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How can one obtain large amounts of organic matter to compost?

 
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I work on 10 acres of land and I farm vegetables only. I'm wondering how you guys would go about obtaining large amounts of organic matter to compost? I know I can buy manure and wood chips but, what about other types of organic matter. What kind of organic matter besides wood chips and manure is usually sold in large quantities?
 
gardener
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Joao

You could also buy straw, but food leftovers are always a great source of organic material provided it is not meat.

Two items I have frequently used in the past are grass clippings and fallen leaves.

I actually find myself looking for dead plant matter that I could potentially use.

Hope this helps,

Eric
 
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It depends a lot on the area you live in and what is available and or considered a waste product. Where I live I have never seen a wood chip that hasn't been trucked in that comes in a bag. But I also buy 4000 lbs of straw every year for 40 bucks, and that's even delivered.
 
master steward
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Do you have restaurants by you that you could collect their food scraps?  Or a food processing facility that discards leaves/cores/peels?  Or a farm with excess manure?
 
gardener
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Here wood chips are free but straw is pricey (to me).
We get  "true" autumn so for me fall leaves are the most handy-people will bag them up to be taken away!


Food waste is good as well,  and don't dismiss animal flesh entirety.
Buried fish heads are the classic example, but maybe you have a shell fish processor nearby.
Brewery waste is another source of organic matter.
If you ask a brewery for waste and they are already giving or selling for animal feed, find out who is getting it.
They may have manure available.

One more thing, if there is water nearby it could be a source of water plants,  and if it is yours to control you could  grow  azolla fern,whichfices nitrogen and grows at an enormous rate.

 
Posts: 32
Location: New Mexico
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I live in a very rural area and it's easy to find folk who would like to get rid of their ever-growing piles of sheep manure or horse manure.  Since we're also a "fence-out" state, there's plenty of horse scat to be found on the ground on my land, and my neighbors would be more than happy for anyone to clean it off of theirs.

I also go to a local lumber mill where they let me drive out to their sawdust pile and load up my truck.  I ferment the sawdust with EM-1 before digging it in to my beds.

I've had a hard time finding local restaurants or grocery stores willing to give me food scraps (not sure if they don't want to sort out their garbage, or don't think I'll pick it up timely, or what).  But I have found a couple of coffee shops willing to give me spent coffee grounds.
 
pollinator
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I would think it will depend largely on what is available in your area.  In my area I can get manure pretty easily and at low cost or free, leaves and grass clippings from my own place for free along with the many shavings from my wood working hobby and sawdust from my sawmill, straw at a cost or old ruined hay cheaper.  
 
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There are some good ideas on where to get the stuff.
I use four pallets connected for my compost bin, add
grass clippings and leaves, food waste and lots of coffee-grounds.
I turned the top of the bin this morning and it is full of
worms, and all kinds of critters working on the good stuff
in the bin. Adding coffee-grounds all winter kept it working,
this is the first time I have worked it this way.
I am very happy with the outcome.
 
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Location: Willamette Valley, Oregon
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Are there dairies close by? I get all the half composted cow poo I can take away for free and they load it.
 
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Check any local hemp farms that grow for CBD after they harvest. After the stripping the plants of the buds and leaf matter, there is a large amount of discard consisting of stalk and stem. These piles are usually a burden on the farmer as they usually have to pay to have someone haul it away. You may need a wood chipper if their discard is full plants, just to help accelerate the breakdown. My farm's discard is more of a wood chip consistency.
 
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I heard that straw is usually carrying lots of roundup/nasty chems. It's very believable. Does anyone have any experience of their own that suggests straw should be avoided?
 
Mike Haasl
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Any off-site input, especially from agricultural sources, could have nasty gick on it.  Some areas are worse than others based on local practices and how they account for their climate.  I'd type more but we aren't in the cider press so discussion of toxic chemicals is only supposed to happen in that forum.

So, talk to the source of the material so that you can be sure it's clean.  You can also take a sample and plant bean seeds into known good soil and the mystery material as a side-by-side comparison.  If they grow similarly well then at least you'd know there aren't any herbicides in the stuff.
 
pollinator
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I am not sure what equipment you have, but this is the time of year that farmers, in my area, are clearing brush from the edges of their fields. Most would be happy for you to take it.
 
pollinator
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I live in a small, rural area, and can occasionally get wood chips for free, but only if I find the tree trimmers working in the area. Since I'm outside of town, it's difficult to get them to come out & dump since they typically dump them at a local tree farm, so don't have to pay to drop them at the landfill.
I save anything from the household which will compost, including paper/cardboard products. Even though I only have 2 acres, I'm finding it's there's a good supply of weeds in the fields that can be cut & dried, as well as some oaks along the fence line that have taken a "bush" growing habit after being coppiced or pollarded. I have a rabbitry, so that is where I get most of my manure, although I've also went out to my grandpa's land and collected manure, along with half-rotted hay that was wasted by the cows (and will probably start utilizing the rotting wood & other organic matter out there if I can't produce enough on my land. Next autumn I plan to drive through town and look for bags of leaves.
My end goal, however, is to have a system that is efficient in time, energy, money, etc, by producing as much organic matter as I can on my 2 acres. Since it's a small property (with 2 homesites on it), I don't really have a permaculture zone 5, and my zone 4 is probably around an acre or less, so I plan to slowly work through the Z4 areas and replace the current vegetation (mainly crabgrass, bermuda grass, & ragweed) with plants known to be especially good for biomass production that are hardy enough to get established & hold their own against the existing stuff, as well as plants trees and that can be stacked for animal food & biomass. So far I have planted a wisteria at the very back of the land, broadcasted hundreds of mimosa seeds, transplanted a couple of mulberries near the pig/poultry yard that were growing in a bar spot, stuck pieces of comfrey root in random places, and stuck a lot of older squash, pumpkin, and gourd seeds in open spots the grass hasn't reached yet. I also livestaked some willows & cottonwoods along the border, and have a bucket of Osage orange fruits that have been rotting all winter. Hopefully, I can get it "stocked" well enough that I can eventually just grab my loppers & pull my wagon/cart to one of the areas and start chopping until the wagon is full & dump it where it's needed, compost it, or dry for hay/straw. I don't have a wood chipper, but I suppose I could stack the woody stuff into a brush pile until it's large enough to justify renting a chipper for the day or weekend in order to maintain a stash of chips (which are my favorite mulch).
It may take a while, and I may need to build the soil a bit, but I think/hope it will work out within a couple of years, and will be a fun challenge to work on.
 
William Bronson
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I just thought about another source of biomass, one that I want to get my hands on soon.
Evidently the process of roasting coffee beans removes the outer layer of the bean , and this is known as chaff.
I was made aware of it  by my local roaster when I picked up some burlap bags.
They didn't have any at that time, and I haven't been back yet, but it is evidently fluffy with good nitrogen content.
It's touted as mulch and animal bedding as well.
It seems like it might be well balanced to compost all by ityself.

The other thing is more of a method of composting than a source, but it is very useful.
Rabbits.
They speed the conversion of weeds into usable "compost" faster than anything I know of.
We have two as pets, but I can see keeping them the way other keep worm bins,  as a working animal partner.
 
gardener
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William Bronson wrote:
Rabbits.
They speed the conversion of weeds into usable "compost" faster than anything I know of.


Here I know people who run an intentional community founded on three waste streams:
-food waste and yard waste from neighbors and partnering restaurants. Cooked food scraps go to chickens, and raw food scraps and edible yard waste go to rabbits. Eggs from chickens are "payment" for the people who contribute their food scraps (they are given containers and they bring them to the farm).
-wood shavings/sawdust from a local sawmill that forms the bedding for the chickens and rabbits.
-coffee grounds from a local shopping center, large volumes.

The used sawdust bedding is mixed with the manure and coffee, left in large bins to decompose, and then used as compost to grow more vegetables. The rabbits are bred and raised for meat, which feeds the community and excess is sold for revenue (same with the veg from the gardens).

We live in a place that doesn't have the things people usually talk about (deciduous leaves, straw, wood chips, etc). It is worth looking around to see what sort of resources you might have access to in your area.
 
Kc Simmons
pollinator
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Rabbits are definitely a good source of organic matter. My rabbitry is pretty large (about 100 holes for show, meat, and grow-outs). They produce a huge amount of manure, but I suspect it's high in phosphorus, as my soil tests showed very high P in the manured areas, compared to the pasture of soil without added manure. I still use it a lot in my growing areas, but also use it to help heat up the compost pile, and feed my worm beds/bins. My rabbits are wool breeds, and the scrap wool is another source of slowly released nitrogen that I've used as mulch & as biomass in hugels or trenches. While most of my culls are used as dog, cat, and pig food, occasionally I have one die from something random, and putting them in the compost heap definitely heats stuff up.

Rabbits do best in raised cages with wire floors to allow waste to fall through the bottom of the cage, which greatly reduces the risk of coccidia (and you can make a worm bed right under the cage). They also do best in individual cages, as many (not all) can be territorial to other rabbits. They can be free-ranged if they have plenty of space, protection from predators, and a barrier to limit burrowing. They also struggle with heat, so need good air flow and shelter from the sun. They handle the winters fine, as long as they are protected from the wind and have access to unfrozen water.
 
Ron Haberman
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Was talking to a friend over the weekend, on the phone and he mentioned that he had several large piles of wood chips on his property,
they were dumped there last summer and he said I could have some. Today I loaded, with a friend, my third large pickup load and I
have been busy spreading in all flower beds and edges of the garden about 3-4 inches of chips.
The chips are partially rotted, some dry, mostly wet, some evidence of fungus working on them.
I think they will do just what I want, retard weeds, retain moisture in the hot Idaho summer, and
eventually turn into good soil. And the best part, they were free.
 
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Dumpster diving could maybe be a great source of organic matter. I do it in denmark and I got one shop that I frequently dumpster dive at that almost daily throws out a couple of large trash bags of bread and often a whole bag of orange peels from there juicer. Besides the bread and peels, there's almost alway fruit and vegetables in most shops that sell food items both organic and non-organic.
Sometimes I find plants, so it can definitely be worth it to have a look in the dumpsters, if its legal where you are.  
 
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Location: Belgium
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I am at the start up stage of a small ecological farm, i live in a village, although pretty densely populated.
I needed branches to create wind blockers (as the planted shrubs and trees are at sapling stage). So i just spread the word a bit to locals and it resulted in a way bigger heap of branches that i have hoped for :).
So now i am planning to invest in a wood chipper as neighbours and friends supply plenty of pruned branches and garden waste, considering they have to pay to deposit it at the waste center.
Of course i only tested this (yet) during spring time, when everyone still has itchy fingers to work in the garden.
 
pollinator
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- large supermarkets. In my part of Australia you need to be a charity though, but I suppose if you give some back for a cause you might be able to get it. They give away whole bins of waste.

- arborists.

- yard and landscape maintenance companies.

- busy cafes are happy to give away at the end of each day.

- rivers/ lakes/ oceans with water weeds or seaweed.

- any kind of food processing factory.

The problem to me seems you’d spend a lot of time driving around to these places to collect every day. In a rural area none will deliver to you. The time taken to collect might be better spent earning money to buy it instead.
 
pollinator
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William Bronson wrote:
Brewery waste is another source of organic matter.
If you ask a brewery for waste and they are already giving or selling for animal feed, find out who is getting it.
They may have manure available.



What part of brewery waste would be useful? The fermented hops? How would you use it? As a fermented tea, or mulch or just adding it to a compost pile?
I’m asking because I know we have a small brewery in our village, but never thought about them being a potential source for organic material.
 
Tereza Okava
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S. Bard wrote:
What part of brewery waste would be useful?.


A brewery produces pretty serious quantities of spent grain at the end of the first fermentation. It's often fed to pigs but I put mine in the garden. Can go in the compost or be a mulch, still has the fibers and the de-sugared grain.
 
S. Bard
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Thanks for explaining Tereza!
That sounds interesting. I will have to make a chat with the local brewery one day! Would chickens and ducks the fermented grain as well?
 
Tereza Okava
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I think they would. You do have to watch out because it's had most of the sugar, carbs, and nutrition washed out of it, it may look like you're feeding grain but you need to remember that you're not. I am sure someone here has better info on how exactly that works with poultry.
There also is hops and sometimes other spices (only tiny volumes), and the drained off yeast trub from the bottom of the tanks (which would be much more nutritious for your animals, maybe interesting for mixing with feed? but I don't know how realistic it is for a brewery to save that. I know by the time I get to that point I just leave it in the bottom and let it get swept out in the cleaning process)
 
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João Brazão wrote: What kind of organic matter besides wood chips and manure is usually sold in large quantities?



Others have already addressed the multiple source of free or near free organic manner for composting, so i'll talk about the "for sale" stuff. For the "most bang for your buck" I would go with pelletized euine bedding for browns and alfalfa meal or alfalfa pellets for greens.🤷‍♀️
 
pollinator
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Besides wood chips and manure, also excluding tree branches and brush around here the other thing that can be found in rather large quantity is ruined and waste hay.  It is not uncommon for hay to get rained on toward the end of the season and it is unable to be sold and sits and rots all winter long unusable as livestock feed.

Waste hay is a bit of a problem especially on a large scale as it is a bit of work to clean and move.  To hire someone to do that is expensive so when a farmer or livestock owner finds someone trustworthy and reliable they are usually quite happy to give it to you for free if you are willing to clean it all up for them.  I get 5 and 10 tons at a shot like this, though with the added moisture and rotting it is usually 5 times that weight range and not the easiest thing to move as it is all falling apart.  People are very, very happy to get rid of the mess without any effort or money invested and the stuff is crazy great for mulch.

I have brought in around 25 ton of hay over the last 4 years for my garden, though as I mentioned the actual weight was more like 200k pounds or so for hauling.  It is no small feat to load and haul all that home and I have been picking it up from a farm just 1 mile down the county road from me.  Worth looking into though, you can always go on Craigslist and advertise in the farm and garden section that you are looking for ruined hay to use in your garden and that you are willing to clean it up for free within so many miles of your location.

If you are lucky maybe you will get someone who will be able to load it for you with a front loader bucket or something reducing the effort invested.  I was not that lucky, but thankfully I had four strong teenagers living at home that helped me to get it done.
 
Roy Long
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I picked this up yesterday from 1/2 mile down the county road.  My neighbor Murray had it in a small fenced area for the elk to eat to keep them away from his main hay pile.  This is what was left at the end of winter.  He is also going through the hay i his hay shed and said he may have some more weathered and rotted hay for me if I don't mind taking it.  

Rotted or not Dobby seems to like it.....  Go figure, he has 80 acres of green grass and brush to eat on but he wants the old rotted hay... lol...

This 2 to 3 tons of hay will mix with a few yards of forest duff and a bunch of old branches and then get a topping of soil to grow in and will make me some more good soil after a few years.



waste-hay.jpg
[Thumbnail for waste-hay.jpg]
 
pollinator
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Have you seen the Ruth Stout method of preparing beds using spoiled straw or hay? That lot looks PERFECT for immediate use and planting. No need to wait years.

I did this last year and had great results.
 
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