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Compost Pile Gardening

August 23rd, 2016

A few years ago, I read in ‘Gardens of Plenty’ about growing curcurbits in the compost pile. “The glory of today’s potager are the compost heaps, built in long lines approximately 3ft wide, stretching from path to path. They grow as the spent vegetables are added, sometimes reaching a height of 5ft. Layer upon layer of leaves create stripes of different colours, making the heaps look like the best quality terrines. Left undisturbed for a year, the piles rot down to waist height, and at this point they become the most luxuriant beds for bright pumpkins, giving vertical height in the best jardin potager tradition. The long lines of giant leaves make solid shapes among the finer lines of other vegetables. After use as a pumpkin bed for a single season, the compost returns to the garden as a nutritious fertiliser.”
growing in compost piles 1
I was able to visit the A.I. DuPont garden at The Hagley Museum twice last year, once in June and one in September. The potager is quite lovely, it was wonderful to see in person the garden I had read about. The tour didn’t give a ton of time in the garden, so I only got a few photos. I was able to spot pumpkins growing in compost piles in the garden. You can imagine my delight to see in action something I had read about and seen photos of in a book.
ei dupont garden
ei dupont garden (1)
I’m not much of one to maintain the type of compost pile which is turned regularly, so this passage inspired me. Last fall I made a compost pile in the middle of the main edible garden, you can see it in the image below.
growing in compost piles
Early this summer, I seeded a zucchini in the pile. It quickly germinated and grew nicely ( I thought about growing pumpkins, but the pile was small and I didn’t want pumpkin vines taking over the garlic patch). We’ve had quite a drought here in Maine this summer, but I refrained from watering this plant. I wanted to see if the compost retained more or less water than the surrounding soil areas. Much to my surprise, the plants is doing amazingly well, producing loads of zucchini and has shown no signs of stress from the dryness.
growing in compost piles 2
My idea for this process of compost is to reduce the amount of time spent in some areas to give myself time to focus on other things. If I don’t have to turn a compost pile I can use that time to maintain a larger garden space. This compost en situ will also work wonderfully for raising the soil level in the areas of the garden that slope too much. My main vegetable garden is too sloped and thus rain runs off faster than I would like. When considering my options for leveling it out, I decided building up the lower areas of the garden with compost piles like this will be the least expensive and least labor intensive option. It will require time and patience, which I have plenty of.

What type of compost pile do you maintain?

6 Comments to “Compost Pile Gardening”
  1. Ari on August 23, 2016 at 7:10 am

    This is exactly the inspiration I needed tonight. My current compost bins have just been pulled apart (oh so fancy pallet bins tied together with my favourite thick garden string) to make way for cladding on the carport. New compost piles are needed, but there are so many options! Less work in this one, always a good thing.

    I’ve just found your blog, after a google search for great gardening blogs netted me a few lists – yours was on more than one and I’m liking it so far!

    Reply to Ari's comment

  2. Nebraska Dave on August 23, 2016 at 8:40 am

    Susy, my composting is in the empty raised beds. It’s mostly Fall yard waste and the beds are filled up to about two feet with leaf and grass mixture. By Spring the two feet of yard waste is only about four inches and is turned under easily with a shovel. During the year grass mulch is used to cover the ground to suppress the weeds and help conserve moisture. When the bed is harvested, another pile of yard grass is put on the bed until Fall. I very seldom use a bed more than once during the year but build up the soil during the time after harvesting. Five foot high compost piles is a lot of garden waste.

    Have a great composting day.

    Reply to Nebraska Dave's comment

  3. Mc on August 23, 2016 at 9:54 am

    The compost pile we maintain is known as a “failure.” Nothing breaks down, it just grows and grows, taller and taller. Sigh.

    Reply to Mc's comment

  4. Mc on August 23, 2016 at 9:58 am

    Susy, I went gung-ho this year and planted more alliums than I ever have before – garlic, leeks, onions, shallots, potato onions. The thing that I discovered is that, while I thought I planted tons, I had planted no where near enough! Since I am making my own sauces, etc., and I have them in hand, I have been using them generously. I need to plant a LOT more. Question: can you give me a ballpark estimate for how many onions and garlic you plant? It will help me plan for next year. Thank you!

    Reply to Mc's comment

    • Susy on August 23, 2016 at 11:31 am

      I usually plant 6 different varieties of onions and generally harvest 100-120 of each variety. I’m not sure on the total poundage. I also grew leeks for early spring/late winter eating. There’s a variety of early onions I grow that fill the gap between storage onion seasons, these are called ‘Purplette’. Then there are 50 or so shallots and 50 or so potato onions that I grow as well. After 5-6 years I’ve finally developed a seasonal rotation so we always have homegrown alliums of some variety.

      For garlic I generally plant 100 cloves or so to fill out and any extra in a mass planting, these are harvested as early garlic or garlic scallions to fill the gap between end of storage and beginning of harvest.

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • Mc on August 23, 2016 at 12:26 pm

        Thank you!

        to Mc's comment

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but just recently moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine.

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