Monday, March 28, 2011

Composting 101 Revisited

Pat and I attended a free seminar on Composting held Saturday at Homestead Heritage. We got some clarification and some redirection on our composting process.  Number one correction in our thinking is, if you use a pile to compost, it has to have enough mass to heat up.  That is why ours was staying cold.  It did get hot at one point, but I know I killed it by adding chlorinated water and having a small mass--see below.  Saturday, Pat re-worked our pile to hopefully bring it into balance so that it'll work for us. 

Newly reworked Compost Pile
The following is what we learned in order to build a compost pile.
  1. The size of your pile should be at least 4x4x4.  It is necessary to have enough mass for the pile to get hot.  We were missing the volume.
  2. The bottom layer should be made of good sized sticks to lift the pile off the ground.  This promotes air circulation.  We did not do this step previously.
  3. Follow with brown matter--leaves, dried grass, etc.  They recommend 50/50 mix of brown and green matter. 
  4. Top with green matter--mown grass (they say not Bermuda since it tends to seed.  The piles do not get hot enough to consume the seed.  Add at your own risk!  We will later this summer...we have no choice, as I said earlier finding green for us is tricky).  Add water.
  5. The third layer should be topsoil or previously composted matter.  Sprinkle some on top of the green to accelerate the pile.
  6. As you add each layer, add enough water so it is like a wet, wrung out sponge.  Not too much.  However, you'll want to add unchlorinated water as chlorine kills bacteria.  And you want your pile to have a lot of bacterial action.  However, because we did not have an in-line filter, we put regular garden-hose water on the pile anyway.  Surely, by the time the pile begins to work, the chlorine will evaporate.
  7. Keep alternating brown with green until it is at least 4' high.  In our picture you can see that ours is about a foot short.  No matter, it has more mass than what I started out with, and it's better than nothing.
  8. Prepare to cover your pile during heavy rains.  Too much water will drown the microbial action in your pile.
A few tips and recommendations are:
  • It's okay to have the pile under a shade tree (I thought we needed the sun, but not so).
  • Stick your hand in to see if it's getting hot.  Be careful, if it is hot you'll know it quickly.  It can get as hot as 180°!
  • If adding manure, make sure the animals were not taking antibiotics---again, antibiotics kill bacteria and it will still be active in the manure.  Avoid horse manure as their digestive systems do not completely break down seeds.  The best animal manure is dairy cow as they are not allowed to have antibiotics on the milking line.  Chicken and goat poop are fine, just know where it comes from.  Commercial growers of chickens will inoculate often with antibiotic.  Chickens raised by individuals most likely will not. 
  • Avoid cat and dog poop as they have lots of parasites which will not be killed in the composting process.
Once your pile gets to cooking, it is necessary to turn it.  What Homestead suggests is moving the pile to another bin to do this.  Use the same method as before adding more brown and green.  Turn the outer corners of the pile first since the outside will decompose slower than the middle. 

Depending upon how hot or cold the pile is, compost will appear anywhere from one to six months.  Compost should be rich, dark brown like coffee grounds, and smell like earth.  Add the compost to your garden as soon as it is ready.  

Homestead adds theirs about 6 weeks prior to planting.  They layer the compost on top of the garden bed and put mulch over it.  This allows the soil time to "digest" the composted materials.  Mother used to turn it into the soil.  I'm thinking that's how we'll do it, but you never know.  That will be on a future post.

For now Pat and I are hoping to cook up some compost!

No comments:

Post a Comment