Our compost bin is next to the house in a bed with blueberry and blackberry bushes and some herbs. I'm concerned that the flies may become bothersome to the plants and to the family.
If you have a pile at least 3-4 feet high, have the right green/brown mixture and moisture, and turn it every day, it will turn to compost in two weeks! But turning it every day is excessive, unless you are in a hurry for some reason.
I have done a lot of composting and have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't. I have had piles so hot that when I loaded them in my pickup they blistered the paint off the bed!
Will thorny "brown" stuff like dried blackberry vines and canes break down ok? I have tons of it around but haven't wanted to make the compost dangerous to the touch, so I ahve been letting it rot in place.
Yes, even thorns will break down. Of course they take longer than most things. But they do break down. The only things I have trouble with are certain woody plants such as cedar or juniper branches. If I find something that is not breaking down, I put it in a pile next to the compost pile. Exposure to the weather will help to break it down, though it may take a while. If you are impatient you can chop them up with clippers, an axe, a lawn mower, etc. depending on how big and soft it is. e.g. you don't want to drop your mower on an oak log, but a pile of small cedar branches or blackberries would be OK.
I have noticed that earthworms and insects prefer to hang out inside wet, rotting wood. So it is good to have some rotting wood in or around your pile.
I would also highly recommend using logs and branches to make brush pile habitats - see http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/habitat/brush-piles-rabbit.pdf
Composting tree trunks and larger branches takes a long time, so rather than composting them, use them to make brush piles. Basically you stack logs about a foot apart on the ground, then do the same at 90 degrees to the first layer, then repeat until you have a structure about 3-4 feet tall (or you run out of logs). Then place branches in and on top of that until the pile is about 8 feet tall. I have such a pile and it is amazing how much it is used by small birds. I am sure that there are all kinds of newts, frogs, etc. down inside the pile. And of course rabbits. I do a lot of volunteer work at a local wildlife refuge and we have built quite a few brush piles there. When we were building one pile, a rabbit ran out of the field into the pile just as we were placing the last few branches! The volunteers got a real kick out of that.
If you are concerned about the aesthetics of a brush pile, plant something around the edge of it which either climbs up it or grows tall enough to block most of it. I say "most" because you want the birds to get to the pile easily. In my yard, when the birds are at the feeder and something startles them, they always make a mad dash for the brush pile. They know that predators cannot get to them inside the pile.
About 4" of straw mulch should let you turn only twice a month.
You can turn it much less often and have virtually no flies if you mulch it deeply.
About 4" of straw mulch should let you turn only twice a month.
Huh, that's a nice idea! What do you do when you add stuff? Push aside the mulch and then re-cover? Or just let the mulch be a layer (and keep a straw bale beside it to keep covering up as needed)?
Sounds ideal for a slowly added to pile. I'm envisioning a lot of work for as often as I add stuff. I don't care about the smell much, since the pile's well away from anyone who'd care, but the water/heat retention sounds neat. Maybe I'll just add some "mulch" every once and awhile, when I come into some extra straw. I'm not real into buying stuff to put directly into the compost pile
Hmm...reading this back I sure do sound conflicted!
Ideally, I make a big hole in the mulch, add new stuff, and re-cover partly with stuff I had pushed aside, partly with new stuff.
Municipalities sometimes offer free mulch from a pile. Arborists will sometimes deliver wood chips for free, depending on how much local tipping fees are.
Purchasing stuff to compost sounds as silly to me as it does to you.
When I clean out stalls, it will be fresh horse manure covered in sawdust. I plan to pile this around in piles where I want to plant in the Spring (it seems I can not find anything much to plant this fall, )
Will it do as I hope, kill everything under it and break down in place to make the ideal planting spot with no turning or work all winter?
I think a few inches of lean mulch over top of it will help with all three of your requirements: faster breakdown of the manure, better at shading out what's growing there now, and a better place to plant come Spring.
The blog I linked to above has a whole article on sheet mulching, describing plans just like yours only slightly more elaborate.
There should be clover going to seed in public places near you, if you want to plant that. You can pick a bunch of the little dry flower balls that crumble easily, plus maybe a little soil from below them. Maybe mix this all with some reasonably stiff mud and break off little balls, perhaps just crush the heads you've picked and then add your soil sample mixed with enough concord grape juice (feeds rhizobium bacteria, repels birds...artificially flavored grape drink should work OK if you're not strictly organic) to moisten. They say you should rake it into the soil if you don't use the seed ball method.
it was kinda neat finding these rotting as they were..made a good foundation for a pile !
What is lean mulch?
Anything woody or strawlike. The stuff you have listed sounds perfect.
This is a term I think in quite often, but I'm not sure many other people use it. Many people who compost with an engineering mindset look up C:N ratios, and do quick calculations to see how much (for example) wood to add to their coffee grounds in order to make an optimum environment for the compost microbes.
I build my compost pile with more the mindset of someone setting up a campfire. (I do engineering for a living, so gardening should be more relaxing than that!) N-heavy substances (also, quite often, rich in P, K, etc.) I regard as "rich" and substances with less N for the amount of C, I call "lean," by analogy to fuel/air mixtures.
I didn't realize I thought this way until you asked. Thanks!