Friday, October 25, 2013

Create a Grow Heap This Fall For Squash Next Year

One of the speakers who I had the pleasure of seeing several times at the Mother Earth News Fair was Barbara Pleasant. It almost felt like I was listening to an old friend speak since I had read so many of her articles in Mother Earth News.

In her workshop about composting, Barbara talked about how easy it is to grow squash in a Grow Heap. A Grow Heap is basically a giant compost pile that you create in the fall. You can either nestle transplants in the heap in the spring, or simply bury open-pollinated (remember - hybrids will not reproduce true) squash in the compost in the fall. The squash itself will decay into the pile during the winter, but the seeds will sprout in the spring.

Here's where she really got my attention: Barbara said she raised 100 lb of pumpkins this year in one Grow Heap.  That's a ton of food for very little effort, so I knew we had to give it a go.


Our grow heap under construction

When we started to clear our garden of summer annuals as the first frost became imminent, we carried the garden waste over to a 12' x 4' spot that is contiguous to our sunflower patch. We layered brown materials (such as completely dried leaves and sunflower stalks) with luscious green materials (basil, marigolds, borage, comfrey, etc.). We made sure not to remove too much dirt from the roots of the plants we pulled out of the garden because, according to Barbara's book, The Complete Compost Gardening Guide, it is best to have about 20% of your pile consist of soil because it will help keep the plants from wilting under water stress. We did not include any plants from the Cucubit family (cucumbers, watermelon, squash, etc.) in the pile because we do not want to introduce any diseases that could affect next year's pumpkin crop.

We also had two compost bins of semi-composted rabbit manure and chicken litter available. We dumped that over the top of the Grow Heap. At that point, the pile stood about 2-1/2 feet tall.


A couple of chickens check out the newly-emptied compost bins. We've started
 filling the bin on the left with the Cucubits we did not add to the Grow Heap. 

We plan to add yet more to the Grow Heap as fall progresses. We will add a couple bags of shredded leaves and grass clippings plus the remains of the hardy garden plants (cabbage, chard) when we pull them out.  The Grow Heap will be reduced in height by half when spring comes around, so it is good to make the pile large to begin with.We'll start pumpkin seedlings indoors sometime in April, and plant them in the heap in mid to late May. I'm hopeful that we'll get the biggest pumpkin crop we've ever had.

This was incredibly easy, so if it works, I'm sure Grow Heaps will become my go-to method for growing squash. If squash isn't your thing, you can also grow tomatoes in a Grow Heap. Any members of the Cucurbit or Solanaceae families should thrive in this environment.

Reference:

The Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

4 comments:

  1. where did you go?

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  2. where did you go?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hope you and your family is doing ok. miss you.

    ReplyDelete