Is it Better to Make Compost Raised Off The Ground or On The Ground?

Selecting whether to make compost raised off the ground or on the ground depends on where you are planning on composting. The best compost will always be done with contact on the ground, but that doesn’t mean that your home environment or gardening needs might dictate the need to raise the compost off the ground.

Individuals with limited space may need to place their compost in a specific place that is best suited if raised off the ground and in an enclosed container. While people that have plenty of space can easily set up multiple compost piles on the ground and even consider doing a cold compost that just sits for months or a year at a time without requiring any attention.

Benefits of Composting on the Ground

  • Doesn’t require any special containers or enclosures.
  • All the good bacteria and earthworms can freely move up into the pile from the soil below allowing the pile to become alive very quickly with all the good stuff.
  • It is easy to set up a multiple pile system so that you can easily turn and aerate the compost pile
  • Easy access to turn. Being on the ground and easily accessible means you don’t have to struggle in a tight space with a pitchfork or shovel to turn the pile.
  • All the natural liquids of the compost that get created during the decomposition process leaches down directly into the soil, keeping the pile from getting smelly and waterlogged.

Negatives of Composting on the Ground

  • Vermin will find your compost attractive. If you live in an urban setting you need to be cognizant of what you put in the compost. If you add things like kitchen scraps that include oils or meats, you will attract wildlife that you probably don’t want hanging out in your yard.
  • You will need to cover the pile with a tarp or risk having it get dried out quickly during the summer months or extremely waterlogged during the rainy season.

Benefits of Compost Raised Off the Ground

  • Ability to keep animals like rats, raccoons, opossum’s and other creatures that find the goodies in a compost pile attractive.
  • Can be designed in a special way to allow you to collect the leachate liquid from the compost pile and turn it into compost tea for watering or spraying the garden with.   While not as good as the liquids that can be formed from a worm bin this nutrient rich liquid can make your garden grow very quickly.
  • Container compost bins or tumbler style bins do not take up that much space. An on the ground compost pile can get very large and spread out over time, while a raised bin will always just take up the space inside the container.

Negatives of Composting in a Raised Bin

  • Lack of earthworms. Many people like to allow their composts to sit for a period after aggressively turning the pile a set number of times for the first month or two. This time of sitting allows the pile to be colonized by earthworms turning the pile into a rich worm compost that is very healthy for your garden beds.
  • Difficult to turn the pile. Several styles of raised compost bins are tumblers which are designed to allow you to rotate them to still turn the materials. These can assist in the process, but still are not perfect especially when the bin is full. The classic black bin placed on a pad of cement blocks is very difficult to turn and aerate.
  • If you do not have a system for removing and collecting or disposing of the leaching liquids your pile will become a stinky mess due to the excess water.
  • Difficult to get the total volume of compostable materials necessary for a raised bin to heat up properly.

Can You Compost the Same Materials in a Raised Composting Bin as an On-Ground Pile?

You can absolutely compost all the same materials in a raised compost bin that you would compost in an open pile located on the ground. Always keep a mix of greens and browns in your pile and keep the pile wet. One of the challenges that people using bins find is that many of the bins are not designed to be large enough. You want to create a pile that is 3 feet wide and at least 3 feet tall. This size allows the middle of the pile to get to the temperature necessary to kill weed seeds and also kill any of the pathogens that may be present if using any types of manure in the compost.

Building a pile directly on the ground means that it is easy to expand the pile size and include large volumes of material. If you have an abundance of fall leaves, grass clippings from an acre sized backyard, or even need to chip up a series of shrubs or small trees than an on ground compost plan is what you want. You simply will not have enough space in a raised bin.

Simplicity of Composting on the Ground

Composting on the ground is super simple. If an item was previously living it will compost. Do your best to layer materials so that you have a good mixture of carbon heavy brown compost materials and nitrogen rich green materials. Everything once living, when placed on the ground will quickly begin to decompose. There is something special about having direct contact with the soil that rapidly speeds up the decomposition process with all materials.

Designing a 3 bin on ground composting system

Setting up a 3-bin style compost system is the best way to get the most out of your on-ground compost operation. A 3-bin system is simply three separated areas right next to each other that allow you to process larger volumes of continuously collected materials while still getting you towards a final product. They can take up a decent amount of space so you might have to get rid of the kids backyard trampoline, if they don’t use it so you can have the ultimate on ground compost system.

Instead of constantly adding new materials onto an existing pile and having to essentially start over a 3-bin system’s purpose is to allow you to move all materials into the next bin and start over while the initial material continues to age.

  1. Use the first bin for rapid turning of fresh materials. This first bin should be turned every 3 or so days to keep it well aerated and heating up to a high temperature. After a month or so or when you have another load of materials and need to start a second pile, move this material into the2nd
  2. Turn the 2nd bin pile once after 2 weeks or so or maybe don’t even turn it all and let it sit for the full month. When you have materials for a new fresh bin in the first position move everything from the 2nd into the 3rd
  3. The 3rd bin should be allowed to sit and mature. As this the material just sits and ages it will be fully inoculated with organisms and fungal hyphae that will make your garden

Wrapping Things Up

If you have the space to compost on the ground it is the best solution for achieving a quality home made compost. The bins will work if that is all the space you have for composting, but make sure to get the most out of the system and collect the liquid if you can for compost tea.