Innovative Composting and Gardening Ideas

December 6, 2011

Barbara Pleasant is an author, gardener, and public speaker who loves sharing her experiences related to raising organic backyard gardens. I spoke with her during the summer and also sat in on a presentation of her innovative composting and gardening techniques.

She describes compost gardening as the art of arranging perfect marriages between compost and the garden. Composting is considered a seasonal activity because it happens faster during the summer and a reductive process because you wind up with so much less than you begin with.

Innovative Ideas for the Backyard Composter

Leafy Compost PileHome composting has different goals in mind from what you would find on a farm or commercial composting operation; it’s more laid back, doesn’t require the high internal temps of the pile, but still results in improved soil quality and healthy productive plants.

One twist that Barbara utilizes is to bring the compost pile right into the garden. This saves labor by not hauling the waste organic matter to the composting area and then finished compost to the garden. It also allows for a “walking heap” as the pile is turned it moves down the row or garden bed, enriching the soil as it travels.

Natural allies in the quest to compost include crickets who are tremendous eaters of weed seeds and earthworms who Barbara describes as the “quietest pets you’ll ever keep.” She practices a system of catch and release vermicomposting where the worms spend their summers outdoors but are captured and brought inside during the fall.

Other Composting Strategies for the Home Gardener

  • Add charcoal from burned hardwoods to the compost pile to absorb nutrients and further enrich the soil when the compost is applied to the garden.
  • Chop your organic materials before adding them to the compost pile in order to create more surface area for the microbes and break the materials down faster.
  • For convenience freeze kitchen scraps until you have enough accumulated to trench compost, and then bury the food waste right in the garden.
  • Grow right on your compost piles to maximize space, certain crops such as squash and pumpkins will grow fine in a mountain of decomposing leaves or compost.
  • Separate families of plants to compost them separately and then use the finished compost to feed other types of plants and reduce the risk of spreading diseases.

Barbara’s Perspectives on Home Vegetable Gardening

Barbara also shared some great general gardening ideas and additional thoughts to reflect on. She considers gardening to be a Co-Creative process between the gardener and all of the intelligences that share the area. Therefore she supplies perches for birds, tolerates the activity of yellowjackets, and thinks diligently about all her actions in the garden.

Her speaking and writing is all geared towards helping people to garden, feed themselves, enjoy the beauty of nature, and to reconnect to the green world. She acknowledges that vegetable gardening isn’t for everyone but still believes that most would benefit from a garden, even if it consisted of just a single, solitary, houseplant!

For those desiring to start a new garden Barbara’s recommendation is to start with six crops at the max; “you can’t mess it up!”Starter Vegetable Gardens Book Cover A couple growing beds with three or four different vegetables and a small number of plants for each will provide the perfect opportunity to learn them and gain valuable gardening experience.

Barbara has written several books including “Starter Vegetable Gardens” and “The Complete Compost Gardening Guide.” You can also find her contributing to the pages of Mother Earth News magazine or visit her website at


Other Related Vegetable Gardening Posts:

  • Thanks for this great article! We have many clients that are interested in composting, but find it a bit daunting. Though we design with homeowner composting in mind, we feel many let it go by the wayside. We’ll definitely be point people to this post in the future! – Tim

  • barbee

    Hey Kenny-glad you are doing well.
    Is that an image of an ELEVATED composter?
    If so, how big is it? and I assume the bottom is screened (what gauge screen?) & what kind of special issues do you have w/ that kind of design?
    So-In essence: That design looks awesome-can you offer any additional details?

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Barbee, how have you been? That is actually my own special design that I engineered… who am I fooling, it’s just an improvised compost bin that is underneath of a child’s elevated play house. I simply fenced in the support beams and use the space (about 8′ x 8′) to store leaves and organic matter, finished compost, and sometimes use the area as a giant worm bin. The bottom isn’t screened at all and there is nothing high-tech about it. It stays pretty dry under there so that offers advantages (in the case of storing finished compost or raising worms) and disadvantages (when making new compost it may need to have moisture added to the pile) depending on the intended use. You could create something similar by driving wooden or metal posts into the ground and then run wire fencing around it to form a bin.

    Tim, thanks for stopping by and for sharing the information with others!

  • barbee

    Hi Kenny. I’m doing great, Thanks. Your compost bin is awesome. I knew it must be huge-after all, it has it’s own ladder to the second story.
    Good point about it needing moisture.
    (LOL “giant worm bin” that’s a lot of worms. @ the end of the season you can make your own horror film: “The Slithering Swarm”. LOL)

  • I’ve never really thought a lot about composting. I’d love to create a nice little fresh vegetable garden in my back yard. The previous home owner has started a beautiful garden that I’d love to take to the next level. My only concern is if pets are around do you find them eating the fresh vegetables or even getting into the compost pile? I couldn’t imagine that being healthy for them and I have lots of little stray pets running around my yard daily!

  • What is your take on using newspaper to either make a weed proof mulch in the garden or to shred and add to the compost pile? Also do you add wood chips to your garden soil before they have broken down in a compost pile? I have used wood chips in my flower beds as a thick mulch to keep down weeds and they always end up growing those terrible smelling stinkhorn mushrooms unless I compost them for about a year to break them down.

  • Hi Kenny,

    I love the post as I have aspirations to have a solid heat compost some day but always end up with more of a worm compost. Do you know if using wood ash will decrease the pH of the compost enough to help prevent or correct soil that is too acidic?

    The trench method is really great as well, especially for garden spaces that need amending and have time before anything needs to be planted in them.

  • Your articles are so informative indeed. My wife and I work with groups of Disabled people for whom we have established some vegetable farming in South Africa. We appreciate the information. kind regards, George.

  • Hi Kenny,

    Great article here, most people over look how important compost can actually be. Without adding this to some soils vegetables simply wont grow.

    The condition of your overall soil is very important to any garden especially vegetable gardens as one day you will be eating this produce.

    I found some amazing tips on How to Grow a Home Vegetable Garden this brilliant site is called The Blooming Oasis

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