Harnessing heat from the compost heap

I’m supposed to be working, but I  just can’t concentrate so I’m making a blog entry.

I never got around to doing a hoop house.  In fact, my enthusiasm right now is so low that it’s almost not there.  (Family stuff).    I did start some seeds already.  I’m leaning towards the soil blocks because they take up less room.  But before I decided on  doing the soil blocks, I started some mustard seeds in an egg carton.  (The sprouted seeds in the little container are asparagus seeds).

I started the mustard seeds in a little flat, and then I took the time to divide the egg cartons into semi-individual compartments (a little obsessive, I know), and then I thought about the soil blocks.

I started the Rainbow Swiss Chard in the egg cartons too, but later transplanted them into a window planter and after that into individual peat pots that fit nicely into the window planter.

I did make some soil blocks and planted/transplanted some herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary, lavender), lettuce, broccoli, brussles sprouts, tomatoes (brandywine and sweet 100), bell peppers (green and yellow), asparagus and godetia (thanks, Granny).  They’re all growing just fine.

I also planted egg plant, nasturtium, a few snow peas, cauliflower and marigolds into the soil blocks, and I’m waiting for them to germinate.

I didn’t do a hoop house, per se, but last fall I made a compost pile out of leaves and grass and soil from any pots that the plants had finished.  I surrounded the pile with fencing and threw a tarp over it.   In the front part of the bed I planted some swiss chard plants that my mother-in-law gave me and piled the compost ingredients in the back of the bed.   Before I got a chance to pick any of the swiss chard its snowed on them and I threw them out of my mind.

A couple of weeks ago when the weather started warming a little, I went out to check on the compost and noticed it was a little warm.  I mixed some alfalfa pellets into the pile to hopefully get it heating up a little faster.  Just for the fun of it, I took the dead looking swiss chard and planted them on the top of the compost pile.   A few days later I plucked one of the plants out of the ground and saw it was growing new roots.  Joy of  joys, they’re putting on new leaf growth now.

I wish I had taken a picture of the dead looking things I started with.  Anyway, I figured if the compost pile is putting out heat, if I covered the area it would be enough heat for the cool season things.  So, I put out the swiss chard first, and it did fine.  Then I put out the little tray of lettuce (the first planting), the spinach, the second planting of lettuce, the herbs, broccoli, brussles sprouts and the asparagus.  I have no idea how the asparagus is going to do in soil blocks, but it’s an experiment.  (They’re the ferny looking things in the lower right of the first photo).

The temp this morning was 36  (brrrrrr! ), but my plants were basking in a cozy 60 degrees.  Midday it was up to 70.   I fluffed up the compost pile, mixed in a handful of alfalfa pellets, gave it a drink of water and brought out the tray with the warm season stuff.  Instead of running the lights and the heating pad in the house and running up my electric bill, I’m using the free heat from the compost and the free light from Mother Nature. 

I know I’m taking a chance, but if all else fails and the plants die, I’ll just have to buy bell peppers and tomatoes. 

Here’s where the plants are living until I take the time to put them into the ground.

Not very pretty, but it serves the purpose.

Happy Gardening!!!



  1. March 29, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    My goodness, Cheryl. If you had any more enthusiasm, you’d be able to feed Chicago! Everything is growing very well, and bravo for harnessing the heat of the compost pile. I remember way back when, that the farmers put manure in the bottoms of their cold frames to generate heat.

    • gardengoodies said,

      March 29, 2010 at 10:40 pm

      It only sounds like a lot. Last year taught me not to plant too many of one thing. Hopefully everything will grow well enough in the soil blocks that I’ll be able to plant them without having to pot anything up.

      I found an article a few years back where an experiment was conducted using horse manure to heat a trailer I think it was. They used the manure from the mounted police horses to encase the trailer and were able to keep the place warm through the winter. It was a really long time ago and it was about three blocks from where my mother-in-law lives now. I’ve been trying to find the article on-line again to show it to her, but I haven’t had any luck so far.

  2. Liisa said,

    March 29, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    What a great idea using the compot pile.

    • gardengoodies said,

      March 29, 2010 at 10:43 pm

      I’ve got a thing for compost, and it was a pleasant surprise when I discovered it was heating up.

  3. engineeredgarden said,

    March 29, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    Good for you, Cheryl! I’m so happy that you’re blogging again. Planting things in the compost pile to keep them warm sounds like a really good idea.

    • gardengoodies said,

      March 29, 2010 at 10:53 pm

      I’ve been in a funk lately. It felt good to get a post out there.

      It would be so nice if the weather stayed above freezing and the heat from the pile lasts a while longer.

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