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basic question about composting

 
Ronnie Yu
Posts: 31
Location: Orange County, CA
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This may be a stupid question, but I can't seem to find an answer online.

I've read that, depending on various factors, it will take anywhere from weeks to months for compost to "finish."

Ok, that's all well and good, but how does that work if you're constantly adding new material to your heap? Take a typical suburban composter such as myself; won't I be adding new material (kitchen scraps, fallen leaves, grass cuttings, etc.) weekly, if not daily? So won't there always be "new" material in my heap that isn't broken down? (assume I'm just using a basic bin or tumbler, and not vermicomposting) In that case, it seems like the compost will take forever to "finish."

Perhaps I'm over thinking this, but do you see what I'm getting at?
 
John Elliott
pollinator
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It's not a fine wine, so it doesn't need to age. The whole idea behind "chop&drop" is that fresh cuttings and trimmings can be used right away as mulch, before they lose their nitrogen to the air.

On the other end, even old mushroom spawn still has some nutrients left and will help your plants if you dig it in.

The real question behind asking when the compost is "finished" is "has the composting process been long enough for a high enough temperature to kill all the weed seeds?" And of course, even asking that question means that you are thinking of composting as a batch process instead of one that endlessly cycles all the time.
 
Adam Klaus
author
gardener
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Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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You're right. When I had that suburban compost situation, I would just slide my shovel under the bottom of the pile and pull out finished material one scoop at a time. Otherwise, at a certain point you should to start a second pile to allow the first pile to finish. Just depends if you need compost just a little bit at a time, or want a larger pile to be finished all at once.

Pro tip- make sure to be periodically adding a little soil to your compost pile as you build it. And when you decide to start a second pile, thinly cover the first pile with soil to help it finish.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1356
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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You are going to need 2 or move compost if you want all of it to finish otherwise only the bottom will finish.
BSF will take days to compost, worms will take weeks, regular compost will take months
 
Ronnie Yu
Posts: 31
Location: Orange County, CA
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Thanks for the replies everyone, and as usual sorry for taking to long to follow up!

John, I would like to just lay everything out and let it feed the soil directly, but because of the opossums, stray cats, and ants I only feel comfortable leaving kitchen scraps inside a bin (which sits atop a layer of diatomaceous earth for the ants )
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1592
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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As already suggested, using two bins is a good step. Ours are 5ft cubes - 6 months of filling each one then it is closed off and rested while the other is filled.

We put everything in our bins: food scraps including meat and bones, all yard waste except heavy woody material which is usually either shredded or turned to biochar, humanure etc...

If you are worried about critters then a good way to keep the out when adding food scraps is to bury the scraps 6 to 12 inches below the surface, covered with straw or grass clippings etc...
 
Bill McGee
Posts: 185
Location: Southeastern Connecticut, USA
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I've been trying to keep skunks out of my compost pile (household/yard/humanure/livestock/pet manure). I feel obligated to keep them out due to E. Coli and other pathogens. They burrowed thru and under hardware cloth. Hoping sheets of wire flooring lathe with weighted tree stumps will discourage them.

I don't mind the ants/most insects, it's far enough away from the house. The mosquitos were rough on me though with all the rain.
 
Tim Malacarne
Posts: 226
Location: South central Illinois, USA
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We have what I call a "Compost Staging Area" up in the garden proper. It's a cage, made of fence wire, oh I guess 17' of fence, fastened so you can unhook it easily. All the garden waste and garbage goes in there. At least once a year, I move the stuff to the composting area, and then start over.... This works for us, IDK about your setup.....

I like hot composting, but cool has advantages too. I am fortunate enough to have a tractor loader, with which to turn our piles. This makes the hot method possible for me. After 3 weeks of turning every 2 or 3 days and adding moisture as needed, we usually cover the pile with a tarp until it's needed, thereby preventing rain from leeching out the goodies. Rain on a working, hot method compost pile is a good thing. I like to get out there and give the pile a good turn ASAP after the rain. Rain really makes it cook! Sometimes, on a cool morning in October, it looks like that pile is on fire!

Good luck to you. I am new here, but it looks like a good place, with nice people and useful information!

Best, TM
 
Ken Peavey
steward
Posts: 2524
Location: FL
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All sorts of ways to make compost. What you are doing would be more of a Continuous Feed method as opposed to a Batch.
With a batch, whatever you build the heap with is what the microbes have to work with. This will result in a bunch of heat at the start, a gradual cooling, and then a quiet, slow end as the resources are consumed. At each phase, there is a dominant organism: thermophillic bacteria, mesophiles, and fungi, depending on the resources available.
In a continuous feed heap, you are replenishing resources and promoting a highly active biological environment. Such a heap will devour fresh resources rapidly, as the microbe population is high and diverse. Over time, the issue becomes Rate of Change. Adding 5 pounds of fresh material to a 200 pound heap gives it a fine boost. Adding 5 pounds of fresh material to a 1000 pound heap shows less noticeable results. The stuff you added in the last couple weeks is being consumed by one type of microbe, whereas the stuff you added before that is now being worked on by something else. As the heap ages, all that previously added material is maturing. There is a point where the new material is such a small percentage of the total that for all intents and purposes, the heap is ready to left alone. Dump the bin, start over.
One particular advantage is the stuff you dump from the bin will still have an active population of a full spectrum of microbes. This is the ideal inoculant for a new compost heap.

Finished compost is stable humus, with little additional decomposition continuing. It is dark brown to black, has a crumbly texture and mild earthy smell. This does not mean you have to wait until this stage to use your compost. Unfinished compost can be used at any stage. The decomposition process will simply continue in the soil.
 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
http://richsoil.com/pdc
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