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Thoughts on a compost system for my homestead  RSS feed

 
Tina Paxton
Posts: 283
Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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Okay, the wheels are turning on how to better manage my resources. Specifically, how to better manage the leaves, grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and --rabbit manure-- so as to maximize both the quality and the quantity of compost I have to put out in the growing areas.

I've considered the Berkley 18-day hot composting method and determined that for me, with physical limitations, this is not feasible. Cold composting is too slow and ineffective.

Here's what I'm thinking:

Take all leaves (both from my yard and some donations from other yards) and grass clippings (every other mowing so the yard also gets clippings--until I replace it with garden beds) and kitchen scraps and pile under the rabbit hutches. Keep damp and turned (chickens help with that) until any heating up is done....Then -- move this material to a worm bin to be worked by the worms.

I already get shredded paper from work...I can get a shredder for home and shred all our junk mail... this could be used for worm bedding...

I have a supply of used tires that I could use to make one or more multi-level worm bins but I'm concerned about how heavy it would be to lift off the top tires to remove the lower tire(s) with finished castings...anyone use tires as a worm bin and if so, how do you handle the harvesting?

I would like to increase my composting to the point that we are composting all of our compostables plus the compost from my church. Whatever I do needs to be odorless (keeps mother happy) and not too labor intensive (for me).
 
wayne fajkus
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what is the end result for the compost? One of the easiest methods I have used, and great success with, is sheet composting. I had an area in mind that I wanted to garden in. I spent the whole summer dumping grass clippings over the area. By fall I stopped and let it sit there until spring. It was a great garden.

We sold the house and the new owners are gardening there now. They look like Master Gardeners, partially cause of the good soil I left behind.
 
Tina Paxton
Posts: 283
Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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wayne fajkus wrote:what is the end result for the compost? One of the easiest methods I have used, and great success with, is sheet composting. I had an area in mind that I wanted to garden in. I spent the whole summer dumping grass clippings over the area. By fall I stopped and let it sit there until spring. It was a great garden.

We sold the house and the new owners are gardening there now. They look like Master Gardeners, partially cause of the good soil I left behind.


End result of the compost is to make new garden beds PLUS top dress existing beds.

Sheet mulching is certainly a good option for creating new beds. I have found that the existing grass, Florida Betony, and wild raspberry brambles love sheet mulched areas and claim it as their own. Layers of cardboard doesn't stop them for long....about the only thing that does is about 6 inches of tree mulch and even that only slows them down...and I can't get enough of the tree mulch.
 
Chris Watson
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Location: North of Detroit (5b to 6a)
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I don't know if re-composting though worms is a good idea. Every post I've ever seen about putting finished compost into a worm bin has contained the phrase, "they all died" somewhere in it.
 
Michael Vormwald
Posts: 154
Location: Central New York - Finger Lakes - Zone 5
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I used to make lots of hot compost and vermicompost. It's a lot of work. Now I'm thinking it all just goes directly into the garden as mulch where it suppresses weeds, conserves moisture, and enriches the soil as it slowly breaks down. Now we have "real winter" here so I collect all the leaves I can from the property and it all goes into the garden. Next year will be my first year for no till. I'm anxious to see how it will produce.
 
Tina Paxton
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Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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Michael Vormwald wrote:I used to make lots of hot compost and vermicompost. It's a lot of work. Now I'm thinking it all just goes directly into the garden as mulch where it suppresses weeds, conserves moisture, and enriches the soil as it slowly breaks down. Now we have "real winter" here so I collect all the leaves I can from the property and it all goes into the garden. Next year will be my first year for no till. I'm anxious to see how it will produce.


Hot compost is definitely more work than I have the time or energy to do. I'm not sure about vermicomposting....

One issue for me with just layering it and leaving it over winter is we don't have a "real winter" -- we garden through Fall and sometimes into January. Buuuttt, as I am planning to convert much of the lawn into garden space, I could do sheet mulching in those areas over winter. I would need to build raised bed boxes, though, because Mother would have a fit if it were to look like a bunch of unkempt piles. And, she would not be real keen on the idea of putting kitchen waste in those piles.
 
Ken Peavey
steward
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Location: FL
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Building the compost heaps in the space that will be the future garden beds will save a great deal of hauling.
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Ken Peavey wrote:Building the compost heaps in the space that will be the future garden beds will save a great deal of hauling.


Economy of motion AND TIME is a huge deal when dealing with compost.

Berkeley method takes a lot of time, even when using a tractor to do the turning. But it make a beautiful product fast.

Vermi composting is almost as much work to do at scale. A little bin to deal with kitchen scraps is no problem, but going bigger gets to be a lot of work.

If you have time, the lasagna method works great with almost no work. It just takes a year or two. Eliot Coleman's method using hay bales as an insulated form help it keep working into the cold weather and up to the edge.

fast forward to about 8:00



 
Michael Vormwald
Posts: 154
Location: Central New York - Finger Lakes - Zone 5
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Chris Watson wrote:I don't know if re-composting though worms is a good idea. Every post I've ever seen about putting finished compost into a worm bin has contained the phrase, "they all died" somewhere in it.


To expand on this some....Some think that composting redworms 'eat' organic waste when in fact they merely process organic waste in order to derive their nutrition from some very specific protozoa that feed on the decomposing bacteria. There is only very little remaining bacteria in finished compost and even less protozoa. Redworms would have a tough time getting enough nutrition in such an environment. I think you can use finished compost as an almost super bedding...but fresh green decomposing material or manure is a must to satisfy the needs of the worm herd.

What makes the most sense to me is to 'compost' AND vermicompost right in the garden. Think of the garden as a huge outdoor worm bin. (Admittedly, natives or Euros are better for this than redworms). Pile on the organic waste as mulch to suppress the weeds, conserve moisture and feed the soil (and the worms) which will ultimately feed the plants. To do this does require a bit of a strategy. For me, I garden in somewhat raised beds or mounds about 3' wide. All of the grass clippings, cuttings and garden waste goes (or stays) right in the garden. Where materials can't go right up to the plants, I pack on the slopes of the beds and even in the walkways. In the fall, all of the leaves and grass clippings I can collect from my property go into the garden. I am also beginning to mulch/cover with wood chips. I have two 3'x50' beds of potatoes currently mulched with shredded leaves and wood chips. I've had many volunteer potato plants over the years so this fall I think I will harvest the potatoes and replant (for next years harvest) at the same time!

As I mentioned, I've made tons of compost and vermicompost over the years. But composting is a lot of extra work that that I've come to think might better happen right in the garden.

Edit footnote: My comments fall under "for what it's worth category - I live in the northeast and have visited, but never gardened in the south. We have real winter and it's cool and rainy in the spring and fall. We have mixed soil types unlike the sandy soil in much of the south. I understand that humus is hard to 'hold onto' in the south with the higher avg temperatures...still, it would seem that lots of mulch helps as much or more in that environment.
 
jacque greenleaf
pollinator
Posts: 489
Location: Burton, WA (USDA zone 8, Sunset zone 5) - old hippie heaven
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I echo the thought that it's easier to compost in place. A trench is easily camouflaged, and is a great way to make a new garden bed.

Your original plan to use chickens to process your rabbit manure and plant wastes will work. You can do this as easily in a trench as under the rabbit hutches. The pile/trench itself will attract all the worms you need, you won't need to add any. Be sure that any lawn/pruning clippings you bring in from off-site have not been treated with herbicides or you will kill your compost.

In your warm climate, the material will compost quickly.
 
Tina Paxton
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Location: coastal southeast North Carolina
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jacque greenleaf wrote:I echo the thought that it's easier to compost in place. A trench is easily camouflaged, and is a great way to make a new garden bed.

Your original plan to use chickens to process your rabbit manure and plant wastes will work. You can do this as easily in a trench as under the rabbit hutches. The pile/trench itself will attract all the worms you need, you won't need to add any. Be sure that any lawn/pruning clippings you bring in from off-site have not been treated with herbicides or you will kill your compost.

In your warm climate, the material will compost quickly.


Yeah, I think I will stick with the composting under the hutches...toss all the grass/weed clippings under there (what doesn't get fed to the rabbits first), mulched leaf litter, garden waste (what doesn't go to the rabbits first), shredded paper (home/work/church) under the hutches, add kitchen waste (both mine own and the church's), and let the chickens and worms do their thing there and then moving it out to a bed. I've been doing this to some extent but because I wasn't keeping it wet enough (or something) I was having a bit of fly and odor problems. I've moved my sprouting (for the chickens) over to the rabbit area and now when I water the sprouts I can also water down the compost and that seems to be working much better.

I only bring in outside leaf/pine needle litter as I know that has not been sprayed. I don't trust grass clippings to be chemical free so I don't bring that in. You would think that 4 mature pecans and 3 mature oaks would provide more than enough leaf litter but I truly need MORE...and much more rabbit manure...

 
jacque greenleaf
pollinator
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Location: Burton, WA (USDA zone 8, Sunset zone 5) - old hippie heaven
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Oh yeah, you'll never have enough!

You might want to check out Ecology Action. They've been at this for a long time, and they recommend that your gardening plans include crops for composting! IIRC, they say that whatever your area for growing food is, you should be growing an additional 40% for organic matter for soil enrichment. In your case, some of that could also be for your chix and rabbits. Very informative website.
 
Tina Paxton
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jacque greenleaf wrote:Oh yeah, you'll never have enough!

You might want to check out Ecology Action. They've been at this for a long time, and they recommend that your gardening plans include crops for composting! IIRC, they say that whatever your area for growing food is, you should be growing an additional 40% for organic matter for soil enrichment. In your case, some of that could also be for your chix and rabbits. Very informative website.


I'll definitely check that website out. I try to make everything as "stacked" as possible -- food for humans while also producing food for animals while also producing ground cover while also cycling back to compost... I want to get the rabbits and chickens and ducks off all commercial feed which means growing enough high protein fodder for the rabbits and giving them "hay" from my weed "lawn" and garden trimmings. The chickens free range and clean up after the rabbits. The ducks are not yet completely free range and are less prone to clean up after the rabbits so they are eating more pelleted feed than the chickens. More fencing will allow them more range which will get them off pellets. That said, -- I definitely need more material to compost and cycle back into the soil...my soil is too much sand, not enough loam...
 
R Scott
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jacque greenleaf wrote:Oh yeah, you'll never have enough!

You might want to check out Ecology Action. They've been at this for a long time, and they recommend that your gardening plans include crops for composting! IIRC, they say that whatever your area for growing food is, you should be growing an additional 40% for organic matter for soil enrichment. In your case, some of that could also be for your chix and rabbits. Very informative website.


Depending on you area, they say up to 75% of your production for growing fertility. I am not sure how they count dual-use such as straw and biomass from a grain or bean crop, for example.

They also have a pretty good video series on youtube going over all the highlights of the biointensive method. https://www.youtube.com/user/JohnJeavonsGrowBio/videos



 
Tim Malacarne
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Location: South central Illinois, USA
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Be careful with shredded paper... A friend gave me a bag of shredded paper for mulch, luckily I noticed, it had shredded staples in there too. Not good for critters OR gardens, I would think....

I have had good luck making compost within a 3' tall ring of backyard fencing. It's one inch by two inch mesh. I sandwiched it between 2 X 2s on the ends, fastened with big eye bolts. I run a piece of steel through the eye bolts, serves as a fastener, and easy to remove when you want to turn the pile.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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I built two compost tumblers, they process a load in about 16 days, I then put that material into a pile to let it ripen for a couple of months before use. When I am loading one of the tumblers, chicken house litter, leaf material (green and brown), grass clippings, all go in. Our kitchen waste is first fed to the chickens and rabbits, some of it is also used for goat treats but not much. This next year we are going to go with the straw bale garden method with compost, composted cow manure (from down the road) going into the bales and soaked in while we temper the bales. If you are using a compost heap method, you will find worms come to get what they want, when they can't get what they want from the heap, they will leave. I used to use this as the sign that the compost was ready for use in the beds.
 
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