then I add a 1 to 2 inch layer of Mushroom soil and finally cover most of them with freshly shreded leaves. If the soil is really compacted, I'll sprinkle Gypsum and rake some of it in before adding the top dressings.

Sounds as if your beds are really tucked in warmly for the winter. This is the first year I've had time (and the motivation) to do any soil amending in the fall. I just get so frustrated with some of the beds where we've had a good rain but it's bone dry 3" down. My plants should have done way better than they did in one particular bed since we didn't have a lot of hot weather and we did get some good rain except for one dry spell of a couple of weeks. Even then, the bed got supplemental watering. I usually mulch in the spring with hardwood chips every other year. I dig in any remaining mulch and then put down the fresh stuff. Guess that just hasn't been good enough. I may shred leaves in the spring and put down under the wood chips. Too time-consuming in the Nov when I'm tied up with indoor stuff.
How does the gypsum work for you? I've been tempted to use some but wasn't sure if it had to be dug in to be effective.

Norristown, PA(Zone 6b)

Cindy, I didn't dig the gypsum in. I did rake the soil a bit before applying it. That bed is 150' x 30'. It is under Maples. My soil is always dry 1" down despite water and rain. It's my roadside bed along a road that get 50 mph traffic. There is also an open field across the street and it is the windiest spot in the neighborhood.
The soil amendments have made a hugh difference. Last fall was the 3rd year of doing them. It took 2 years to get the worms to move in. The soil there used to have the consistancy of Builder's sand. Now it will hold together and retain some moisture. It's a great bed for bulbs and a lot of Xeric plants. I'm going to dig up the Hosta and Heuchera that are in it and move them to another bed. It's just too dry for them. Sun plants do much better in it than shade plants, even those supposedly for dry shade.
It takes a tremendous amount of leaves to get enough to cover a bed when shreded. In our area landscapers have to pay a recycling center to take their leaves. I have talked 2 of them into bringing me several truckloads full. I just run over them with a lawn mower with a collection bag, then spread them onto the bed directly from the collection bag. I used to put them through a leaf shreder, but this method is much faster. I can do about 10 bags in an hour. It goes very quickly.

I have lots of my own leaves, but they also have a lot of Black Walnut mixed in. I have to dispose of those leaves. The landscapers bring me only Maple & Oak leaves. I do the same thing to all of my beds, but the roadside bed is the only one that gets the gypsum. I moved here 4 years ago and nothing had been done to the property in over 25 years.

I'd be leery about mulching in the fall here because we usually get rain with the falling oak leaves and they tend to mat on the garden beds. I'm not sure that putting more leaves on top of the matted ones wouldn't smother some of the plants. Usually the west wind blows a lot of the leaves off of the beds but I do have a major leaf cleanup in the spring so that would be a good time to mulch with the leaves. I do keep the leaves off the lawn in the fall and they'll go into the compost pile. My yard tends to collect a lot of leaves from the neighborhood in addition to my own due to the west wind and other factors. It's major work just keeping the lawn cleared.
I did empty out some outdoor pots yesterday and put the potting soil right on the beds. Probably won't get dug in though until spring. Maybe the peat/perlite in the MG will help improve the soil a bit.

Norristown, PA(Zone 6b)

Cindy, I don't put the shreded leaves on top of the matted leaves. I remove the falen leaves from the beds and the garden. If I didn't have the black walnuts, I would shred these leaves and use them as mulch with an immediate return to the garden. After raking the whole leaves out ouf the beds, I put down my other amendments and then top with the shreded leaves.
I personally couldn't imagine doing this in the spring as I have so many other garden chores at that time. Also, the leaf topping helps prevent my bulbs and newly planted items from heaving over the winter, but I suppose that your fallen leaves do that too. There are many people who post on DG who never do anything to their leaves, just let them lay and compost themselves over time. They even rake their whole leaves from the lawn into their beds. They have beautiful beds.

I have that same west wind problem and end up with tons of oak leaves on one side of my lawn, even though I don't have any oaks. My neighbor's maple tree branches extend 30' into my lawn and her leaves cover the other half of my lawn every fall.

I have so many leaves that fall well into Nov that I don't even try to keep the beds cleared in the fall. Even in spring, that's a two week project. Luckily, I can start that in late March way before I can plant anything out. Gets me in physical shape for the planting season after hibernating all winter.

Post a Reply to this Thread

Please or register to post.

Upload Images to your reply

    You may upload up to 5 images