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Looking for compost 'recipe'

 
Marilyn Queiroz
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Where is the best place to find a "recipe" for making compost? Can you just dump all your garbage on a heap and end up with compost?
 
paul wheaton
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Marilyn Queiroz
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Blue spruce needles (probably not good for compost), maple leaves & branches, pear & plum, weeds, tomatoes, melons, other fruits and vegetable leftovers ...
 
paul wheaton
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Marilyn Queiroz wrote:
Blue spruce needles (probably not good for compost), maple leaves & branches, pear & plum, weeds, tomatoes, melons, other fruits and vegetable leftovers ...


You are right about the blue spruce needles. 

Everything else is good!  What you want is to mix your nitrogens with your carbons.  Nitrogens are green plants or manures.  Carbons are brown plants, woods, etc.  If you get too much carbon, your compost won't get too hot - it will take a looooooong time to compost.  If you get too much nitrogen, it will get too stinky - that's the valueable nitrogen heading off to the atmosphere.


 
Marilyn Queiroz
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Then you put all this stuff in a pit? or in a pile somewhere on the ground? Or in a container like a garbage can? Is there an advantage of one way over the other?

How much stuff do I need to make a usable amount of compost?

Once I start the compost, do I just keep adding to it (like sourdough bread starter) or do I need to have two -- one ready to use and the new one?
 
paul wheaton
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pit, bucket or on the ground will all work.  I prefer plain old piles on the ground.

Contact with the soil is good - that will provide the microorganisms that do the composting trick. 

I think a pit would be a hassle:  both in digging, and in getting stuff in and out.

Compost shrinks.  Forever.    Usually, I try to get it hot and once it cools down, I use it. 

I like to have more than one pile going.  One that is ready to use.  One that is cooking.  And one that is gathering materials.

 
Paul Jenny
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Location: Mishawaka , Indiana
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I like the idea of making my own compost.    How do you know when it is ready to use? You mentioned when it gets  hot. Is there something to watch for that tells you when it is ready? I have a small corner in my yard that is a bear to keep grass growing anyway. Is it necessary to keep the pile covered ? I live in the midwest and I probably will have to wait until spring to get real serious about this but I would like to dabble until then. Another question is can I put it on my lawn ? I guess my question is how much do the contents break down ? The thought of putting egg shells  and banana peels on my front lawn makes me a little leary. Are there things that should not go in compost ? 
 
Gerry Miller
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Location: Midlothian, IL Zone 5
 
Paul Jenny
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Thanks Gerry. I think that is a little too scientific for me though. Maybe I should reconsider making my own compost.
 
Gerry Miller
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Paul;

Naw, it's not too scientific, it's easy. Just mix browns (carbons) with greens (nitrogen).
 
paul wheaton
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Paul,

You're asking big questions with just a few taps of the keyboard.  While the answers to these questions can easily fill a book, I'm gonna try to give you just enough info to get you going.

> How do you know when it is ready to use?

Another great way to tell compost is done is that 98% of it is beyond recognition.  It just looks like soil!  Or piles of dirty twigs (twigs take a bit longer to break down).

> Is it necessary to keep the pile covered ?

Nope.  If you become an expert, you might optimize things sometimes by covering it.

>  I probably will have to wait until spring to get real serious about this but I would like to dabble until then.

Just start tossing everything into a pile.  If it gets smelly, add some carbon (straw or leaves).  Or you could just let it be a little smelly - most of the time if it's going to stink, you have to be almost standing in the pile to tell.

> can I put it on my lawn ?

Sure!  Although you might want to save it for the most pathetic spots in your yard.  It will then act as a sort of miracle cure.

> Are there things that should not go in compost ?

Most car parts would be bad. 

Almost all organic matter is okay.  If you put meat in there, you will attract a lot of undesirable mammals - so I suggest that you skip meats.




 
Paul Jenny
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  Thanks Paul. I am a full time student with plenty of things to study and I appreciate your input and simplified version. (not to mention having limited time and money.) Have a great week.
 
                            
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Hi Paul,

Making compost is really easy. Its not at all technical. Millions of illeterate farmers in India prepare compost.

In simple words
A pit is filled with thin layers of leaves, manure, and straws. Water is added after adding each layer. You can also add some soil between these layers. The pile is turned regularly to keep it aerated. Compost will be ready within six to eight weeks.

Here are some references
If you want to prepare compost in a bin
http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1189.html

If you have a larger area -http://rps.uvi.edu/CES/gf6.PDF#search=%22compost%20prepare%22

 
Paul Jenny
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Thanks Kiran, that is helpful also. It sounds like I can compost through the winter axcept for the fact that here in Indiana we a lot of snow.  Paul do you think it is possible to compost during winter ?
 
paul wheaton
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Yes, it is possible, but can have its challenges.  I remember having some really hot compost cooking during some sub zero weather!  But once my compost cooled off, it was hard to get it going again until spring.
 
Paul Jenny
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I still am unclear on what constitutes as nitrogens and carbons. Nitrogens are stuff like grass and leaves, carbons are wood; where do kitchen scraps fit in ? You said no meat , so vegetables would probably be nitrogens. What about fruit, rice, pasta ? My Chemistry professor would not be impressed with my questions. ops:
 
paul wheaton
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nitrogens are generally organic matter that has an odor (or at least have an odor as the compost) and carbons generally don't.

Nitrogens include greens, green leaves, green weeds, manure, coffee grounds, etc.

Carbons include dry leaves, twigs, straw (not hay), etc.

Meat would be a nitrogen and can be composted, but if you try you're gonna attract dogs, rats, etc. 

Generally, just toss organic matter in a pile.  If you can smell it, add carbons. 

 
                
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paul w,

Cost aside, do you think an enclosed bin (not a tumbler) is much more efficient at composting than an open bin such as wire or even just a pile?
I've been debating on dropping the cash on a bin or just creating a couple of round bins from wire mesh. 

I'm getting the idea that it's more about the material you put in than the method used...
 
paul wheaton
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the answer to this question and almost all questions is:  it depends.

In general, don't waste your time or money on any kind of composting contraption until you have a driving need. 

The plastic things are good for keeping critters out of your compost - not many people ever experience that problem.

The plastic things are too small, unless all you are doing is a few kitchen scraps.

The optimal size for really good compost is 4x4 or bigger.  That way the center can get really hot.  But then you need a lot of material to fill something that big.

The questions and commentary on this topic can go on forever.  Therefore, just make a pile.  Costs nothing.  Takes no time.  Later, when you have a powerful need, the solution will probably be pretty obvious.

 
Marilyn Queiroz
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How do you measure the temperature of the compost?
 
paul wheaton
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Well, most folks don't measure the temp.  But for those that are willing to trade money for knowledge, you can buy composts thermometers for $10 to $20.

 
                              
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I started making compost about 7 years ago. It can be most satisfying. I have a series of laural hedges that get pruned every year. I purchased a chipper-shredder and compost the renderings of the hedge and all the limbs that fall from the trees on my 1/3 acre residence.

My first compost bin was too small and nothing composted. My second composter was a Seattle Composter. It holds at least a cubic yard of contents. It is yet again too small to handle what I like to compost. I only use it to compost my kitchen scraps (no spices, meat or fats).

I put yard debris in it and put the kitchen scraps in the center of the composter and cover it with leaves. It works well at keeping the critters out and lets the worms in. By the way, worms love coffee filters full of used grounds. In my composter, they seem to breed and nest in them. The worms are local residents.

I bag my kitchen scraps which get stored in the freezer part of my beer fridge in the garage. Once a month or so I put them in the wheelbarrow and take them to the compost bin.  I turn the existing compost with a five tined hay fork, dig a cubby in the center and empyt my bags of frozen scraps, then cover them up with more clippings or compost. I don't get this compost hot. It is more of a worm composter. I have also put shredded paper and leaves in this mix.

My favorite composting system is the heap. I am not growing edibles so, I have my neighbor's  lawn care dude bring his weekend clippings by and dump them in my composting area.

I lay out shredded leaves and wood ships about 6" deep and fork about 3" of grass clippings on top and stir it. Then I soak the layer. I repeat this until it is about 5' high, then cover it with black plastic. Usually within 3 days it climbs to 125 degrees F. The temperature then climbs. When it cools again (when I get around to it), I scrape off the outer 6" and pile it up. I use that as the beginning of my next pile. I usually move the inner, decomposed matter to another pile for finnishing compost.

Compost happens.

Silverdale Slug
 
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