It was one of those desperate autumns where three compost bins, already stuffed with torn-up annuals and cut-back perennials, just weren’t enough to take on the relentless flurry of fall leaves. They were full to overflowing. But I couldn’t bring myself to rake up and bag all those leaves for trash day (too expensive and wasteful)! I figured why not just bury the problem – sweep it under the rug, so to speak?

Raking leaves

If you’ve got more fall leaves than you know what to do with, a compost pit can be the ideal way to dispose of them.

Photo Credit: Claudio Calcagno

Digging hole

An out-of-the-way spot is perfect for a yard-waste compost pit.

Photo Credit: Laura/

Kids and lilac

Who would guess that a lilac bush or two could hide a large compost pit?

Photo Credit: Richard McGuirk

So I did just that – behind two ancient lilac bushes in a corner of my yard. I dug a big hole, large enough that the neighbors were making jokes about missing bodies. Then I raked in the leaves from my back yard – lots and lots and lots of leaves. (My young son was thrilled – he could burrow into the leaf-filled hole and jump out of it, seemingly from out of the earth, at his sister or unsuspecting playmates.)

Later, I found out that what I created has a name: Pit composting.

It’s like a mini-landfill. Just dig a hole a few feet deep and wide wherever you can, and fill it up with sticks, plant waste, autumn leaves and other suitable compost material. (Never, of course, add meat byproducts, fats, bones, kitty litter or doggie doo.) Leave as is or, if you want, cover it with soil. Voilà! Disappeared!

Pit composting has many advantages. For starters, it’s free. There are no materials needed to contain the heap. Also, it’s nearly invisible. It took me about an hour to dig the monster hole in my sandy, deep soil. When I filled it up with leaves, it was indistinguishable from the leaves scattered around it. After a week or so, the pile broke down a bit and I could rake in more leaves. It was fabulously easy!

Pit composting also is efficient. Since it’s underground, the materials stay moist, even in hot, dry weather. (If your soil drains poorly, however, be warned: It might turn into a mucky hole in wet weather.) Pit temperatures are also moderate. And you don’t have to toss any soil on this pile to introduce helpful microbes – they’re everywhere already, so the materials break down very quickly.

I found an extra benefit in digging my compost hole, too: Since my Iowa soil was already rich and healthy, I just transferred what I dug up to some raised beds. But if your soil is poor, consider adding it to your other compost piles to enrich it for later use.

If you’re a compost purist, the pit composting method might not be ideal for you. Personally, I love that I can use my current composting pit as a dump-it-and-forget-it spot – a place to put lots of pesky branches I don’t want to bother to cut up.

So for me (and many others), pit composting is a godsend. I know that wherever I’ve dug my pits, I can find a regular supply of rich compost (aka quality topsoil). It’s been a wonderful complement to my (now) five regular compost heaps. In fact, it’s just standard for me to dig a pit or trench near my compost heaps and toss in branches and woody plant parts that won’t do as well in my regular bins.

Sometimes, burying your problems really is a great solution!