I plan to do approximately a 1'x1' curved ditch between my garden rows filled with wood chips, and manure, will this make the plants get too warm, or will it keep the soil cooler like cover crops do??

  • what does 1'x1' mean? That's a square or rhomboid. Mar 20, 2018 at 0:34
  • I expect that temperature is only developed in a 3ft + deep pile. However, in IL, in June I did see blue smoke come out of my 100% grass clippings mulch pile ( also, of course, white steam.) Mar 20, 2018 at 3:20
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    I guess you mean 1 foot wide by 1 foot deep ditch that runs as long as the garden rows.
    – greggles
    Mar 20, 2018 at 11:40

1 Answer 1


If you are talking about making heat from compost decomposing between your beds whether you are in a green house or out of doors you won't be able to use that heat nor should you. The heat will not 'improve' growth or enhance production. Too unpredictable as a heat source. Are you thinking to lengthen the growing season one end or the other of the growing season? Perhaps in conjunction with row cloth?

Cover crops do not make the soil cooler. They provide a bit of shade that blocks light inhibiting the germination of weed seeds. Weeds have a more difficult time becoming entrenched when cover crops occupy the bed for the winter. Cover crops are annuals meant to produce flower and seed in the spring. Do not allow them to make flowers or go to seed. They are meant to be 'green' compost, break up the soil with their roots and inhibit weeds during the winter. In the early spring, before the cover crop is able to flower, you knock them down and chop chop with the shovel, I also add a little bit of Nitrogen, clean out my trenches beside my raised beds, throw the soil onto the bed...

In a month or two that cover crop will be mostly decomposed, you should be able to plant seeds or starts. That decomposed organic matter is to feed the micro and macro organisms of your soil. This is in no way meant for fertilizer, even if legume.

Decomposers need nitrogen to do their work. When the cover crop has had a bit of time being decomposed by decomposers using the nitrogen you added to hasten the process, that soil will be aerated, warmed by biological activity and ready for planting seeds or starts.

You still have to add a bit of balanced fertilizer for your plants. No question about that.

Cover crops add organic matter and greatly add to the TILTH of your soil. They do not add chemistry plants have to have to do photosynthesis. The cover crop needs a month or two to decompose before planting that row. Only use a shovel if you have clay and/or wet soil. No rototiller.

I've watched 6' piles of bark chips create clouds of fog all winter. To become 6 inches deep by spring. There are far better ways to heat a greenhouse. There is no way to heat the vegey garden out of doors. Row cloth all by itself boosts the temp below the row cloth by 10 to 20 degrees. That would be your only choice to increase the warmth of the soil, well, that and double digging to make a raised bed (no lumber, brick, rocks...).

Decomposed organic matter spread on the top of the bed in between plants inhibits weeds, feeds the soil (organisms), who build up your soil, mix this organic matter into your soil FOR you. This activity warms your soil, adds air and drainage...this will never replace fertilizer.

Not enough room i/n my greenhouse to warrant decomposing organic matter especially to use as a heat source. I like keeping compost away from my garden as it attracts wildlife and rodents. The heat created is not stable enough to maintain consistent temperatures. Way too iffy of a system to ensure plant health.

Heat at odd times will cause plants to think they are in spring. They will start putting out tender growth to get ready for spring. One day or night your compost is unable to keep the ambient temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit (assuming you are in a greenhouse), plants freeze, die, organisms go dormant..

Are you growing out of doors? Greenhouse? What are your goals? What did you like about this heat from decomposition? Where is it that you live?

  • i'm just looking to make my garden plot fungal dominated, and worry about producing too much heat in the garden (zone 4) rather than using it to heat things up. Mar 20, 2018 at 22:20
  • How does this composting in the aisles of one's garden promote 'good' fungus? Soils with decomposed organic matter added to the surface that have been shovel tilled will have incredible life to include bacteria, fungus, insects. I don't understand your goals i am guessing?
    – stormy
    Mar 20, 2018 at 22:52
  • it allows fungus to grow in the aisle and get into the root system while providing a place to walk. Mar 21, 2018 at 5:22
  • Fungus will be in healthy soil but to promote fungus also means promoting all fungus, including powdery mildew, insects, downy mildew...what have you found that shows effects worth the trouble
    – stormy
    Mar 21, 2018 at 10:37
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    I had a humongous hundred foot long six feet high by ten feet wide that cooked and steamed all winter. It wasn't warm to the touch, you shoved your hand inside and it was toasty, but not hot hot. I didn't get to the center but there was no radiant heat even though it was certainly steaming. I sprinkled alfalfa pellets for nitrogen as the piles were being dumped by the power company trimming trees. By spring, that huge pile was only 6" high. I was hoping to get rid of the blackberries I smothered and it worked, completely gone. Never came back. Will your piles inhibit use of wheelbarrow?
    – stormy
    Mar 22, 2018 at 21:59

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