extreme composting

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robin ledrew
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I thought this might be useful knowledge to share. I have been experimenting for a long time with composting and have the benefit of a large garden to feed the compost, so my discovery may not fit everyone's situation. I practice "extreme composting" (my term)...this means I build several compost piles about three feet high and five feet long during the course of a summer. I layer everything I can get into them and turn them EVERY THREE DAYS. This practice keeps them very hot. I incorporate fresh green material each time I turn and it takes less than a month for a pile to be ready to use.
I love going out on a cool morning and laying my hand on the pile to see if it is still cooking. The pile has a pudding-like consistency if working well. I love the smell too...fresh, exciting, full of potential.
I would love to hear others findings about composting....

nanarobin

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Autonomy Acres
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Here is something to add to

Here is something to add to the idea of extreme composting... Compost tea.  Here is a link to my latest blog post about brewin' up your own batch of compost tea.  Enjoy!

 http://autonomyacres.wordpress.com/2011/07/10/diy-compost-tea/

Barn's burnt down, now I can see the moon. - Masahide - http://autonomyacres.com/

gaiasdaughter
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bad buy

I have this compost tumbler: http://www.composters.com/compost-tumblers/creative-circuit-base-compost... and I wish I had saved my money. When it is full, it is really difficult to roll. I took mine off the base and roll it around the yard, but it is not an easy task. The lid leaks water so every time it rains the interior gets way too wet. And to top it off, it is difficult to empty once the compost is done. Don't waste your money on this one!

wyldeyes
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To make compost, I've

To make compost, I've recently started scything my field and making piles of grass clippings/brambles/goldenrods/etc layered with sprinklings of dried chicken litter. I'm doing this intuitively, which generally just means I don't know what I'm doing so I try something and see how it works.

My challenge is this: I would like a lot of compost, and the most available organic matter is in the pasture in the form of "hay." I'd be interested to hear from other folks who make compost with hay or other local materials to hear what they do. Or any other ideas for generating compost without animals, urban waste streams (this isn't the city), or kitchen scraps (which are not abundant here).

~wyldeyes

HalFiore
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This is similar to what I do

This is similar to what I do using grass clippings and garden wastes. In my experience, you will not get fast or fine compost this way, because the starting material is too coarse. For me, that's ok. I mostly use it as a top dressing, and it will eventually finish it's composting on the ground. I figure I'm just using a mulch with fewer weed seeds and a lower C:N ratio than if I just used hay directly.

I am rethinking this approach, however, as this year the squash bugs and stink bugs were uncontrollable.

Formerly "green_achers" and "Hal" on blogger.

No relation to Joaquim. (That I know of...)

peacegarden
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Doofus labeling aside, very

Doofus labeling aside, very hot and fast compost make be sexy, but there is a school of thought that extreme heat in a pile can "burn off" too much of the very stuff you are working so hard to make available to your garden.

"Research has shown conclusively that compost heaps that get hotter than about 150 degrees F lose heaps of valuable nitrates and burn out too much carbon...off-gassing methane, ammonia and carbon dioxide. These gases contain the bulk of the nutrients"

From Gardening When It Counts, by Steve Solomon

There is also a beauty in the way a slow or moderately "fussed with" pile works: I am not interested in (or physically able enough to do!) the turning every three days (that is indeed extreme!) you do.

Although we have a fairly large property, we would most likely have to bring in materials from "away" to compost fast and furious. We are trying to cut down on imported materials (not to say we are anywhere near the goal as yet!)

Robin, I envy your physical prowess and dedication, but I hope fellow wizards in training don't get discouraged about the slowness of their methods.

One thing we know: Compost happens!

Peace

Gail

Marie
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You'll loose nitrogen during

You'll loose nitrogen during composting, no matter what. The extent will depends on how much you start with. Ideally the blend of materials at the beginning is at a C/N ratio of between 20 to 30 and once it is composted, it will stabilize around 15. The one way I know one cant get around this is to mix peat moss in the compost pile. Peat moss will absorb the ammonium and release it in a slow fashion in the soil when the compost is spread.

alice
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compost heap design

I have been learning about composting as I want to build a hot heap. I am planning a heap which will be approx 1.5 m cube. I am building sides to keep everything together, and the design calls for a low carbon compostable material to fill 1 m of the depth.

I am planning to get spoiled hay and/or straw and layer it into the bottom of the pile. If I understand the principle correctly it needs to be at least 70 cm deep when packed in solidly, with enough spare to build up this base material around the sides of the bin so that the green stuff goes into an indentation in the centre of the heap.

Then I plan to add "green" nitrogen-rich stuff - kitchen and garden scraps as they are produced, and manure (it's possible to buy dried chicken manure at the garden centre down the road), and cover with 20 cm of light cover material for insulation.

If it works as I hope, the heap will heat up even with a small amount of greens added; as each small amount of green is added, I plan to scrape back the covering material (20 cm of straw/hay) and add it to the indented centre of the top of the heap. Then re-cover to keep heat in.

If I have understood the principles correctly this kind of construction will allow a hot heap to be built from a small regular supply of green.

-- England, UK.

Betz
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compost heap design

Alice,
When building the pile be sure to layer many shallow layers instead of a few deep layers to make sure that the carbon and nitrogen materials abut each other. Also, I use about 10 feet of 3 foot high fencing to create a circle (leave it open while you are working on the pile) to corral the pile. If you turn it, just open up the circle, move the fencing to a nearby spot and rebuild the pile. Moisten as you go and create chimneys (out of pipes or stalks) to get air into the center of the pile.

Betz

Kelly Coyne
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we do fast and slow composting

You're doing what we call "fast composting" (though extreme composting sounds sexier Wink ) -- my husband and I do that too, but we only have space for one pile at a time. I envy you your several piles!

As you know, but some readers won't, you build a fast, hot pile all at once. Sounds like you add some greens in as you go along, but basically, in that style of composting, you have to gather everything together at once to get the necessary mass to get it going hot.

But if you don't have enough green waste to build a big fast pile, you can toss your kitchen waste in a pile which builds slowly. It will turn into compost eventually, but very slowly.

So we do both. Once in a while we'll build a big, hot pile like yours out of yard trimmings and scavengings from the farmers market. This is how we get compost quickly. Then we keep a cooler, slow pile that we toss random kitchen stuff into as it comes along, as well as litter from the chicken coop. That pile is more about the responsible recycling of green waste than anything else, though it will, after about a year or so, end up in the garden, too.

BG_Hearns
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Thanks for that Clarification

I've never been able to do the 'fast' composting, and now I know why: because I've never built a pile in a day! I've never been able to gather and save up the materials.
I get leaves in the fall, maple-tree seeds in the spring, kitchen scraps all year long... none of the books, pamphlets, online forums, ever quite explained that the pile needs to be built at once. They sort of imply that it ought to be built slowly, over time.

Albert Howard's An Agricultural Testament goes into great detail, focusing on the importance of compost and provides an industrial program that could turn the collected daily discards (I refuse to call it 'waste' any longer) of a small town into rich soil within 30 days, but he perfected this method in Indore, where it never snows or freezes over for four months at a time.

Nor do any of the other fascinating publications on the Journey to Forever website that discuss composting make that distinction.

I don't feel like such a doofus now, having continuously failed to produce any heat out of any pile in the past 4 years!

BTW, for those with smaller gardens or smaller piles and less enthusiasm about flipping piles, there are several types of drum now available that make turning the piles ridiculously easy.

Jim Brewster
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"all in a day" not the only way

You can still get heat without having to gather all your materials at once. I've been using a top-down no turning approach for several months and getting a hot zone that follows the high-N inputs, insulated on all sides by straw. It's loosely based on Joe Jenkins' method from the Humanure Handbook. I happen to have a healthy population of black soldier fly larvae that really speed up the breakdown of food scraps, and red worms deeper in the pile where it's cooler mix the larval droppings with the bulk carbonaceaous materials. Since I'm not harvesting the fly larvae (they're great for feeding poultry and fish as well as pet reptiles etc.), I know I'm losing some material as they leave the pile to pupate. But I also know the songbirds are harvesting plenty, so I don't feel like it's going to waste.

Kelly Coyne
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it took us a while -

It took us a while to figure out fast/slow distinction, too, so don't feel like a doofus! (Or rather, you're no more of a doofus than we are. Ha!)

The other keys to heat, other than mass, are a good balance of ingredients and frequency of turning. We are never ambitious enough to do more than a weekly turn on the hot piles, but even that still will yield good compost in 2-3 months.

One interesting thing we've learned via the hot piles is that manure isn't really necessary as long as you've got enough green plant matter. That surprised us, because we'd always used horse poop to "heat up" the pile. This saves us a trip to the stables.

robin ledrew
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Dear Kelly,

that is a useful distinction (fast and slow). I like the fast method...it is exciting but you're right it takes a lot of material all at once to get it going. I envy you your chicken litter! That must help get the pile hot fast.

nanarobin

Kelly Coyne
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what kind of bin do you use?

Hey Robin,

I was wondering how you contain your fast piles--homemade bins? commercial bins? loose piles? I figure since you have several, you must have a system down.

And yes, the chicken litter really helps the slow pile along. It's gone from glacial to merely pokey!

robin ledrew
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dear kelly,

no container, just loose piles. That way I can flip the material from one end to the other relatively esily or side to side. I have given up putting the piles on concrete slabs. The places where the copost piles sit become the "best" areas for planting. I think the post that talks about the loss of nutrients in fast or hot composting is well worth considering though and i will hve to check the temperature more closely! dont want to lose those nutrients.

nanarobin

AntonySerio
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I wish I had the space for

I wish I had the space for such an endeavor as yours. Unfortunately, all I have is an urban 'bacon strip', about 30 feet wide, with about 50 feet of usable garden space (about 1/3 of which has heavy shade). Instead, myself and my neighbor have two drum composters, that we share during the warm months. My neighbor has even less space than I do, with only a 25 x 15 area for gardening, so space is definitely a consideration for both of us. We only use one drum at a time, filling it up with kitchen, garden, and yard waste, mulched branches, etc. When it's full, we rotate off to the other drum, while letting the full one rot. With this method, we usually get between 3 and 4 wheelbarrows full of rich compost per year for both of our gardens. Considering that it's often below freezing from October until April in upstate NY, we're doing pretty good on that front. I am planning on putting in a conventional compost bin eventually, for processing the more 'noxious' yard waste (such as bindweed) that we don't want to risk composting for the food garden.

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frozenthunderbolt
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We can grow tea here in NZ -

We can grow tea here in NZ - we have done and made an acceptable green tea - it is a kind of camellia - a few ground frosts but that's as cold as we get.
YMMV

Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light

robin ledrew
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dear antonyserio,
is the drum you're speaking of one that rotates? with a handle to turn it? do you have plans for it? or know how to make one? I think that would be a good "winter system".

nanarobin

AntonySerio
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No, I did not make it myself.

No, I did not make it myself. My neighbor ordered them online from (https://www.compostumbler.com/StoreFront/product/compact-compostumbler). The drum itself is made of sheet metal with fiberglass ends. They hold up fairly well, but they will rust after a while. My tumbler has been in constant use for nearly 10 years, and it still works, although I have had to replace the door, and one of the steel panels. Looking at the models currently available, they have an all fiberglass model (https://www.compostumbler.com/StoreFront/product/back-porch-compostumbler) which might hold up better.

I know that relying on a commercial product to make compost is not necessarily a good idea. The tumblers are somewhat expensive, and if the company ever goes under, I won't be able to get replacement parts, etc. I've been toying with the idea of converting a dead clothes dryer into a compost drum, but haven't gotten very far yet.