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Picky Composting

 
Posts: 99
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Composting is something I have been meaning to do for years, and finally started this year.  Being me, I spent many hours reading, and watching video's on composting.  What I learned is there are many, many opinions on how to do it properly, and the distance between those opinions is vast. Basically they all work if your willing to wait long enough.  The only "wrong way is cold composting weeds, unless you don't mind planting weeds in your garden.   The extremes are throw anything and everything the will biodegrade into the pile, to people who are very picky and have many rules.  I figured I would hit some were in between.   Maybe leaning towards the picky side.  For me no bones, fat, dairy, and I look up the other stuff we use, like two of the tea bags can go in, but Red Rose only the tea can go in because micro plastics are in the bag.  Dixie paper plates are a no because they are 99% compostable, the other 1% I'm thinking is plastic, otherwise why not tell what it is?  You get the idea, I didn't want plastic, even a little in my compost.  
I was talking to my friend the other day and her husband has been composting for years, and besides bones, fat and dairy they throw everything else in.  They get tons of compost, make compost tea and there garden is doing beautifully.  It made me wounder if I am being too picky.
My reason for composting is to put less into the landfill, reduce my garbage bill and have a good quality compost at my disposal, ( save money and I know what is in it)  Then I thought I could have two piles, one "good" one for the garden, and one for everything else, but that's double the work.  I don't know, I know I'm over thinking it, but its bugging me now.  I don't know the science of it, and there is too much info to really make up my mind.  What do you think am I being smart, or silly?
 
pollinator
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I would say yes, you're overthinking it.

There's a compost method for everyone.  Each has their own results, so it's important to determine what results you want.

Diverting resources out of the waste stream is a nice motivator, but the question isn't necessarily why you want to, but what you want afterward.

Some people live in cities and don't have land of their own.  To them, I would recommend something small scale and enclosed, like bokashi or worm composting.

Some people want a lazy version and get a composting bin or tumbler where they can dump their grass clippings and yard waste, maybe even kitchen scraps, and just let it sit and rot. (I don't consider this "true composting" but some do.)

Some people want large amounts of compost for their gardens, beds, or fields.  To them, I would suggest hot composting, and particularly the Berkeley method.  You need at least one cubic meter of material, much more than will fit in the lazy composter's bin.  Three weeks of turning and you're done.

Some people have a lot of material to process and want to convert it to a little amount. Maybe they might want to try Black Soldier Fly Larvae.

Some people have animals to feed.  They can eat the compostables directly, or feed the compostables to another sort of feed, like red worms, meal worms, or BSFL. if you want to feed animals directly, chickens, pigs and trout are the trifecta. Basically between the three of them, everything can be eaten, and they can also eat each other, if one dies, for example.

Another interesting technique is to compost underwater.  Weeds and weed seeds are fine. The water breaks down the plant material and the end result is a sort of liquid fertilizer.  You have to know what you're doing though, don't go out and "try" it without further instruction and familiarity.

Aside from what you want your output to be, there are basically two considerations in my mind: Pathogens and vermin.

If you're dealing with pathogens, like when composting humanure, you need to "sterilize" the pile in a way that destroys pathogens. You want the good bacteria but not the bad. This is done in several ways including adding heat, time, changing the pH, or in some cases, adding oxygen, since many pathogens are anaerobic (which is not to say that anaerobic means pathogenic).

If you're dealing with vermin, like rats or raccoons or whichever, avoid bones, fats, meats and dairy.  Otherwise, keep it enclosed in a way so as to exclude vermin and you can add whatever you want.

There are also some other techniques you can utilize, depending on your purpose, such as making compost teas or partnering with indigenous microorganisms.
 
Chad Sentman
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I just want to add that I can (and often do) talk for HOURS on any topic I just mentioned, and would be happy to answer any questions you have.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I have almost an acre.  My compost is on the ground.  I do have a worm bin also, and even more picky with what goes into that.   I just don't know how toxic microplastic is to my compost.  While I have your ear, what about cardboard, and paper, like mail.  I was going to use cardboard to boost the carbon, but then I hear there is bad chemicals in the glue.   The mail I worry about what is in the ink? I want to end up with something good I can use in my garden.
 
Chad Sentman
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Worms prefer a vegan diet. regarding your dixie plates, I think they would eat what they can and leave what they can't, making it easy to pick out afterward. But I can't really speak to micro-plastics. Best avoided, in my opinion.

There's lots of debate about the suitability of cardboard and newspaper in the soil. I personally don't do it. I think a better use is burning. For boosting carbon, I use straw or wood shavings.

I don't know what is in the glue, but they say the ink is soy-based.

I hope any of that is helpful.
 
pollinator
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Jen, I don’t think you are silly at all. You have good reasons for not wanting to put certain things in your compost, and that is perfectly rational. Do other people?  Yes.  Can it work?  Yes. Is it required?  No - this is your pile, you choose how you want to do it. I wouldn’t compost human waste, cardboard, junk mail or potential sources of  microplastics in a pile destined for my garden either.

As others have said, and as your research has shown, there are many methods of composting. Some are more work than others.  Your choices are completely valid.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Thank you all for your help I am making some changes based on your information, but still plan on staying away from microplastic.   Thanks again, this is why I'm glad I found this sight.
 
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You don’t have to make all your final decisions now. You can adjust your methods based on what you learn as you go.

I think the problem with people saying things like “I compost meat all the time, no problem” is that comments like that fail to consider that the speaker’s set-up and experience level is likely different from whoever they’re advising. Experience is key, and part of that is knowing if your set-up is conducive to successfully composting meat. I do it, but would never advise a rank beginner to do so.  

I never did understand the wholesale prohibition on “dairy,” however. If a pile isn’t already running too green, what’s the harm in dousing it with spoiled milk?
 
pollinator
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A quick and sure-fire way to deal with meat, bones and dairy is to set up a bokashi system. Bokashi deals with that kind of waste just fine. After that, I would just throw the finished bokashi into the next compost pile, though you can also bury it and it fertilizes the patch on top like a hugel. Btw, if you have any problems with compostables attracting vermin, bokashi gets rid of that.

Geoff Lawton likes to emphasize that a whole lot of toxic gick can be locked up biologically by a neutral-pH environment. So if you keep your compost in the normal pH range, and your native soil is relatively neutral pH, you may be in luck, and not have to worry too much about the glues and ink in paper at least. However my memory is a bit fuzzy on this and you might want to research that further.
 
pollinator
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Jen,

I certainly understand your desire to keep bad things out of your garden.  You asked specifically if you were being too picky and I guess my answer would be maybe.  But this is your pile so by all means do what you think is most appropriate.

Personally, I never hesitate to use boxes.  In addition, as I am a teacher I get mountains of paper by the end of each year.  I like to use my paper (especially tests as 3-4 pages of paper stapled together is perfect) as a weed barrier.  Each spring when I plant I lay down a layer of tests, cover with an inch or two of woodchips and then just leave it be.  Weeds don’t stand a chance of growing through the tests-as-weed barrier.  Further, as I am focusing on getting more biology into my soils, I find that mushrooms love to grow on that layer of paper.  My beds are more fertile than I have ever seen them and in fact this year my mushrooms are benefiting my plants more than I ever dreamt possible.  I have had absolutely no problem with inks or glues in my garden and I am not picky about my cardboard.

Just to reiterate, I have had very good luck with common paper & cardboard.  But this is your garden so by all means, do what you think is best.

Best wishes and please keep us updated as to your progress & decisions.

Eric
 
Elizabeth Geller
Posts: 62
Location: Central NJ, Zone 6b
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Eric Hanson wrote:In addition, as I am a teacher I get mountains of paper by the end of each year.  I like to use my paper (especially tests as 3-4 pages of paper stapled together is perfect) as a weed barrier.  Each spring when I plant I lay down a layer of tests, cover with an inch or two of woodchips and then just leave it be.  Weeds don’t stand a chance of growing through the tests-as-weed barrier.  Further, as I am focusing on getting more biology into my soils, I find that mushrooms love to grow on that layer of paper.

Are you using biology tests?  :-D ?
 
Eric Hanson
pollinator
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Elizabeth,

Nope, no biology tests.  They are mostly psychology tests with some American history tests thrown in to boot.

Eric
 
Elizabeth Geller
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Eric Hanson wrote:Elizabeth,

Nope, no biology tests.  They are mostly psychology tests with some American history tests thrown in to boot.

Eric


Well, if your worms start trying to discuss the psychological strategies that Charles Manson used to manipulate his followers, you only have yourself to blame!
 
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