Growing the Desert Garden

Welcome to the Desert Garden, with garden coach Tyler Storey, where we talk about everything having to do with gardening and landscaping in the Desert Southwest. From composting to Cercidium and agaves to arugula — we'll cover everything you want to know to grow your own beautiful Desert Garden.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

From the Inbox: No-turn Composting

From a Correspondent:

What if I'm composting in a bin with no doors at the bottom? Is there anything I can do to keep the compost looking good? Can I get good quality compost by just leaving it in the bin for about a year?

Hi Glenda,
I hate to be the one to break this to you, so I'll get the answer to your last question over quickly, so it will hurt less:


While you might eventually get some usable material from a static (unturned) pile, the odds are against it. Because the Desert Garden is so dry for much of the year, it's difficult to maintain a static pile that has the conditions necessary for the breakdown of the organic material into usable compost.

If you don't turn and don't water, then you eventually get a pile full of dried-out plant material. If you do water, but don't turn, much of the water will flow to the bottom of the pile and you will end up with dried plants on top, and anaerobically decayed plant material on the bottom (think black smelly slime).

The doors at the bottom of some commercially made composters are useful only for turning over the pile. Contrary to the advertising, we really can't just put stuff in the top and then take it out the bottom doors as compost – at least not here in the desert. So, if you don't have little doors, don't worry: you're not missing out.

What you will need is a way to turn the pile. If your compost bin is small and light, then simply lift the bin off the pile, set it to one side, then turn the compost into the bin using a spading fork; this is the easiest method. If you can't lift the bin itself, then use your spading fork to turn the compost within the pile, or to turn it from one bin to another; a double- or triple-bin system is really the easiest way to manage your pile once you really get going with composting.

At the end of the day, the key to composting in the Desert Garden is to remember the four necessary ingredients of composting: carbon, nitrogen, water, and air. If what you're doing doesn't get these four ingredients to all parts of the pile at all times, then it won't work.

I hope this helps,



Luvkuku said...

I just wanted to let you know that I subscribe to your blog and look forward to reading it every time you write. I struggle with composting and bare-bones(container) gardening on a rocky hillside outside Buckeye, so every word you write is cherished.

The Writers Blog -- Joanne Nakaya said...

Thank you for your note on composting. I'm outside Las Vegas in Henderson and started a compost pile. I've added nitrogen, water and turn it every few weeks. We are waiting ... I've got my tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, peas, cantelope and watermelon in raised beds a 8x4x18" a 8x2x16" and a 4x4x12" for herbs, in my east facing back yard. I'm thinking about two 8x2x12" beds next to each other for corn. suggestions?