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Can I bury my kitchen waste in the garden rather than composting in a bin?

It's difficult to keep the compost pile wet enough to produce good hot compost - the heat and the sun in Florida dries it out too quickly. And the raised beds provide too much square footage to plant out entirely every season - I'd have way more veggies than our household can handle. So my question is, rather than putting the kitchen waste - vegetable and fruit trimmings and coffee grounds with filter - on the compost heap and hoping for the best, could I just bury the waste in an unused bed that would remain fallow until the next season, and rotating the beds used for composting in this way each season? Is there any reason why I shouldn't do this?

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  1. I don't see why you couldn't try it. My only concern would be that the rotting waste would be wet and could harbor some kind of disease. But I guess if you mix it with dirt or maybe dry materials such as leaves or even newspaper it would be okay. If I remember correctly, your rotten food scraps have a lot of nitrogen and dry materials have carbon (?), so you'd want to make sure your beds have a good balance of nutrients. Hmm, now I'm thinking that if your scraps don't get any air, they might not rot properly and when you try to dig the beds you'll get a nasty surprise of a moldy half-rotted apple core or something. Maybe a better idea would be to get a worm composter and feed the worms your scraps and then put the castings in your garden.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Glencora

      So you feel it is necessary to add in some dry materials? BTW, the food scraps won't be rotten yet when I put them in the beds - I accumulate in a small paint bucket and take that down to the garden every other day - some wilting occurs, but decay hasn't really set in yet - the waste isnt slimy or smelly or gross (yet!).

      1. re: Glencora

        I have done the following: 1) Divided the vegetable bed in half, using one side to trench in kitchen scraps with coffee grounds and filters from a nearby convenience store. My goal was to divert at least some of what would otherwise go to a landfill. In the spring, I would plant vegetables on the side that had lain fallow the previous year, and used the other side to receive the kitchen wastes.

        Since some waste will take more than one season to break down (corn cobs, for example), I dig a trench elsewhere in the garden to receive it. This I will dig two feet deep, and fill it up to within six inches of the surface. However you do it, try not to make it a real chore as then you won't stick with it.

      2. You can bury vegetable and fruit waste, egg shells, coffee, and the filters. Bury about 8-10 inches and leave a bit of space for your next deposit. Slice through the material you're composting with a spade to break it up and mix with the surrounding soil.
        The organisms in the soil will break everything down. Since you're using a fallow bed and not your current planting beds your plants won't be in danger of getting more of one nutrient than another. Ideally the bed will be covered with salt marsh hay as you move along. When you plan to use the bed for planting, the hay will have broken down somewhat and can then be incorporated into the soil.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Gio

          Thanks for the advice. When you say leave a bit of space for the next deposit, do you mean between deposits moving across the bed? And as for egg shells, I had been adding them to the pile but stopped because they're difficult to break up into tiny pieces and I can't abide the smell that results when I grind them with a mortar and pestle. Is it necessary to really break up the egg shells, or is it enough to just give them a good rinsing?

          And will any hay work instead of salt marsh hay? What about seeds - how can I insure that the hay I use isn't loaded with seeds?

          1. re: janniecooks

            Just leave a few inches between holes in the compost bed as you bury your successive kitchen waste. Or as Sam said, dig a trench and when you add to the trench you'll slice through the waste then pull the soil over that portion leaving the remainder of the trench open for the next deposit.

            Salt marsh hay has fewer seeds than straw. But straw can be used to good effect also. If you know where your hay comes from you can ask for the second cutting. That seems to have fewer seeds. Packaged chopped straw is on the market in some areas of the country but I haven't seen it either in Massachusetts or Vermont. Look in suburban/rural hardware stores or big box suppliers. There's really no insurance against weed seeds. Some seeds are air borne or carried by birds and little kritters.
            When you begin to use this bed for vegetable planting you'll mulch between the rows and that will keep the weeds down.

        2. You could probably convert one of your beds into a trench, lay the kitchen waste in, and cover with broken up friable soil. You would have a large extensive rather than intensive compost pit. You would increase soil carbon (organic matter) and improve soil texture. Kitchen waste usually doesn’t have much in the way of nitrogen; and most of that is lost to volatilization anyway.

          1. Thats one way to do it, but its better just to do a compost pile. Composting is a bacterial process. You want the aerobic kind, so turning it or otherwise agitating it expose it to air once in a while is good. This keeps the reaction going, and the fire burning. Literally burning. With all my leaves,the nieghbors leaves, and 100+ lbs per week of Starbucks grounds, kitchen scraps, newspapers and shredded paper... I have a compost tumbler and a decent windrow. It was rocking 140F with an ambient outside overnight temps near zero. I was away from home for a week, it didnt get turned, the fire went out. I suspect that it got too hot, and burnt off the bacteria.

            So anyway.. The trench method was mentioned. You can also use a composter, home-built or purchased. I recommend a windrow. Its a row about 2-3ft wide, 1 -2 ft tall and however long you want to make it. You then get in there every week or two and turn it over. It should steam, and some of that is actually smoke.

            Compost Starter. Jump starting is recommended. You can apply a special Urea Nitrogen solution "of your own making"..... OR buy a Compost Starter at the garden store. The one in the 5lb bag is urea nitrogen based, and should say so. The one in the cute jar is kelp based. This provides the necessary bacteria to get the party started.

            Coffee Grounds attract worms to your party, and possibly make it a party. Then you have vermacomposting, having a worm reactor is slightly more advanced. The worms do not actually eat the garbage, they eat the bacteria / byproduct from the composting process.

            1. I throw out my scraps straight onto the garden between the rows (after the seeds have come up, before that I throw it in the fields nearby). This can be a problem if you have these beds very close to your house, if you throw out enough waste to buildup in your beds, or if you have problems with pests. The only thing I do is to boil the eggshells before I throw them (and the calcium rich water) out near growing vegetables just to be safe against samonella (but I'm not sure if it's necessary, just being safe).

              Now I only do this because I garden on a large scale and therefore have no problems with the buildup of vegetable matter, or pests. It's just less time consuming for me and I probably do lose some vegetable matter to birds, mice, and insects by doing it this way. One thing that you do have to be careful about when throwing out vegetable matter into a bed is that it can harbor flea beetles overwinter (those are the small black jumping bugs that eat mustards, eggplants, and such into lace). You may have a problem with this even if you bury your compost if you do not break it down manually (tilling for example) before winter comes. You might also have a problem with grubs eating the vegetable matter and overwintering in it to attack your vegetables in the bed next year if you do not agitate if before and after winter.
              Personally, I think digging a hole or trench in the unused bed might be best and either covering it with dry matter (leaves, grass clippings, straw, animal bedding, ect) rather than covering it up so that it will continue to compost. Also, even if you do not want to throw any other vegetable waste in the garden you may want to think about applying tea leaves, coffee grounds, and egg shells to the garden directly. These give your plants an almost immediate nitrogen or calcium boost and they decompose quickly.

              2 Replies
              1. re: deep

                A light covering of soil is optimal, allowing decompossition to take place at the boundary between anerobic and aerobic. Again, kitchen waste usually has little nitrogen, and any N from placing scaps on the open ground will be lost to volatilization. I'm not fully certina, but I doubt that flea beetles food on kitchen waste. They are quite specific feeders.

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  Well it's not that they feed on the scraps. They just stay in vegetable matter to keep from freezing in the winter. If you don't till your plants under then you'll have the same problem anyway.

              2. Hi janniecooks,

                As a certified master gardener in CT, and folks that compost every bit of our vegetable and herd (alpaca) waste, I can say that the best advice I can give you is for you to contact your UFL extension office nearest your home. CT is tiny compared to FL and still has two climate zones and at least double that micro climate zones. Since Florida is much larger, you have many more issues there, temperature, soil, wind, etc. Your university extension office is staffed with certified trained volunteers like me to answer your questions, and to forward those questions up to the univerisity scientists and professors if extension staff are not able to do so.

                1. You know I forgot to mention this before but if you have extra bed space (even after you figure out what to do with your compost), maybe you should at least plant a nitrogen fixing cover crop on it. Leaving the bed's empty would make them prone to soil erosion, and weeds. You may want to ask what to plant when you call the extension office as junescook recommends.

                  1. I tried that in the heat of Bolivia and grew a great crop of maggots. Tolling for rats.

                    1. Start a composting worm bed. Youtube has some great videos explaining how to start them, http://www.youtube.com/results?search...

                      As to your unused section of beds, you can either grow things there that you give as gifts to nieghbors, or friends. Or you can grow covercrops that fix nitrogen. Buckwheat, is good and offers local bees something to snack on. Be sure to cut it before the seeds set to long. If you are going to let it stay fallow, being a raised bed I would at least lay down a layer of mulch, so that the sun does not leach out the nutrients in the soil.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: ceojr1963

                        Huge advocate of worm composting. Either burying a pipe in the garden or starting a worm bin is a great option. My bin cranks, I must get 10 pounds of worm castings a month at this point. A little messy but worth it, the best practical fertilizer you can use.

                        1. re: ceojr1963

                          according to Ryan, horticulturist at Botanical Interests, buckwheat as a cover crop takes about 45 days during typical spring/summer weather. In FLA is might be less. DO cut it down and turn it in BEFORE the it blooms as the stems get pretty tough when they flower.

                          1. re: toodie jane

                            I have planted buckwheat as a cover crop. I assume it did some good for the soil, but it's main benefit for me was food for the soul. I let the buckwheat flower but not set seed before I cut it down. So it attracted bees like nothing else I've ever planted. When I did cut it down, the experience was just about the best gardening experience, except for the knowledge that I was eliminating the food source for so many bees. The scent from the flower of the buckwheat is so lovely, and the aroma filled the air. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the bees were buzzing, all making for an edenic experience. I found myself apologizing to the bees and to the buckwheat for interfering in their respective biologic imperatives, as I whacked the buckwheat to pieces.

                        2. I definitely echo the suggestion of the Master Gardener to check with your local agricultural extension. That being said, last Spring here in Ohio I put coffee grounds directly on top of the garden, around the azaleas and hydrangeas. Food scraps and egg shells I would grind up in the food processor and dig it directly into the garden soil (soil that was subsequently planted with vegetables). I think it loosened the soil a bit probably by attracting beneficial worms.

                            1. contacting your local extension office is great advice.

                              not sure if you have pest problems in your area but when i was a kid, my parents' composting technique was to cut off the bottoms of 2 trash cans (with lids), bury these in a corner of the vegetable garden with the tops and lids protruding 5" from top of soil, and then fill with household compost. when you first start you will want to add some soil with earthworms and other local soil fauna to the layers of food waste. when it gets going you can rotate the cans until you fill one up, then it's time to shovel out the composted material from the other can, use the soil, and start to fill it up again.

                              this method isn't as efficient as having a big bin with air contact, but it's cheap and easy and doesn't attract raccoons and coyotes, and it's fine for household amounts of waste. thought i'd throw it out to you as an idea.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: soupkitten

                                My measly little bit of coffee grounds wasn't the quantity I wanted, so went to Starbucks and they generously give TONS of their grounds/filters (free, not a word you hear often at Starbucks). Added great acidity to my alkaline soil. (And the trunk of my car smelled heavenly for weeks.)

                              2. You can totally do that! I do it because I have hard time turning my compost heap. So, some things you can bury are:

                                Veggie scraps
                                Grains and cereals
                                paper towels and tissues
                                paper of many sorts- shredded (though I prefer to use shredded paper as mulch- it's awesome!)
                                Tea bags and coffee
                                Toilet paper rolls and cardboard ripped up (though I like to use the cardboard in bigger pieces under my plants where I don't want grass to grow- I cover with shredded paper and then usually regular mulch- good worm food!)
                                Cotton clothing ripped up
                                Old wine
                                Vacuum Cleaner bag contents

                                And the list goes on.....

                                10 Replies
                                1. re: Heatherly

                                  Wow, that's quite a list of compostibles! While I didn't save as much as you recommend, I did end up burying my kitchen waste in fallow raised beds. I put the waste into the beds in rows, marking the place where the last burying occurred so I'd know where to start with the next heap of waste. Had no problems with creatures, and it took very little time for the soil and its components to work magic on the buried waste. Much better than trying to manage an above-ground compost heap.

                                    1. re: janniecooks

                                      When would stop hurrying if you wanted to plan t a fall or sprinkled crop? I did this with the original post in 2010, then planted shallots and Galicia Nov 2011, but could have gone sooner.

                                      1. re: Shrinkrap

                                        I think you're asking when would one stop burying and when would the amended soil be ready for planting. Florida, at least where I live, is hot and humid most all year, so the soil organisms never stop working. I found that the waste was decomposed and indistinguishable from the surrounding soil within a month or two, and would plant there that soon. If I were in a more temperate clime, I'd plant the following season. The conventional wisdom when amending soil with manure or hot compost is to wait until the next growing cycle or growing season, because the heat and the organic chemical action make in inhospitable for the plants, but I've not found that to be the case with the stuff I put n the soil. And it wasn't huge quantities either. I dug a trench with the garden spade about the width of the spade and about six to ten inches deep, spread the waste along the trench in a layer no more than two inches thick, and spread the soil back on top. With a household of just two people we don't generate huge quantities of kitchen waste!

                                        1. re: janniecooks

                                          Good answer! I live in Arizona where it's really hot and actually, contrary to popular belief, humid in the summer with monsoon- ick! What I bury tends to break down within a couple months as well.

                                          1. re: janniecooks

                                            Holy cow! I can't believe you understood that! Thanks!

                                            1. re: Shrinkrap

                                              (I though maybe I'd had a stroke or something!...:-)

                                      2. re: Heatherly

                                        I have a co-worker who digs a hole once a week in her garden about 18 inches deep, pours the cooking grease she has accumulated into the hole, and covers it up. She says there is no smell, and she feels good about not sending all the grease to the dump.

                                          1. re: Dovid

                                            If it works for her, that's good- but it's usually not recommended. I've read that it can even kill some plants. The only safe disposal I know of is donating it to a bio-diesel recycling center. Though I haven't done that myself.

                                        1. Can I use kitchen waste that has already rotted or even has mold on it to put in my compost or garden or does it have to be fresh waste that the enzymes have not already been working to the state of rotting the vegetable waste?

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: ihateweeds

                                            Personally I would not introduce mold to my garden, there are enough other fungi and diseases to manage without intentionally introducing more, but maybe a master gardener or one with the technical knowledge can answer the question of whether that would be an unwise practice. I will say that my experiment with burying fresh kitchen waste in rows in my raised beds was a grand success. Within months the waste was turned into rich lovely garden soil, with no critter problems.

                                            1. re: ihateweeds

                                              I think it depends on hot your pile is. If it is already "hot" and rapidly decomposing, I think it would be alright.

                                              1. re: ihateweeds

                                                Feel free to add moldy produce to the compost or even bury it in the garden. Your compost and soil is already teeming with molds, fungi, etc. - you just don't have them in a big clump most of the time so you don't notice them - and molds, bacteria and fungi are what break down the organic matter in the garden and compost for your plants to use.

                                              2. I've been doing this for years. I bought the tumbler thing and it just didn't seem to be breaking down/working for me. So what I have been doing is every week or two I take my compost bucket (which is about 1 gallon and kept on kitchen counter) to a tree, dig around about a foot deep and mix in the compost scraps with a little more top soil.

                                                I then place heavy rocks/blocks around the tree (I read somewhere this will prevent rodents disturbing it). It seems to work we haven't seen any rodents. I then give the tree a good watering.

                                                The next week I choose a different tree, I have about twenty in my garden. But by the time I get back to the first tree. I see nothing but tiny pieces of egg shells. Didn't know egg shells take so long to deteriorate. Corn cobs don't deteriorate at all for me maybe they just take longer so I remove them from my compost.

                                                My trees are looking healthy too.

                                                BTW I am in Antigua and my temperature is a about 85 Degrees up year round. probably around 75-80 in the Christmas months.

                                                1. I do this too! And I love the results. It works great as well as lightning fast! If you have any plants that need reviving or starting seedlings and cuttings it will become your must have potion. There is one draw back. Once your start to use this food the plants seem to require the same or they start to fail. I assume the fresh er the food the more nutrients are present. Hence, the drink is a powerful and addictive for the plants. be prepared to use it religiously. I put the veggie scrap in the blender and place in the blender to liquify. then I place unused portion in a container, then the freezer so not to spoil. You have to add corn starch or baking soda to keep the bugs and rodents out of the plants. If you do not do this you will be invaded by pests. Both the baking soda or corn starch are natural and safe. Just mix the powders (one or other or both) in the veggie compost at anytime. Garden lime is good to have on hand as well. I have passed this idea on to quite a few people. Many ask how I keep everything green, large and looking so healthy. They are amazed to find out how simple it is. And thrilled that it cost nearly nothing to make and use. Remember the baking soda or corn starch will STOP the pests. Or they will help themselves to the oven, cabinets and frig. And without even asking. I made that goof. Trust and believe, it will take some time to get the pest problem under control. Especially,if wish to use natural pest control methods. Be Well.