Spot composting in existing beds continued by popular demand

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Last thread was so well used,
here will be a continuation. The previous thread has plenty of good Q and A and discussion.

Generally, spot composting in existing beds means: instead of the whole compost pile thing, you take your materials to in-use areas, dig small holes or trenches, and put them in 'fresh' (or as fresh as some compost additions can be !)

Thumbnail by sallyg
Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Question from Cindy, not yet answered
" (I've heard that it's better to use locally grown material for mulching - other than the carbon footprint of transport or the introduction of non-native pests/disease, is there any other reason to do so?"

None that I can think of.

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

YAY!! Thanks so much sallyg for starting the new thread. I've never done it before & I didn't want to mess it up...

Your post went in while I was writing so there's one more post after your link. I mentioned some things that have worked well for me & could possibly be useful for some of you so it might be helpful going back & reading my post if some of you skipped right to here.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

You're very welcome! It takes a couple syeps and may be confusing but Really all I did was
Start a new thread
Open the old thread in another window so I could copy the link (http url thingie)
Add the link of the old thread into the post of the new
And for bonus points. its nice to add a link to the New thread, in the Old thread,

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

You're right, it sounds confusing...

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Thats ok. One could always just start a new thread without the linking stuff

Hey now that my plants are grown in thick in places, I am guilty of just hiding some scraps under the foliage. Which leads me to think to myself, I probably should not have things planted close enough that I can do that! I would not do this in my back bed where the voles run rampant already , nor in my fruit and veggie areas where I do not want any more encouragement of fruit mold than I already would have.

For the vole playground I did plan to bury some dog waste--see how they like THAT in their back porch.

Las Vegas, NV(Zone 9a)

I have started digging in the leaves that fall on top of the soil from my neighbors trees. Not many but instead of cleaning them up and putting in the large compost pile, I just scrape a hole, put in the leaves and cover.

But I have been spot composting for over 7 years on this property so the soil is easy to move around. Sharon.

Glenwood Springs, CO(Zone 5b)

When I was growing up in Southern California we had som huge fuerte avocado trees. I remeber digging a large hole, throwing in the leafs, filing with water, adding a layer of soil, compressing it with my feet and then repeating with another layer. I was really amazed next year when I dug in the same area and found none of the leafs, but the soil seemed to be be much richer.


Hobart, IN

nuts - Your soil sounds a lot like mine - hard packed clay under a few inches of workable stuff. I wonder how the auger would work in breaking up the hard soil in a new bed while making holes for compostables?
I will definitely try burying my compost a little deeper and see if the raccoons are still as nosy. I've been planting annuals and I have to patrol each new planting for a few days because the 'coons seem to be curious about the new plants and will pull them out of the ground. Once the plants have been in the ground for a few days, they're left alone.
Has anyone come up the quick, no fuss way of chopping up kitchen waste to bury? Those banana peels are quite a challenge to stuff in a hole. I've used the sharp end of my spade in the past but I end up getting quite the upper body workout. And I think I'm too impatient to put all of the scraps through an old blender. I don't want things too easy, do I? :)
And thanks for resurrecting this topic!

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

(off topic slightly but Cindy, maybe a couple loose bricks will help with new plants. Plant the plant then put two or three bricks around it so it is hard to get to for the racoons to pull up.)

After confessing to just hiding scraps under my plants., I felt messy and went and buried them.

Hobart, IN

(sallyg - off topic but I'm planting dozens of annuals so the brick/rock thing probably won't work plus I'd have to buy bricks.:) )
On topic - curious - is there any benefit to hiding the scraps under plants?

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

Quote from CindyMzone5 :
Has anyone come up the quick, no fuss way of chopping up kitchen waste to bury? Those banana peels are quite a challenge to stuff in a hole. I've used the sharp end of my spade in the past but I end up getting quite the upper body workout. And I think I'm too impatient to put all of the scraps through an old blender. I don't want things too easy, do I? :)

Well, heck, I use an old blender. What could be more convenient? I pour the slurry into an old plastic coffee container with a tight lid & keep it on my counter. Every other day or so, I go out to my compost bin, dig a hole about a foot down into the center, pour in the slurry, & cover it back up. Piece o' cake.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Oh, Cindy, I meant that I was taking scraps to the garden and dropping them on top of the ground but where the foliage of plant hid them from casual view. Could be buggy and smelly at times.

Pirate- It just might be one task / appliance too many. it is for me. But a great system if you can do it!

Hobart, IN

sally - I know what you meant. :) I was just curious if there is any benefit to leaving them on top of the ground (other than for the raccoons in my yard who wouldn't have to dig for their "treats").
Thanks for the tip, Pirate, but I have to agree with Sally. And I don't get out there every day (but wish I did).

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Actually, I feel like the fungus gnats, fruit flies might be appreciated by toads and birds, if I leave rotten stuff laying on top. Rotting fruit is 'supposed' to attract butterflies but has only worked once for me.

Hobart, IN

Speaking of butterflies (and totally off-topic), the butterfly feeder I got for DGD was so busy with bees that the butterflies couldn't get near it. Oooo - might be a good reason to bury fruit, especially in the summer.

Bozeman, MT

I have been blending up my kitchen scraps. The slurry goes to one of three places: 1) the compost pile; 2) the worm bin; 3) a hole in the ground in my perrenial bed.

Sometimes, I even just pour the slurry right out into the soil.

I do this, instead of always just putting it in the compost or worms, because I have hard, clay, packed soil. And my theory is that maybe the slurry will attract worms to come help break up that soil.

My results are preliminary and anecdotal, but I think it is making a difference. :-)

I haven't had any pest problems, other than my own dog. But what's funny (sort of; it's also annoying) is that she will occasionally dig a hole where I poured the slurry. But there's not really anything solid for her to uncover. It's just dirt with slurry smell. So she digs, but can't find anything to eat. Ha! Take that, dog! :-)

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

seran72 - That sounds like a good idea pouring the slurry over the soil. It probably also adds nutrients - kind of like adding an organic liquid fertilizer. I also have hard-packed soil & clay so I may try that.

I've been using bulb augers to make holes between perennials to not disturb the roots. Sometimes I cheat & fill them with finished compost. . . if I have enough, plus used coffee grounds, then cover up the holes.

I dug some larger holes in a more open area where I wanted to plant some new perennials & filled them the same way then left them for a couple of weeks before planting. I noticed when I planted those areas they already seemed to have more worms.

That's hysterical that your dog has been digging looking for "phantom" goodies!

Hobart, IN

I have noticed more crumbly soil and more worms where I've done spot composting and thrown coffee grounds on top. Also means that the top layer, while more permeable, dries out quicker. Thinking I need to top dress with some compost. Speaking of which - my compost doesn't get hot since it's in the shade. Anyone have any ideas how to handle sprouting weed seeds from the compost? The only thing I can think of is not to throw weeds in the compost pile.

Las Vegas, NV(Zone 9a)

I just pull them up and feed them back into the compost. I have 3 tomatoes that I moved away from the compost pile and I will let you know how they do. Maybe winter tomatoes.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

CindyMzone5 - I used to think compost bins had to be in the sun to have them heat-up. Recently I read that they are better kept in the shade to keep them from drying out too quickly.

Hobart, IN

Honeybee - thanks for that info. I'm thinking that I probably need more "green" stuff in my pile since it contains so many oak leaves (unshredded). I've been putting kitchen scraps into it as well. We have a mulching lawn mower so most of the grass clippings go back onto the lawn. I'm torn though between adding my precious coffee grounds to the pile as opposed to adding them to the garden beds. Maybe I can compromise by hoarding coffee pot dregs and sprinkling the liquid on the compost pile. They currently go to feed my Hinoki cypress. Sorry to get off-topic.
Sharon - I thought tomatoes loved being near a compost pile? I can't even think of winter tomatoes - what a treat.

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

Cindy - I have a small compost bin in the shade. It Gets really hot whenever I first add stuff if I put a fairly even amount of greens & browns, but it doesn't last long because it's a fairly small bin. It doesn't seem to matter though, as I still get nice compost.

I take weeds & dump them way in the back yard behind the garden shed. They eventually break down & the soil there...over the years...has turned pretty nice. I don't plant anything there, but it's some nice soil if I ever want to use it.

I always add coffee grounds to my compost bin...filters & all. That compost goes on the beds or in holes that I dig in my beds so I think it helps. Go to your local "Starbucks". Many of them have bags of "Grounds for your Garden" that they put in a big basket. Others will allow you to leave a 5-gallon bucket that they fill for you. That way you can use it in compost, on garden beds and in holes that you dig.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I suspect that spot composting in beds works better when the soil is already somewhat established and has some life and drainage in it.

I'm not sure that clippings and scraps decompose very fast when buried in raw clay that does not already have lots of worms, insects and microbes (and drainage, and aeration).

Composting goes fastest when the conditions encourage many kinds of living things to grow. A hole dug into clay that is too dense might just fill with rain water and turn into a mud-puddle with some slowly-rotting garbage in it. Instead of a tiny, aerated, below-ground compost heap.

I'm sure it does help the clay eventually, but maybe it helps more to pre-compost the greens and scraps in a heap where they have air and water and worms and bugs - then add that finished or semi-finished, life-rick compost to the dead clay (or add a little clay to the compost, is more like it).

To exagerate, "you can feed almost anything to live soil with benefit, but feeding dead clay doesn't work as well".

Better to create some compost with lots of life in it, and mix THAT with the dead clay, to jump-start it.

But I admit I have not tried to make compost in a hole in my clay. Sometimes I lean the compost pile over on TOP of my clay-pile, hoping the "drippings" will soften it a little.

I usually excavate and remove the dead clay from a future RB site, screen it, and mix it gradually with compost and other amendments, to keep it draining and aerated as soil life establishes itself in the clay.


Hobart, IN

The beds I'm composting in were actually dug up some several years ago so some of the stuff on top was introduced into the clay at that time. Just not deep enough (OK - I'm a lazy bum when it comes to possibly double digging). Now when I spot compost, I use a long trenching shovel to dig a deeper hole. There were always a few earth worms (not many) but the coffee grounds I added two years ago (and continue to add) have attracted more to do the digesting work.
I did start out by collecting grounds from Starbucks but haven't done that in about a year. I did save all my grounds over winter but it's just not enough. Hmm - maybe I need a "compost only" mega bag to get the pile cooking.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> Now when I spot compost, I use a long trenching shovel to dig a deeper hole

Yeah, I love my trenching spade for "going back later" and turning composted compost or bark fines or sand down under.

I also use it for making furrows: if the bed is raised and full to the brim of the RB walls, I can use the side of the spade to make a furrow with well-controlled depth and one very clean sharp side to lean root balls upon.

And I use it as a cane. You need to sharpen that leading edge, Rick!


Las Vegas, NV(Zone 9a)

I do not turn my compost pile. It is at the end of the raised beds that is more shaded. I use that bed for herbs and a holding garden.

There are so many worms, they devour it. I will take a photo and show you my pile. I just started this one about a week ago because I was pulling up many annuals that were done. I do need to get two pieces of plywood though because two sides are resting against a stuccoed and painted block wall. Not to smart. I bet a thick piece of card board would do the trick maybe wrapped in thick plastic wrap. . Free boxes at the Post Office.

I actually saw a very large, like night crawler, worm in the bed yesterday when I was adding some green. Have not seen one ever in this garden. Always something exciting in the garden. Sharon

Hobart, IN

I do like the idea of using the spade for a cane. Does double duty that way. The trenching spade is my fav these days because I can dig among established plants without doing too much damage. My other fave is straight-edge for slicing through clay and grass - great edging tool.
Congrats on the nightcrawler! We get them a lot here in compost-y soil, especially in the woods. Now I can understand moving the tomatoes if they were in shade.

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

WormsLovSharon - When my husband & I need large pieces of thick corrugated cardboard we go to furniture stores and look in their trash bins . . .yes. .the trash...

Many of the items come in huge boxes that are removed when they put the furniture on the showroom floor. It's generally nice and clean and great for a variety of uses.

Most of my clay had a thin layer of soil over it from when they originally built our house (plus huge rocks, pieces of concrete & other leftover contstuction material that they dumped). We ammend any beds we start with a variety of organic materials, but many of them eventually pack down anyways because of the clay.

The two beds that haven't are one long narrow raised bed that had most of the soil/clay removed down to about a foot deep & filled with good soil in bags plus leaves, peat moss & compost. The other is small bed we started last year in the middle of the grass. For that last one we left the soil/clay that was there, but mixed in several big bags of Cotton Burr Compost, leaves & peat moss.

For the others, I have been digging holes & using two sizes of bulb Augers (on a drill) to make holes and adding food scraps, coffee grounds & homemade compost. It seems to be helping & my worm community is growing...yay!

Hobart, IN

nuts - you're right about the amended clay beds tending to re-compact. I've used hardwood mulch nuggets in the past to help break up the clay but it's still rather clay-ey.

Bozeman, MT

WormsLovSharon - I would love to see a photo!

Corey - Although I definitely have clay, mine must not be as bad as yours. Because I definitely have life in mine. I even have a fair number of worms.

I'm admittedly not terribly knowledgeable about soil, but there must be some life in yours too. There r organisms n the most inhospitable corners of the solar system. I wouldnt want u to waste good composting material on an experiment, but I secretly believe if u poured slurry, the worms would come. :-)

Cindy - some people say compost should always b n shade because if it heats up w microbial activity AND is in the sun it can get too hot and kill the microbes.

Interestingly, I recently read that hot piles kill more pathogens bot cold compost has more soil disease resistance because hot piles kill the protective microbes.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> there must be some life in yours too.

I'm sure it isn't STERILE, but imagine modeling clay. That's about how much air it has in it before I start amending. The compost heap and amended beds do acquire worms etc from surrounding spots where a hole was amended for shrubs, and I carry soil from the better beds to poorer beds to "innoculate" them.

And if I don;t get enoguh compost into it, it very rapidly falls back to the consistency of pudding. The developers clearly plowed off and hauled away anything remotely soil-like.

But it doesn;t look bad where it has been amended enough, for long enough, for living things to discover it and colonize. The older beds were looking better at first, but then i think they finished digesting their first load of organic matter, and are reverting to crustier, wetter pudding.

The beds where I didn't add enough compost, or first-year beds, are just obviously not "soil" in the sense of living, thriving and inviting roots.

Right now my main "compost" is what I can haul home in bags in the trunk of my car. I plan to buy a yard or two of Cedar Grove biosolids-sawdust "compost". And mycorhyizzia (sp?) innoculent.

The only "real compost" I've been able to make myself (worms, bugs, smells like soil) adds up to 1-2 wheelbarrowsfull after 2-3 years.

Maybe I ought to take the time and money to improve my existing beds more, instead of following my inclination, which is to create as much growing space as I can.


Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> if u poured slurry, the worms would come. :-)

I'm approaching it from the other direction: I'm not trying to improve large areas, I'm createing a few raised beds. removing some clay but mostly building UP so there is any drainage. Then I try to create half-decent soil to fill the bed by screening clay, and adding as much commercial "compost", pine bark fines and coarse sand as I camn afford and haul.

By growing things in half-decent soil, I hoped that roots and invading soil life would improve it for me. But I that The Plan has to include adding 2-4" of some kind of compost every year. It gets digested! My budget must increase, or my ambitions must decrease.

Some have suggested growing a cover crop for compost-pile-feedstuff. If I have to give up on the next 2-3 square yards of raised bed I planned, I may do that there ... if I can create at least an inch or two of something for the cover crop to get its roots into!

Having a full-time job really cuts into my gardening time!


Hobart, IN

Corey - I am an impatient gardener, forging ahead on projects just to get to the finish line. I wish I had taken more time improving soil as I went along because it's tough to do after the beds are planted. What about taking the lasagna composting style to your "future" beds, letting nature do some of the work while you work on existing beds? After the "lasagna" cooks for a season, you could dig it in all at the same time.

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)


I use crimson clover as a cover crop on areas where the local clay soil is packed hard like concrete. Through trial & error I've figured out what works here.

I start by wetting the hardpan as much as possible, just to soften it some. Then I jab a garden fork into it until it looks like Swiss cheese. Next comes a layer of compost, ideally a couple of inches thick. Onto that I scatter crimson clover seed. Last, I water it gently in so that the compost gets down into the holes.

It gets treated a little like a newly seeded lawn until the clover takes hold. After that, it's self-sufficient. Clover roots are spectacular diggers, especially if you don't cut the plants back at all.

Whenever the mood strikes, I scatter more compost over the established clover patch, just to kickstart the microherd down in the soil.

Once the clover flowers & goes to seed, I crush it without uprooting it. As the roots rot, water gets down into the clay. Over the winter, the ice heaves & expands those tiny channels for me.

In the spring, I scatter more compost and watch for new clover from the seeds of the last crop. If need be, I reseed the bed. This time, though, I don't let the clover go to seed. I crush it just before it flowers, then cover it with one more layer of compost.

A week or two later, the bed's ready for whatever I want to put there.

My way takes a few months, but I'm cheap & I'm in a manual wheelchair. I end up saving money and back aches.

Las Vegas, NV(Zone 9a)

This is my compost pile. You can see I have a few plants that need to be moved this week. The bed is 3 feet deep. You are seeing the top of the pile.

Thumbnail by WormsLovSharon
Las Vegas, NV(Zone 9a)

This is the rest of that bed. This is my holding garden. Holding anything I purchased that is to small to go into landscape and extra plants I am holding for planting later or growing for someone else. I have wire vine in the holding bed. I create my own plants. I just cover some of the branches, they root and then I cut them and plant where I need them.

We had two great rain storms yesterday. All my plants are very wet and happy.

This is the flower bed it took me 4 days to rehab. African Sumac root problems, old age and heat is why it took so long. Lowes had one gallon coleuses for $3. Instant garden. And then I transplanted many plants I had in the holding garden.

I will be back tonight. I need to get to work. Sharon.

Thumbnail by WormsLovSharon
Las Vegas, NV(Zone 9a)

This is the same bed when I started. The plants, mostly ground cover had been removed, but roots were still hidden.

You may notice the rehabbed bed is larger in one area. I moved some large rocks to get to the roots and it was easier to make the bed bigger than move back the rocks.

Thumbnail by WormsLovSharon
Hobart, IN

Puddle - your method sounds like it produces some really healthy soil.
Nice instant garden, Sharon.

Las Vegas, NV(Zone 9a)

Had a micro burst about 10 miles closer to downtown today. 80+ mph winds and a big down pour. SW is so weird. No rain or enough rain to need an boat. High humidity which is unusual. But after the tornadoes and sunami, I will never complain about the weather ever again.

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