Thursday, April 14, 2011

Seed Starting with Compost Energy

I'm all for renewable energy.  I don't want to get too "political" here.  This is a gardening blog.  But renewable energy beats fossil fuels in my book any day.  Today's project uses a renewable energy source you probably haven't heard of.  It's compost energy.  Trapping the warmth from the compost bin and reusing it as a heat source for starting seeds.  I've used this method for years to start many of the annuals in my garden.  You'll only need a few materials for this project. 
One very full compost bin
One box that fits snuggly inside the bin (or as closely as possible)
Potting soil

It's important to start with a very full compost bin.  As the comtents of the bin decompose, the box will sink and if it isn't full to start with, you will be bending over to harvest your seedlings.
The compost bin I will be using isn't quite full, and I'm ready to get started, so I used some partially composted material from another bin.  I seem to be doing a lot of that lately.  I can't seem to keep up with my compost needs.

In the past my compost bin/seed sowing method has been for plant propagation purposes only.  Once the seedlings were large enough they were transplanted elsewhere in the garden.  But I had to wonder (with an eye towards getting double duty out of my bin) if you started with a deep enough box, and with lots of sun and water, could you get something to grow here for a season.  I probably should have started with something easy, like squash.  They grow out of the compost bin on their own.  But I wanted this to be a little more interesting, a bit more challenging.  How about corn?  I have a partial packet left over from planting "the three sisters" a few days ago.  Would some corn grow here?  Why not give it a try?
With the compost bin full I placed the box on top (flaps pulled out) and filled it with potting soil.  This box took about 1 1/2 bags (2 cubic feet each) of potting soil.  I got the soil wet and planted the seeds according to the package instructions.

I filled the holes with some additional soil, pressing the soil down to make a strong contact between the soil and the seeds.  I watered the box well and added a plant marker.

Remember to keep the box well watered.  The cardboard box will hold up for about 1 season, then it can be reused under a raised garden bed or recycled.  The compost and box were free, the seeds were left over, but I did have about $1.00 invested there, and the potting soil was $6.99 a bag or about $14.00 plus tax.  Keep in mind the soil will mix with the compost and can be reused in the future, so that cost comes down a bit. 
Check back.  I will be posting pictures of the box as the corn grows.
Be well and happy gardening!

Updated 04/28/2011
The corn is doing great.  Some of the seedlings are 2" tall.  The box has already sunk quite a bit.

Follow up:
The corn didn't end up doing well.  The seedlings came up great, but something (birds?) gave me problems. 
The plants were shredded and some of the stems  were broken.

Only 3 seedlings left, probably about 6 inches tall.  I might start some annual flower seeds behind the struggling corn so that I am using the growing space.
In another compost bin I started a box of zinnia seeds with a few melons in the corners. 
The zinnia seedlings are getting big and are ready to be transplanted.  I will keep the melons in the box where they will continue to grow up and over the sides of the compost bin.
Watch for weekly follow up pics.

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