Composting

Discussion in 'Crops & Gardens' started by Ken Anderson, Nov 2, 2015.

  1. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Greeter
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    I know we've discussed composting here before but since I don't see a thread devoted to it, I thought I'd start this one.

    Currently, I have two large compost areas but one of them has itself composted. The first one that I made had walls that consisted only of pickets hammered into the ground and held together with compostable rope, since I wasn't sure, at the time, that composting was something that I was going to do on a regular basis. Well, that one is about four years old now and the pickets, as well as the rope, have pretty well composted themselves.

    My second compost area was made from scrap lumber and a couple of old doors. It will probably hold up for a few more years yet but it looks kind of sloppy.

    One problem that I've seen with large ground-level compost piles is that by the time a compost pile gets ready to be used, in about three years, it is full of roots from surrounding trees, so I am able to extract some of the compost for use elsewhere but, largely, it builds up the ground level in the area of the compost pile.

    Today, I set some metal posts for another compost pile, to replace the first (which was in a bad place anyhow). Using a posthole digger, I dug holes for six posts, sinking them (roughly) down to the anticipated frost level, set the posts, and filled it all in with concrete. Since we are having some pretty nice weather, for November, I think I'm going to lay a thin slab tomorrow or the next day, weather permitting. That should prevent the roots from taking over my compost, and allow me to scrape the bottom when the compost is ready, and still allow worms to access it through the sides, which will be made of chain-link fence.

    With large compost piles, I set whole cardboard boxes full of compostable trash, including shredded and unshredded paper, household trash, etc. and fill in around them with leaves and other stuff. As the boxes compost at a different rate than the stuff around them, it leaves air pockets in the compost, which keeps me from having to turn it over.
     
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  2. Sheldon Scott

    Sheldon Scott Veteran Member
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    Compost needs to be turned and mixed regularly to speed up the process. For people like me, without a tractor and bucket, it's difficult to make enough compost for the garden. Organic material will, as you say, decompose in three years or so but I need it every year and much more than I can make. I do make compost, some in a large bin and some just in a pile, but I buy most of my compost.

    I currently buy from an individual who makes it on his property. Before we moved here I bought compost from the city landfill. I've been paying $30 for a pickup truckload. I just bought two truckloads this fall to refill my beds. Some of it is still in the truck.
     
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  3. Ken Anderson

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    The purpose in turning it over is the introduce air to the compost near the bottom, and the closed boxes accomplish that quite well without the effort. Oh, I do stick a fork in it every once in a while but I don't actually turn it over. I also like to begin with a few bricks or rocks at the bottom of the pile, since that allows for air pockets as well. I get some good compost from mine, and the full, complete, closed cardboard boxes that I use throughout are thoroughly composted in three years. If I were careful to leave things like cat litter out of it, I could harvest the compost in two years but since I compost cat litter as well, I let it go for three. That's why I want to have three large piles going, so that I can have one that is ready each spring.

    With a large pile, I have heat composting going on in the center and vermicomposting around the edges. Last spring, I actually bought some worms for the first time because I wanted to speed things up, but I generally get plenty of them regardless. I think it did help. Here in Maine, composting goes slowly during the winter, although it continues as long as the pile is deep and thick enough. By spring, however, the pile is so high that I can barely reach the top of it to add more stuff, since I'm adding things to it all winter, plus there is the snow and the ice that has been deposited at different levels. I had a huge pile this spring, which is why I decided to add some worms. Despite adding boxes and loose compostables to it throughout the spring, summer and fall, it is still a level pile.

    You're right in that it takes a whole lot of compostables to produce a small amount of compost. I bring some in too, but I don't have to buy it since our town has a compost pile that is free to residents. I compost not only for the compost but because it greatly reduces the amount of trash that I have to carry to the transfer station. Here, we don't have municipal or private trash pick up services so we have to haul our own trash. By composting, I was able to cut my trips down from about three a week to one every couple of weeks, and it doesn't smell up my Chevrolet Tracker on the way there.
     
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  4. Sheldon Scott

    Sheldon Scott Veteran Member
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    Turning compost regularly adds air and moisture and speeds up the process tremendously. A pile can be completely composted in a couple of months rather than years for static composting. It's just too much work when you have to do it by hand. My piles seldom get turned.
     
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  5. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Greeter
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    Yes, it's too much work, which is why I work around it by creating air pockets in my compost.
     
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  6. Ken Anderson

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    I have begun building my new compost pile today, laying most of a slab, in which I have embedded six metal posts that I can attach fencing to. I did a poor job of estimating the amount of concrete that I need, so I didn't have enough to complete the slab and I'll have to finish it tomorrow. I think this will work well because the sides will allow air, and the slab should keep roots out of the compost and allow me to more easily get at the compost when a batch is completed. It's nothing fancy, but a compost pile doesn't have to be fancy. I'll add pictures tomorrow.
     
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  7. Ken Anderson

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    Okay, nothing fancy, but my new compost pile is ready to be used.

    [​IMG]
    This is after the slab was poured. I could have smoothed out the concrete more but it's a compost pile, so I didn't bother. As you can see, Ella, my building inspector, is looking it over.

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    I put the sides on today, and I'll start adding stuff to it when the other one gets full. Before the snow comes for the winter, I'll probably add some stuff to it, like a couple of large cardboard boxes that I need to get rid of, filled with fallen leaves, since my yard is covered with them right now.

    [​IMG]
    This is the active one, made with an old door and some scrap lumber. As you can see, the door is about to compost itself, so I will add some more stuff to it, top it off with some more leaves, and then cover it for the winter. By spring, it should be down level with the top of the door or lower, and by the following spring, it will be ready to harvest. After that, I will lay down another slab and build a more organized compost pile in the same area.

    [​IMG]
    This was my first compost pile. It was made up of pickets hammered into the ground and held together by compostable string and plastic bags. In the next few days, I'll pick up the plastic from it, and I might try scraping what compost I can get from it, but it is in a bad position, and is heavily rooted, so I don't expect to get much from it. On the positive side, it won't hurt to build up the soil there anyhow. I need three compost piles, but I think I'll put the third one next to the one I completed today, not in this location.
     
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  8. Ken Anderson

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    I'm starting the compost off with some large boxes full of stuff, which includes smaller boxes of compostables, shredded and unshredded paper, food wastes, coffee grounds, and leaves. These boxes will collapse with the rain, and be crushed by other stuff that is added on top of it, but it will leave several air pockets, particularly within the smaller boxes, that will aid in composting, allowing it to compost within two or three years without having to turn it. Note the slits near the bottom of the larger box, as it had to double as a cat playroom for a while before it could be fairly discarded.

    [​IMG]
     
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  9. Ken Anderson

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    [​IMG]
    This is how I start my compost piles, with a layer of boxes filled with compostables, such as table scraps, paper and cardboard, some shredded, some not. Each box includes some leaves, as that seems best to start the compost process. I began this pile a little late in the season, so I won't have a colony of worms working through the winter, in all likelihood. Some were no doubt introduced with the leaves but, since I am unlikely to have a thick enough pile before freezing temperatures come, they probably won't survive. So I will likely have a very high pile in the spring, at which time I might buy some worms to get things going.

    Once I get a base of boxes, I will be adding layers of leaves, shredded paper and cardboard, and some more filled boxes and bags, mostly smaller than these, as well as table scraps and the like. As I mentioned earlier, this arrangement places air pockets throughout the pile, not requiring turning of the pile. If I were able to turn the pile periodically, it would compost more quickly, but I have more time than I have energy, so this works well for me.
     
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  10. Ken Anderson

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    [​IMG]
    A couple more boxes, and I am ready to start laying the compost with leaves. Some of these boxes have small boxes inside of them, along with other compostables, and most include leaves, which usually begins the compost process quickly. Beginning with a layer of boxes, my compost pile will include enough air pockets to allow composting to go on without my having to turn it over. After this, it will proceed pretty much like any other compost pile, except that I will continue to add boxes from time to time, although smaller boxes than these, but most of the larger cardboard boxes that I add once I have a good base will be shredded.

    As I mentioned earlier, I began this compost pile late in the season so I am unlikely to have enough of a mass for it to do a lot of composting during a Maine winter, as that would require 1) worms that aren't frozen stiff; or 2) enough of a composting mass for heat composting to continue in the center of the pile. If wintery weather holds off for a while, it is possible that I'll have some composting going on in this pile, but it is more likely that it will have to wait until spring. I do have another active pile that I'll be adding to, as well, and which does have enough of a mass to keep the worms warm enough to continue working throughout the winter. I compost pretty much everything that isn't metal or plastic.
     
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  11. Corie Henson

    Corie Henson Very Well-Known Member
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    We have here what we call a compost bin but it's an informal once. It is a planter box where we throw excess vegetable cuttings and fruit rinds. There appears what they call vermicast which we call waste matter of earthworms. We use that vermicast in mixing potting materials although I am not sure if it is fertile like the compost. But for fertilizing plants, what we use is the mixture found in the compost bin.

    I'm not really keen on the compost because our usual fertilizer is the water that was used to rinse fish and meat that comes from the market. We have small plastic basins where we wash the market items for cleaning and thereby getting the benefit of the sediments.
     
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  12. Sheldon Scott

    Sheldon Scott Veteran Member
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    Corie, I built a fish cleaning station outside with a garbage disposal in the sink. When I clean fish I grind the fish bodies and guts and add them to the garden.

    The scraps in your planter should be very good fertilizer.
     
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  13. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Greeter
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    [​IMG]
    The base of the compost pile is completed. Now, if I can get one more snow melt before winter comes, I can cover all that with a thick layer of leaves. I'll be using both compost pile through the winter, placing some of the more quickly compostable material in the other compost pile, which I want to be able to harvest a year from next spring. Judging from past winters, we may get a few more weeks of above-freezing weather before winter descends upon us for the season. If so, I might actually get some composting going on here.

    A base of boxes allows me to compost without turning it over, and it works very well. The stuff I place into this compost pile from this point on will be the more traditional compostables, as well as some smaller boxes, but I won't be placing any more large boxes on it for the rest of the winter.
     
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  14. Ken Anderson

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    [​IMG]
    All right! The temperatures here are in the 50s today, so our snow is mostly melted, and I could get at the leaves again. This is how the compost pile starts. From here on in, it is arranged pretty much like anyone else's compost pile, except that I do add small cardboard boxes full of stuff and paper bags of compost to it. Mostly though, it's shredded paper and cardboard, leaves when I have them, and food scraps.

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    Here's my other compost pile. I'm still adding new stuff to it but I'll stop adding to this pile next spring, and it should be ready to harvest a year from then, since I'll only be adding things that compost quickly, such as food scraps, shredded cardboard, and leaves.
     
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  15. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Greeter
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    [​IMG]
    I am posting these as much for myself, or more so, than anything else, so that I can see the changes in the compost pile. We bought a couple of things that came in big boxes, so I decided to add a couple of layers of cardboard, followed with leaves. It looks almost full, and might be that way through the winter but, as the stuff composts, it will sink down, and it will be about three years before the compost is complete, and I'll be lucky if it comes up to more than a quarter of the way from the floor.
     
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