Compost Holes: A Cheap and Easy Way to Enrich Your Soil
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). So, what will you need?
Tools You Need for In-Ground Composting
- Something to dig with
- A bucket of kitchen waste
- 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.
Kitchen waste isn't the only material you can add to your compost hole, but it's probably the easiest and most convenient.
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.
Compost holes should be no less than eight- inches and no more than 18-inches deep. Twelve is just about right.
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.
For in-ground composting at its simplest, just toss a pail of kitchen scraps into a hole 12" deep.
Good (and Bad) Household Waste for Compost Holes
What to Use
What NOT to Use
vegetable & fruit rinds
coffee grounds (with filters)
pet and human hair
pet feces/used kitty litter
black & white newspaper
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.
If it's the right time of year, you can sow seeds directly over compost material immediately after you've buried it.
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.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Will a compost hole attract gophers?
Since gophers eat vegetation, they might be attracted to compost holes filled with green matter, at least prior to decomposition. If you have a gopher issue, you could deter them from buried vegetable matter by adding onions and/or castor oil granules into the mix. Gophers dislike the scent of both. You could also plant allium bulbs and/or narcissus bulbs in the covered hole to repel themHelpful 6
Will any problem arise in mud with stones when attempting to enrich the soil?
That would probably depend on how muddy and rocky the area is. I think it would be difficult to dig through a highly rocky site; likewise, digging in a swamp-like area might result in a muddy hole. You can but try!Helpful 5
Can I put horse manure in my compost hole?
Of course! Just be sure the horses have been munching on herbicide-free grass. Here's a link about this problem from the MD Extension: https://extension.umd.edu/learn/gardener-alert-bew...Helpful 4
How far apart should the compost holes be?
You don't have to worry about the distance between compost holes. In fact, instead of a hole, you could dig a trench the same depth as you would a hole and fill it in the same manner as a compost hole. This is called trench composting. I did this recently for new flowerbeds, digging the trenches and filling them with composted manure.Helpful 2