Pit Composting is an Oxymoron

As a Master Composter I often have people asking me about so-called “pit composting”. I want to be very clear here, pit composting is not composting; it is throwing garbage in a hole in the ground which is illegal in all jurisdictions. Ok, maybe it is permissible in Wasilla, Alaska, but nowhere else.

Composting involves three things:

  1. Oxygen – doesn’t happen underground or happens in too limited a quantity for actual composting.
  2. Water – happens in either an overabundance or an underabundance underground. Either way, you can’t effectively control what is happening in a hole. Not to mention the possibility of water table contamination.
  3. An appropriate mix of Green (Nitrogen-rich) and Brown (Carbon-rich) Materials – note well the “MIX” part of this requirement. Mixing or turning the pile periodically is what makes composting happen. Turning the pile doesn’t happen at all or only very awkwardly in a hole in the ground. A hole in the ground is a midden, not a compost pile.

Finally, I hear something along the lines of “well, the compost is already down in the ground where I need it”. No, the best place for finished compost is on the surface in an even layer.

Dig down a few inches in any natural environment, and you’ll find all the decomposed material is on the surface, not three feet down. Plants operate best when nutrients are where they expect them, on the surface. Deep roots are for water and minerals already present in the subsoil. Plants look for humus (decomposed material) on or very near the surface in the topsoil.

Finished compost on the surface also has the added benefit of suppressing weeds and warming the surface of the soil in the spring to promote germination of seeds and early seedling growth.

In short, so-called “pit composting” is for cotton-headed ninnymuggins and has no place in a discussion of actual composting.

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