Do you add soil to your compost pile?

Duxbury, MA(Zone 7a)

I thought I read once to add some soil to your compost pile, so I've been doing that. I think it's getting out of hand, though. What does everyone else do with leftover containers in the fall? I've been dumping them, soil and all, into my compost pile. My compost is now just really rich soil. Which leads to a follow up question: how do you maintain the level of your garden? If one keeps adding compost how do you keep it from becoming a mound?

Central, TX(Zone 8b)

Cindyeo... pitch a little native soil in the compost pile to "inoculate" it with soil microbes - a little sprinkling as new layers are added goes a long way.

You're up in cooler country while I'm baking down south where native soils "eat up" all organic matter you throw at it! Guess your compost takes longer to be used up. Just spread it out over a larger area if it's mounding in landscape beds. Down here we create raised beds in the vegetable garden and amend with compost throughout the growing season (which is year round for us), brew compost tea, add compost to potting soil for containers, and pretty much use it all up.

Are you using any chemical fertilizers or "weed & feed" products? Chems kill off microbes. Are you using your compost as mulch on the soil surface or working it into the soil more than a few inches? How are your plants doing? If they're looking good and healthy then you have a problem I wish I had!!!

This message was edited Jun 17, 2012 6:19 AM

Duxbury, MA(Zone 7a)

No, no chemicals. I don't topdress with it, because it has so much soil in it now. I typically add my compost in the spring any place where I'm planting a plant, like the holes for the tomatoes, or if I plant a new perennial. And now, since like I said my compost is really just good soil, I use it in all my containers. I should "replace" the old soil in my garden with this newly created nice soil. But what do people do with the old, tired, soil? Pile it up somewhere? I really don't have room, I have neighbors on all sides and no one wants to look at a dirt pile. My yard is very level, I don't need to fill in any place, so I throw it into the compost pile (which is surrounded by a decent looking cedar box that someone built for me)

Poughkeepsie, NY(Zone 6a)

I teaspoon of soil contains I have heard MILLIONS of organisms. I throw a hand full on my pile once in a while and lightly water in.

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

We also add soil and old potting soil from containers as long as nothing was diseased and died normal deaths.

Anderson, IN(Zone 6a)

Use to often add soil from worm bins adding material ,seemed to do a little better than without.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

cindy, if you have lawn, you can use a thin layer of compost on it.
It's hard for me to imagine having so much compost.

Duxbury, MA(Zone 7a)

My problem isn't using up my compost, it's how to avoid the landscaper's mounding syndrome. I don't want my flower beds to be 6 or 8" higher than my lawn after years of adding compost. I don't know about anyone else, but I go crazy when I see a tree in the front of someone's yard and it's sticking out of a small mountain of mulch, they just keep adding mulch every year (I know I'm talking pine bark mulch here, not compost, but I assume you'd end up with the same problem). And I wanted to know if others had a large soil component to their compost, and if you don't empty the containers, soil and all, in at the end of the summer, what do you do with them?

Central, TX(Zone 8b)

Unless your growing in containers "old soil" doesn't need to be replaced, rather amended with fresh compost to keep the microbe population going strong.

Do you have neighbors to share your bounty with?

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

Cindy - after adding compost for 20 years our gardens are noticeably higher than the surrounding grass and the brick terrace. As long as it stays put, and it does, I don't worry about it. Even in storms that have given us two inches of rain the soil does not wash away at all.

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

CIndy, I too wish I had your problem. I always believed (with no back-up facts) that compost added gradually will go down gradually, maybe as the earthworms carry it away with them. Since you are adding potting soil in addition to compost, that probably isn't the case. I think you should perhaps wait and see if you have a mounding problem and, if so, then take sallyg's suggestion to spread it on your lawn. Maybe you also have the problem of a too luxurious lawn?


Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

I hate those volcano trees. SO bad for the tree too.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

I wish I had a "too much compost" problem.

what do people do with the old, tired, soil?
There is no need to dispose of old soil. Simply amend it with all that wonderful compost you have. If your soil becomes too deep, perhaps you could put in some raised beds and fill them with compost and "old soil."

When we moved here six years ago, the three trees in the front yard had several inches of mulch covering their roots. One of the first things I did was remove all but a thin layer, leaving the "root flair" bare. The pile of mulch left over, I let rot for two years in a shady location in the back yard. Then I planted the pile with ferns. I'm sure those trees breathed a sigh of relief.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

"I'm sure those trees breathed a sigh of relief.
I'm sure they did, because I just did too!

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I also add just a sprinkling of soil from my healthiest bed to "innoculoate" my compost heap. Plus, I transfer a half-shovel from the cookingest part of an active heap to the next pile of "cold clippings" to get them jump-started.

If your compost is NOT being digested by microbes and worms as fast as you add it, I would question how well-aerated the soil is. If soil life has oxygen and food (organic matter), they eat the food pretty fast!

Or does soil stay pretty cold most of the year in Duxbury? Or is it heavy and clay-ey despite adding compost? Consider adding coarse grit, crushed rocks, or coarse screened pine bark.

This suggests a solution for the mounding: LET the beds mound up if they wish, but prop paving stoneds around the beds to keep them tidyh, and call them raised beds. That should improve your drainage enough that soil organic matter seldom rises above 5-15% ... no matter how much orgasnic compost you add. And plant's rolots will appreciate the extra oxygen.

Or use excess soil to raise the soil level all around your yard, or even create a grade so that water tends to flow where you want it. Instead of letting a few beds get 8" taller, make hour whole yard 1/2" higher above the water table..

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

This is the kind of really-easy raised bed I was suggesting. The pavers are around $1 each.

P.S. The peop;le who throw old-pot-soil into compost heaps are smart. The really vigorous microbe populations in the heap will dilute, overwhelm and probably eat any possible disease organisms. Anmd any excess fertilizer salt will be diluted, making it just more mineral nutirents.

But I'm not that smart or energetic. I just dump old pots on top of my raised beds, and turn it under spring or fall if it's an annual bed. Hopefully excess salts will be diluted and washed away by rain, and hopefully any disease organisms made the plant sick enough that I noticed, and knew to dump that pot far away from flowers and crops.

This message was edited Jun 19, 2012 12:11 PM

Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA
Provo, UT(Zone 5a)

i agree with rickcorey.. on soil/inoculant.. i see these "inoculants" for sale out there..
my soil has alot of compost in it.. with addition of overwintered shredded leaves..grass clippings..
and rabbit manure.. and several shovels of soil.. my compost comes alive pretty fast..
good luck to you !!!

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Just guessing, maybe the application where commercial innoculants would help most is when you're creating soil from scratch: like dead clay or sand plus sawdust, manure and shredded paper. The living part has to come from somewhere!

A neighbor with a hot compost heap plus some good, healthy, long-established soil with lots of organic matter and living population should be as good a source of innoculum as some comemrcial product (in my own totally uninformed & inexperienced opinion!).

And maybe better, if microbes are as specialized as plants, in what kind of climate and soil they thrive best in.

Provo, UT(Zone 5a)

i get grief from some neighbours on.."how much compost do u need?"
but funny when growing season is full on.. i get visits.. " do you have any compost i can
add to my...." :) lol i always have plenty..not to give away alot..but some..
my one neighbour put in a spruce twice..only to loose them both times.. he really wanted one in
particular spot.. we were chatting last yr..he asked if he could buy some of my
i had one of the kids take over a couple big buckets of compost.. had the hole dug a big larger..
(soil was mostly clay,no drainage) dug in the compost..
this yr..the newest spruce is thriving..
i grow alot of tropicals.. some EE thrive when certain bacteria are in the soil as well..
im always throwing around my homemade manure/alfalfa tea on my plants..
hate it when it sloshes back on me though..LOL

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> had the hole dug a big larger..
>> (soil was mostly clay,no drainage) dug in the compost..

If I understand you, that's a classic way to drown anything.

Dig a hole below grade in slow-draining clay.
Plant something in the hole and bac kfill with something looser than clay.

First heavy rain, hole fills with water.
Water has no way the flow away downhill.
Roots drown.
Hours or days later, water SLOWLY perks out of hole or evaporates.
Re-plant, drown again.

Now, any hole I dig, next I cut a drainage trench (just a slit trench is enough).
It has to start at the lowest point in the hole where you do not wnat roots to drown.
Then must slope DOWNHILL all the way to someplace where plenty of water can runoff.

Often I don't even backfill with gravel, if it is narrow enoguh that I won't break an ankle stepping on it.

Provo, UT(Zone 5a)

ya..not with neighbour soil.. he needed organic matter in where
he was planting that spruce..
i hear ya though..
spruce went thru winter..spring.this summer..its looking great..

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Ahh, he must have SOME drainage then.

Where I am, bulldozers pushed away anything that wasn't rock-hard clay. I have one hole beneath one raised bed, big enough to let it drain after most rains. The water that goes into ti STAYS there for several days, I don't know if it perks slowly down, or just evaporates.

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

Hey, plastic pipe is so cheap! Just run a long enough piece to reach the "lower that the hole" spot. Saws with a hacksaw blade. One 10' long 3/4" pvc pipe was about $2 last time I bought one.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I was looking for a "perforated corrugated" drainage pipe, but I guess solid PVC would work, too.

Anything is better than buying and hauling drainage garvel at $3.50 per 1/2 cubic foot, and 50# per 1/2 cubic foot, times MANY cubic feet!

Duxbury, MA(Zone 7a)

I use perforated pipe in my compost pile for aeration. I noticed a big difference in finishing time the year I added a vertical perforated pipe to the center of my piles

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Smart! But I bet you must have a pretty deep and wide pile if the effect is pronounced.

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