Compost & HOA’s – Compost Done Correctly

It is easy to create compost in a dry climate. Properly done, composting is not unsightly, nor does it smell, or invite pests. I discussed the basics last week (here).

More than the Basics

Do you get my newsletter? One reader who does emailed me via the link at the bottom and asked for help creating an HOA approved compost area. After several missives we determined that it might have to be a clandestine compost area because his board had already turned him down. When he discussed it with them they cited nuisance insect and rodent pests and the unsightliness in general. How can it be unsightly behind my own wall? he argued to no avail.

Composting Your HOA Will Not Mind

As I mentioned – properly done, composting is not unsightly, nor does it invite pests. Compost does not need to involve large mounds, no turning piles of messy materials, and no extensive work on your part. I have a real life, and no desire to spend any time at all fussing in the hot sun with mound of decomposing stuff, so I have a few simple solutions.

Passive Compost

The easiest way to make compost is to “sweep it under the rug.” Rake fallen leaves and plant debris back under the plants it came off of. If there is rock mulch under the plants, move the rock aside first. This forms a well to hold the debris. Once you have the plant debris under the plant, water on top of the leaf and flower debris. The water helps stick the debris together and start the decomposition process.

Passive Composting. Composting is happening under this lovely bed of rain lilies and the HOA doesn’t mind one bit!

In its early stages, “under the rug” compost is called “mulch.” Microbes will start to decay the mulch, as will tiny critters called “detritivores.” These are the animals that eat detritus, like earthworms. Yes, there are earthworms in the desert. They wriggle deep in the soil and “hibernate” through the dry periods, coming to the surface when the soil is moist. Like under organic mulch.

Active Composting

Skip a “heap” or “bin” unless you irrigate it so it stays moist. Remember that life happens. Will someone irrigate your compost if you go on vacation, or worse, break a leg and can’t hobble out and take care of it? This is why HOA’s get grumpy.


Pit Composting.

Are you planning on adding a plant to your landscape? (Fall is ideal for planting!) Dig the hole ahead of time and use it as a compost pit.

Whenever you add plant debris, add a layer of soil on top, and water daily. Microbes and detritivores will do the rest. Add the plant waste from your kitchen. Coffee grounds, tea bags, lettuce leaves, and even those rotten refried beans or spaghetti from the back of the fridge – all are plant debris and can be added to the compost pit. Just don’t add any meat products. Every time you add more plant debris, add a soil layer. Otherwise the debris may attracts flies or worse – dry out and mummify. When it comes time to plant, turn any remaining compost well into the soil, and plant.

Bin Composting.

Anything can serve as a compost bin – as long as the contents will stay moist but not waterlogged. I use 5 gallon buckets, 14 quart tubs, or 25 gallon bins. They have small holes drilled in sides and bottom, crucial for air circulation and drainage. Bins also have lids. Lids and small air holes keep out the unwanted detritivores called house flies. The lids keep out larger pests like rodents. The bins are kept where even larger pests like javelina can’t get to them.

The drain holes in the bottom became plugged and this 5 gallon bucket of compost was too wet and smelly.
The immediate answer was to add more “brown” – a shovel of soil – to help make the mixture moist – not wet. Shreded newspaper would have worked too.

Keep it Moist!

Compost happens quicker if you turn it, but I just let compost happen. I do check every so often to make sure things are still moist inside the bins. Eventually all the tea bags and moldy apples are turned into rich organic matter. Then I harvest the compost and use it for living plants. In pots, mix a scoop or two in with the potting soil. For soil, turn the compost into the soil, making a unified blend. You can also add compost to the well under your plants before you rake more plant debris into the well for mulch.

Placing Compost once its made

To add compost to soil around existing plants, just dig up the soil and add it. But don’t disturb more than one third of the root zone at any one time or you may kill your plant. Roses especially appreciate the new, enriched soil, and reward compost efforts on their behalf with more blooms.


Other Composting Systems

Compost tea, blender compost, and composting with worms (vermiculture) all also work well in our dry climate and will have to be discussed in future articles on this site.

Thanks for Reading!


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