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Compost, Rotate, Grow and Repeat

Compost, Rotate, Grow and Repeat

By Melinda Myers for Milorganite
Photograph by Melinda Myers LLC

Don’t let limited time and space stop you from growing a healthy and productive garden. Make the most of every square foot by growing, composting and rotating your garden plantings with this convenient space saving technique.

Converting garden trimmings into valuable compost can be challenging when space and time are limited. Reduce the time and energy spent hauling plant trimmings from the garden to the compost bin and the finished compost back to the garden by composting in place.

Reduce pest and disease problems by amending soil with compost and rotating plantings. Changing the planting location of vegetables each year reduces the risk of pest problems. Easier said than done for those gardening in small spaces. Moving tomatoes from one end of a small bed to the other may be all that is possible.

Utilizing this technique, taught to me by my friend Ray Greiten, makes it easy to maximize every square foot of garden space. He uses this strategy along with the help of row covers to grow five crops of leaf lettuce each year in his Wisconsin garden.

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Start by measuring and marking your garden beds and paths. You’ll build 4-foot wide planting beds and 2 to 3-foot wide paths between each bed. 

Create raised beds by raking soil from the pathway to the adjacent garden beds. Elevating the planting surface helps improve drainage. Plus it helps define the bed, keeping feet out of the growing space and off tender plants. Limiting foot traffic avoids compaction and promotes root growth.

Access all parts of the garden for planting, weeding, and harvesting from these pathways. You’ll also use this area for composting. Place vegetable trimmings that are not suitable for the dinner table in the path. Add any annual weeds that have not gone to flower. Treat this just like any other compost method. Do not add weeds gone to seed, invasive plants, perennial weeds or those infested with disease and insects. And of course no meat, dairy, fat, or bones. This technique is just a combination of sheet and trench composting.

Spread the plant debris all along the pathway creating a layer of mulch. This helps suppress weeds and conserve moisture like other organic mulches while starting the composting process.

As you tend your garden you will bruise and break the plant debris while walking along the path. This helps speed decomposition.

At the end of the season sprinkle five cups of Milorganite over the green debris in each path. The nitrogen and 85% organic matter in Milorganite helps feed the microorganisms that break down the raw materials into compost. Use a shovel or tiller to break down the green debris to further speed decomposition. Cover this with soil from each of the adjacent gardens. The green trimmings will decompose over winter adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil.

Next season repeat the process but this time the path becomes your raised bed and last year’s raised bed your path. You have improved your soil, rotated your plantings and created space for composting.

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