Home ImprovementRemodelingCleaningGardeningLandscapingInterior DesignHome AppliancesPest ControlDecks & PatiosSwimming Pools & Hot TubsGaragesBasements

Compost Holes: A Cheap & Easy Way to Enrich Your Soil

Updated on April 6, 2016

If you can dig a hole, you can in-ground compost.

With in-ground composting, you can enrich the soil in your garden without bins, piles, or pitchforks. You won't even need Red Wigglers (the Cadillac of worms).

What will you need? Something to dig with, a bucket of kitchen waste, and a minimal amount of time.

Of course, compost holes may not be the right choice for all gardeners all of the time. But there are certain situations for which they're very well suited, and certain types of gardeners for whom they're perfect.

Below, you'll find five good reasons to compost in-ground, as well as advice on what to compost. And you'll get directions for two methods of in-ground composting--the one-hole and the two-hole method.

 

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Kitchen waste isn't the only material you can add to your compost hole, but it's probably the easiest and most convenient.For in-ground composting at its simplest, just toss a pail of kitchen scraps into a hole 12" deep.Compost holes should be no less than eight- inches and no more than 18-inches deep. Twelve is just about right.If it's the right time of year, you can sow seeds directly over compost material immediately after you've buried it.Or, you can transplant seedlings, like this okra.
Kitchen waste isn't the only material you can add to your compost hole, but it's probably the easiest and most convenient.
Kitchen waste isn't the only material you can add to your compost hole, but it's probably the easiest and most convenient.
For in-ground composting at its simplest, just toss a pail of kitchen scraps into a hole 12" deep.
For in-ground composting at its simplest, just toss a pail of kitchen scraps into a hole 12" deep.
Compost holes should be no less than eight- inches and no more than 18-inches deep. Twelve is just about right.
Compost holes should be no less than eight- inches and no more than 18-inches deep. Twelve is just about right.
If it's the right time of year, you can sow seeds directly over compost material immediately after you've buried it.
If it's the right time of year, you can sow seeds directly over compost material immediately after you've buried it.
Or, you can transplant seedlings, like this okra.
Or, you can transplant seedlings, like this okra.

Reasons to Hole Compost

Small Yard? No Problem.

If your yard is too small to accommodate a compost bin or tumbler, you probably don't have a spot in the sun big enough for a compost pile either. But you do have room for compost holes. The only space they take up is about 12 inches--underground.

Lean Wallet? That's Okay.

On a tight budget? Compost holes are a good alternative to expensive bins and elaborate boxes. The equipment required is minimal: a shovel (or a spade if the ground is soft) and kitchen scraps. And you don't have to add costly composting activators either.

No Time? No Worries.

Hole composting (at its most basic) requires only three steps: digging a hole, dumping kitchen scraps into it, and then refilling the hole with soil. If the ground is soft, it takes five minutes or less. What a great way for busy gardeners to enrich their soil!

Planting Trees? In-Ground Compost First.

Before you buy a new tree or shrub, create a compost hole where you intend to plant it. During the summer or fall, fill it with composting materials and soil, and top it with mulch. By spring planting time, the soil will be friable and rich--perfect for feeding the newest member of your landscape.

Raised Beds? You Can Definitely Dig It.

Compost holes are also a super-easy method for building up the soil in raised beds. Because raised-bed soil is usually soft, holes take little time to dig. And you can in-ground compost all year round, so long as the ground isn't frozen.

What's in your compost pail?

All kitchen scraps aren't compostable. For instance, meat, grease, bones, and cheese shouldn't go into your compost bucket. Not only will they attract animals, but they will also take a long, long time decompose.

Instead, fill your compost pail with vegetable and fruit trimmings, such as potato and banana peels, apple cores, and the butt-ends of Romaine lettuce and celery. Egg shells, tea leaves, coffee grounds (with filters), peanut shells, and soured milk are also great additions.

Additional common household wastes that can be added to your bucket include wood ashes,  shredded newspapers, and recyclable egg cartons. You can even empty your hairbrush and your pet's brush into the bucket. After all, hair contains nitrogen.

Anything that could harbor disease or that contains ingredients harmful to plants should be excluded, such as pet feces, sick houseplants, coal ash, and color newspaper supplements.

Good (and Bad) Household Waste for Compost Holes

What to Use 
What NOT to Use
vegetable & fruit rinds 
meat 
eggshells 
bones 
tea leaves 
grease 
coffee grounds (with filters)
cooking oil
sour milk
cheese
pet and human hair
pet feces/used kitty litter
black & white newspaper
color supplements
wood ash
coal ashes/charcoal briquettes

The One-Hole Method

The one-hole method is simple: dig a hole eight to 18-inches deep, dump in one to two quarts of composting material (about one or two inches), and fill the hole back up with soil.

The hole should be at least eight inches deep so that the soil barrier protects the composting material from pests. And it should be no more than 18 inches so that it won’t leach into the water table.

Kitchen scraps take one to six months to decompose, depending upon moisture levels in the soil, the temperature, the soil type, and the type of scraps that you bury. If you want to speed up the process, cut kitchen waste into small bits or process it in a blender before dumping it into the hole.

As soon as you bury your scraps, you can plant seeds and small seedlings on top. For large transplants, like trees, wait until the scraps have decomposed.

Have time to experiment? Check out the three-part blog at "Real Food & Scandalous Gardening Secrets." It offers step-by-step directions for layering a variety of composting materials.

When you want to prepare the soil for a new tree or shrub, sow seeds, or transplant seedlings, try the one-hole method. It’s also great for gardeners with a pail full of kitchen waste on their hands and little time.

The Two-Hole Method

The two-hole method is a little more complicated than the two-hole, but not much.

First, dig a hole between the rows in your garden. For the reasons noted above, it should be approximately one-foot deep. Dump about two quarts of kitchen waste into the hole. Then, fill it with dirt acquired from digging a second hole beside the first one. Fill the second hole with kitchen scraps topped off with dirt, either from the first hole or from a third one.

Stop at two holes, or continue until you run out of composting materials. If you don't have enough kitchen waste, you can dump in store-bought compost instead.

The two-hole method is also a good way to improve the soil in a fallow raised bed.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 16 months ago from United States

      Hi kalinin1158! Thanks for dropping by. Hopefully you can at least add some fresh soil to the area around your patio even though it's shallow. All the best, Jill

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Zakinov 16 months ago from California

      I like this method but the soil depth on my patio is so shallow, I'm not sure it'll be deep enough for the compost hole. . . But I love the idea! Thanks for the tips.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 2 years ago from United States

      Hi rogolo! I bet your soil has become much a lot fertile over time. A post-hole digger would truly expedite things-- if I could pick ours up! lol. Thanks a lot for stopping by. It was great to hear from you. --Jill

    • profile image

      rogolo 2 years ago

      I do this with a post hole digger. After I dig a hole and put the scraps in, I crush the scraps using the digger with the blades closed. Then I push the dirt in and tamp it with the digger and finally cover it over. Usually, I have mulch where I dig, so the mulch gets mixed in too.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

      Hi Tom! Thanks for stopping by. Yes, I too sometimes slice through a worm when digging holes. We have a lot of them in our garden, for which I'm very thankful. I just learned at an MG class the other night that earthworms are not indigenous to North America. They were brought, caught up in roots balls, with settlers. I had no idea! Take care, Jill

    • profile image

      TomS 3 years ago

      I have been doing this. Wish i could avoid hurting the resident worms during the dig.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

      Hi RTalloni! Just last month we dug three compost holes to prep the soil for butterfly bushes in the spring. The ground was so compacted that I could a dent in it even when standing on the shovel, so my husband had to dig them. Usually hole composting is much easier! Hope you have success with the method. All the best, Jill

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

      Wish I'd seen this earlier, but we can start now. Thanks for highlighting this two-for-one composting method here! Pinning to Gardening: Water… board.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 4 years ago from United States

      Hi Anna! Good luck & let me know how it works for you. I think it's one of the easiest ways to use organic "clutter" from the home. Take care, Jill

    • Anna Evanswood profile image

      Anna Evanswood 4 years ago from Malaysia

      Thank you I am going to try this :)

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 4 years ago from United States

      @ etherealenigma -- Awesome! It is a super easy way to enrich your soil. Happy gardening, The Dirt Farmer

    • Etherealenigma profile image

      Sandra M. Urquhart 4 years ago from Florida

      Wow! I love this idea. It's good for me right now because I am just starting my gardening, and I have everything in containers at this point. I'm definitely going to find a bucket that I can start saving scraps in for composting. Thanks. GB

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 4 years ago from United States

      @ Thelma Alberts -- Hope hole composting works for you. I really like it because it's so easy, especially in an area (like a raised bed) that has soft soil. Thanks for commenting & voting. --The Dirt Farmer

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 4 years ago from Germany

      Great idea! It´s a very informative hub. I´ll try this. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and useful.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 4 years ago from United States

      Hi Anna! Thanks for commenting. I think you'll really like hole composting. Take care, DF

    • profile image

      AnnaStephens 5 years ago

      Good idea, I'll be giving this a try.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 5 years ago from United States

      Hope you like it, angela_michelle. It's super easy!

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 5 years ago from United States

      I am considering trying this method. Hmmm... Great hub by the way, voted up! Interesting, awesome!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 5 years ago from United States

      Awesome, GreatTattoosNow. If you're not planting cold-weather vegetables, compost holes are a great way to get your beds ready for next spring. Even if you are growing now, you can hole compost between rows. Good luck to you!

    • GreatTattoosNow profile image

      GreatTattoosNow 5 years ago from San Jose

      I just started vegetable gardening last year and started composting a bunch this fall. Excited to learn your technique it sounds way less expensive and super easy. I have some composting worms in a bin but they are eating slowly and so I also have a pile that is not working super well ( I think it is not wet enough) will try this technique however thanks for the ideas.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 6 years ago from United States

      How wonderful, Fennelseed! Thanks for the "testimony"! I think more people would do a compost hole before planting if they knew how well it worked--and how easy it is. Thanks again! Take care, DF

    • Fennelseed profile image

      Annie Fenn 6 years ago from Australia

      This is a very good method for small spaces. I have used this method prior to planting a silk tree (Albizia julibrissin). It was only 6 inches high when I transplanted into the compost hole. After 2 years it is 6 feet high and flourishing. I would recommend this method to anyone. Thank you for this information. I have voted it useful and up.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 6 years ago from United States

      Hey--whatever works! We've thought about trying worms, too, but ... I worry about taking care of them in winter.

    • WannaB Writer profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 6 years ago from Templeton, CA

      i used to use this method. Now all I have time for is to feed my worms some scraps and then dump the rest of my compos table scraps onto the compost pile and cover it will new weed growth in spring or dirt or leaves during other seasons.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 6 years ago from United States

      You're welcome! Thanks for reading. And I really think you'll like composting this way. Take care! DF

    • dearabbysmom profile image

      dearabbysmom 6 years ago from Indiana

      I really like the concept of the compost hole--have never been able to have a "heap" area because of my dogs. For whatever reason, the dogs do not dig in the yard, so think this is the thing to try! Also...I didn't know coal ashes could be harmful to plants, so thank you for that info.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 6 years ago from United States

      Thanks for stopping by, A Dane in Spain. And good luck with those fruit trees. --DF

    • A Dane in Spain profile image

      Dorte Holm Jensen 6 years ago from Torrox, Malaga. Spain

      A really great tip! Thanks. I am just planning to put some fruit trees in my garden, but before I do - I am certainly going to dig a few holes. Thanks again!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 6 years ago from United States

      Thanks, kimboy9-9. Happy gardening! --DF

    • profile image

      kimboy9-9 6 years ago

      During the summer or fall, fill it with composting materials and soil, and top it with mulch. By spring planting time, the soil will be friable and rich--perfect for feeding the newest member of your landscape....................Nice Artical

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 6 years ago from United States

      Hi, Bob. I've been enjoying your hubs for weeks. You have a wide range of knowledge. Thanks for stopping by! DF

    • Bob Ewing profile image

      Bob Ewing 6 years ago from New Brunswick

      When I was growing up we had a compost hole in the backyard, it is one of my earliest garden memories, my father explaining why he had dug it.

    • profile image

      The Dirt Farmer 6 years ago

      Glad to hear from you, katiem2. It really is so easy. Last year, I did it before planting two knock-out rose bushes, and they just thrived. All the best! DF

    • katiem2 profile image

      katiem2 6 years ago from I'm outta here

      What a fantastic and easy way to make the most of natural veggie and fruit waste, a compost hole is a great idea that's both effective and affordable. I'm starting one now in my garden. Thanks for the great tip on how to compost using compost holes a cheap and easy way to enrich soil. :) Katie

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image
      Author

      Jill Spencer 6 years ago from United States

      Awesome! Thanks for stopping by ... and happy gardening!

    • jetta17 profile image

      jetta17 6 years ago

      This is a very good technique. Come fall, I always dig deep into my raised flower beds and add materials to be composted. Come spring, the flower beds are good to go! I'll be following you.

    Click to Rate This Article