Building Fertile Soil

Two days in a row now the promised rain held off until late into the night giving me time to work in, and enjoy, the outdoors. I want to share something I did years ago that worked well for me in creating good soil.

Many years ago, when I first heard about making your own compost I didn’t have a lot of money to start my compost container. I learned you could put it directly on the ground.

That sounded perfect, no money needed. I found a spot easily accessible from my door and began to dump our food and other wastes. I would keep it covered with newspaper and/or grass clipping and in autumn our fallen leaves.


I have been building the soil around the base of some of our trees before planting.

I have been building the soil around the base of some of our trees before planting.

I was so excited that first year, I could hardly wait for winter to end so I could scoop up my home-grown compost and spread it through the gardens.

Imagine my disappointment when I couldn’t find a pile of compost. Instead what I found was the richest softest soil ever where I had worked to build my fertilizer.

You can also add food scraps and leaves to a pot of soil for a rich, healthy start of a container garden.

You can also add food scraps and leaves to a pot of soil for a rich, healthy start of a container garden.

Rather than digging up that amazing soil I planted some new strawberry plants, yes my family is obsessed with strawberries, those plants out performed any other spot I had worked in.

Starting a compost site has been tricky here. Management isn’t keen on allowing it, so what’s a girl supposed to do? Well, for the last couple of years I have hidden my compost pile.

Today I started another one. I dug up and cleared rocks and roots in a section of the newly tilled garden beds that I won’t be using this year.

Working this tilled section.

Working this tilled section.

Then I dig a trench in the freshly turned soil and dumped my food scraps in, mixed them with the soil and made sure they were hidden from sight.

Celery ends  and peanut shells were in today's scraps.

Celery ends and peanut shells were in today’s scraps.

I will keep digging and turning this section through summer, and most likely a couple more sections. Next spring I will begin my planting in these areas first. I will rotate my crops making sure to leave a few sections of this years garden empty to use as my compost bin, and the following year I will have rich, gorgeous soil that my plants will thrive in.

Hidden from sight now.

Hidden from sight now.

How did you build your site for compost?

41 thoughts on “Building Fertile Soil

  1. We have a compost bin at the bottom of our Home back garden, it gets fed veggie peelings and things like banana skins egg shells, tea bags apple cores and once in a while I shred up paper bills which also gets broken down in the mix… I added a few worms too which I hope will multiply and help break it even further.. :-)

    I agree you can not beat the richness of this home made fertile soil and your dug out is doing the exact same thing.. :-)

    • Sue, i think if more people realized you don’t need an expensive composer, or the skills to build one more would compost their food scraps. I have been finding worms making their way to these areas that I build up, where previously we could hardly find a worm. It may take a couple more years before I am happy with the quality of the soil, but its so much cheaper than buying soil to create garden beds.

  2. I used to have a large plastic compost bin with a lid. One day I saw my husband had left the lid off to put grass clippings in so I popped it back on. The next night I opened it to put some scraps in and to my horror a large rat jumped out….

    • Daniela, its all about how things look, aesthetics. Things have changed a great deal since I moved here. We now have gardens where there was nothing but weeds so as things take shape in hoping to convince them by reminding them of all the benefits. For starters people want to stay here now, turnover only happens when a student graduates or someone passes away for the mist part. It didn’t used to be like that.

    • I did recently have rabbits or possibly deer dig through it. I am going to mix in more green waste as I just collected grass clippings from a,landscaper just for this. The deer just devoured my tomato plants so I will be fencing the area which will eliminate the problem.

    • Lynn, we get some pretty cold weather here plus we could usually count on between 200 – 300 inches of snow. Lately we haven’t gotten nearly as much, but all that snow does help when trying to rot things.

  3. Lois, meant to ask,
    do you finely chop (so to speak) stuff you compost,
    big chunks
    break it a little

    for example, (if you had reason to throw out) a potato…would you bury it whole, or chop?

    Just want to get a better idea what you are doing.

    You don’t use water with it, do you?
    you know, i am pretty sure my husband’s grandparents would dig a hole in the garden /bury, and not add water.

    I am wondering if my water (blender) was a bad idea.

    • Lynn, coming from a German/irish background I never have a potato that needs tossed out. I do chop up the food wastes into small pieces, but I don’t get too worried about it as once winter comes it breaks down everything. One year we had a small pumpkin fall off the porch. I figured I’d clean it up in the spring as we had a lot of snow. The only evidence we ever found of that pumpkin was a plant which grew there.

  4. Oh nice! I can’t hide mine so I just use an old 10-gallon planter as my “composter”. Basically I do the same thing … just toss stuff in and cover it with some dirt. Every year … I have my own “miracle gro”. :-)

    • Small Footprints that is a great idea. I was thinking about doing something like that near the entrance to my apartment this winter and see if it would breakdown in time to plant for summer. I usually freeze my food scraps during the winter then put them out in the spring. They tend to break down faster after being frozen.

      • Lois, “feeze my food scraps”…great idea.
        as I read that, a thought popped into my head…collect up scads of tiny containers. As needed put food scraps in, partially full. Freeze. As springs gets close, unfreeze, add bit of dirt, add seeds…

        might work, dont know. i might give it a try, if i have freezer room, this winter.

      • Hm … I have to try your freezing trick, although I toss veggie scraps in my container during the winter and it all freezes … come spring most everything is composted into wonderful soil. Oh, and I also toss worms into my bin … they crawl up on my patio when it rains so I toss them in. They are great workers … and they must love it because they get nice and fat. :-)

        • Small Footprints, I used the freezer because we get so much snow its a pain to get a container dug out during the winter months. Otherwise I wouldn’t waste the space in my freezer.

    • smallftprints… actually just take a container and toss stuff in, and then put dirt on top?
      any stirring through out?
      is this kept outside so it freezes?

      • Hi Lynn … yep … I put some dirt in the bottom of the container, then each time I add stuff, I cover it with a little dirt which helps to keep any smells down. Sometimes I stir the pot but I usually don’t … it actually seems to work better if I don’t. I should say that I don’t compost animal products … just veg matter and never cooked items. I do compost toilet paper rolls, leaves, etc. During the summer, when the heat causes a few more odors, I sometimes cover the container with a lid … just any kind of covering. But the dirt typically does the job. Yep, my bin freezes every winter but that only slows the progress down … doesn’t stop it. I also toss worms into my bin (any that crawl up during a rain) and they continue to work during freezing weather. It actually works better than I ever imagined. :-)

        • thnk you for the good explanation..
          i thnk i may try that.

          also, i have garden boxes, and have one not yet planted. think i might try a little on that too, and then plant next yr.

          we’ll see what works..(for me, as i’ve not had much luck with this)

  5. In the Amazon there is evidently the most fertile soil on the planet which has its origins in the waste of the peoples that used to live in those areas over thousands of years.

  6. I can never understand why landlords and such don’t allow composting. I mean, think of the money it saves by not having to pay for the food waste to be collected with the bins! Never mind how good it is for the environment. We’ve been composting for at least 10 years in my parents’ home, and it’s a god’s send. Except we have this container that opens at the bottom for the compost. You just throw the scraps in on top, close the lid and let nature do the rest. Maybe every couple of months we turn it, but that’s it. Something like this is what we use:
    Good on you Lois for doing it anyway!

    • Eimear, that’s really ingenious and would blend in well in a garden. My last landlord refused to let me put a closed compost bin in because he told me it would draw rats, then he told me it wasn’t needed because that’s what he provided the dumpster for. Needless to say we didn’t see eye to eye on many things. Where I live now the building is managed by people hired by the owner. I have no idea who the owner is. The managers are told to keep the place looking good, they are concerned they will vet in trouble with the owner so refuse my requests.

      Its the same with a clothesline, which I am trying to hide from them 😊

  7. We’re pretty lazy about our compost. The dog eats most food scraps and the rest gets dumped in a field to break down. We don’t use it as compost though, having lots of rotted horse manure to use on the gardens.

    • Heidi, that’s why you have such great harvests, I knew you had the horses but hadn’t thought about the free manure you had. Yep, when I had a dog he ate most of our scraps too.

  8. Lois, do you know what I did wrong?

    For about a year I did something similar, in my flower bed. In fact, I even purreed it all in a blender first, with water. Then I would bury it in flower bed/cover with dirt.

    I ended getting so many slugs and stuff. Really gross and disgusting.

    I quit doing it because of that.

    I am pretty sure your technique is just what my Husband’s Grandparents did, and worked GREAT for them..

    wondering what happened when i did it?

    • Lynn, that’s funny, I’m too lazy to go to that much trouble. I’m not sure that you did anything wrong, you may have a lot of slugs to begin with and the juice attracted them to that spot. Or you may have over done it. How were your flower beds doing before the slugs? Maybe if you diluted the puree with water then lightly watered the plants with it.

      • it was quite a few yrs back, but seems to me when i quit doing it the slugs went too…(nasty things)…

        it was never a great place for anything much as is under an evergreen, but have got a few things to grow now.

        mabye some day i will try again, but not with the blender thing (it killed the blender)…

        • Lynn, evergreens pose a problem because their needles are very highly acidic which plants like blueberries need. I was told to mix hydrated line into the soil to balance the ph in these areas to allow more types of plants to thrive. Let me know how it works for you if you try it

  9. I love your stealth composting technique! Brilliant ;) I’ve been composting for over 20 years and like you I just have a pile out in the yard and under my sink I keep a little pail to collect scraps and when it gets full it gets thrown on the pile :) Every few months it gets turned with a pitch fork..

  10. Just a word of warning to those new to composting. Here is a lesson I learned the hard way. Do not put weeds with seed heads into your composting pile. Unless the compost reaches a high enough temperature to kill the seeds, they will be happy to sprout in your beds. The pile can reach the temperature high enough to kill them, but it’s hard to achieve.

    • Great tip, Live and Learn, I watch for that and any roots before adding it to any bed I’m trying to build up. I definitely don’t need to increase the amount of weeds here.

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