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the downsides of composting  RSS feed

 
paul wheaton
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I think the world is rich with the ideas of the upside of composting. Mostly that the resulting product is almost magical in what it can do for soil and horticulture. The upsides are awesome, and I think everybody here is aware of the upsides. And it is possible that there are many more upsides yet to be discovered.

BUT!

This thread is about the downsides. It seems that people are just generally not aware of the downsides. Any of them. And yet there are so many and the reasons are so profound that I typically avoid compost.

First, here is a podcast I recorded with Helen Atthowe. One of my earliest podcasts. When I did my master gardener training with her in 1996, I was fortunate to see her amazing composting operation. Hundreds of feet long and about six feet tall. I had done a lot of composting by then, but I learned that her compost was ten times better than mine and in far greater quantity. She had written a fat book on very advanced stuff in the world of composting. And in the podcast we talk about how we each came to the same conclusion: stop composting.


Reason 12: When you compost, you take a bunch of organic matter and put it into a pile. Composting happens. The result is a bunch of organic matter that is 5% the size of the original pile. Where did the other 95% go? Well, there was some water. But most of it went up as nitrogen or carbon into the atmosphere. But wait! Isn't nitrogen and carbon the very thing that we are desperately trying to get into our soil? So, then the question becomes "how do we get that C and N into our soil if we don't compost?" There are many ways. My favorite is to feed a lot of that to chickens and pigs. Beyond that I like ruth stout's method of throwing compostables under your garden mulch (but not too close to plants).

Reason 13: If I use portable shelters for animals, then I am never mucking out a shelter. Next, I feed kitchen scraps to the chickens and pigs. Now there is just nothing left to compost.

Reason 14: turning compost is a lot of work and I am super lazy.

The last thing to make an issue of is "don't import organic matter". A lot of people import a LOT of organic matter for their composting, and there is a long list of problems with that. So I strongly advise to not do that. But since this topic would talk a lot about persistant pesticides and other chemicals, it is best left to the cider press section of these forums.

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Dan Boone
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paul wheaton wrote:Now there is just nothing left to compost.


I basically have that "problem".

I just got done building a super-simple spot for a compost pile, using a few pieces of ugly and misshapen sheet steel and a big log. It's really just three sides so that I can pile bulkier stuff up conveniently.

My motivation is that compost is great stuff and I don't have any. But I don't have anything to compost, really.

Because:

1) I'm bad about saving kitchen scraps. A moral failing. Induced by childhood composting trauma. (My mother's compost buckets were nasty and it was my job to deal with them. Maybe someday I will grow up.)

2) Just about anything that grows surplus on this land works as well or better as mulch than it does as compost.

So why do I want a compost pile?

Well, I am planning it to be a real long-term slow cold pile, with quite a bit of woody debris in it. (Busted up twigs and sticks and prunings.) The one thing I grow that doesn't mulch well is stuff like tomato vines and other garden stems, which are too woody and bulky to cover anything when placed as mulch. So I'll throw those in there too. They'll break down eventually. And larger-scale dead weeds (giant ragweeds, the local wild sunflower relative) that are also too bulky to lay down well as mulch. Cover the whole thing with surplus dead leaves (those would and do work fine as mulch, but I have lots, in season.)

I figure I'll get something that's closer to leaf mold than true compost, with more of a forest/fungus profile than a garden/bacteria profile. Which is great for me since trees are my main interest. And since the pile is a very long term project, I can also safely stuff things in there that I wouldn't put in an compost pile that is intended for direct and imminent application to garden vegetables. (Like small dead critters and poop the dogs leave somewhere that it's inconvenient to just ignore until it dissolves into the landscape.)

Still, at the end of the day I don't expect my compost pile will ever get very big. I just don't have enough stuff that I'd rather put there than somewhere else.
 
John Saltveit
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I think there is a lot of room for "chop and toss" instead of "chop and drop". What I mean is, if I"m pruning an apple tree, better to throw its leaves and sticks under something unrelated, like a persimmon tree, and rotate for biodiversity so you can have a broader array of nutrients and microbiology.

It's hard to make compost tea without compost, so I need to make compost. I make it to fight disease in the garden and it's organic and effective.

My main ingredient in compost is leaves of my neighbors huge trees, which are a cost to society to haul them away. I use them instead to increase the organic material in the soil of my garden. It's true that much of the material is lost in compost, but part of that is because it gets hot. That happens because there is so much microbiological life going on so quickly within it. That microbiological life is the nutrition and life in the soil, which is what I want. I guess I'm trading some carbon and nitrogen for microbiological diversity, which is a good deal for me. When I prune a large tree (I have many), or grapes,kiwis, I don't have room for all the leaves, so the compost boxes are a useful place to put them. They have to get smaller as they become compost or I won't have room for them.

I guess part of it is I live in a urban, wet area (NW Oregon) that has an excess of leaves that need to be chopped back frequently. Paul W lives in a rural, dry area where more leaves are a bonus. I turn my extra into microbiology to improve soil health. He doesn't have extra.
John S
PDX OR
 
Meryt Helmer
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some composting techniques don't add carbon to the atmosphere. the marin carbon project http://www.marincarbonproject.org/ is researching this and has found that making large compost piles that are not stired or moved around all the carbon stays inside and gets trapped inside but what is more when you then add a very thin layer of compost to the top of soil that soil starts sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. it is pretty amazing. also composting with worms is supposed to be a great way to compost where you can create something to help sequester carbon and not add it to the atmosphere.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I pile up materials that are getting in the way at the end of the season,  and allow them to break down somewhat. Long before this material is finished compost, it is spread around the garden paths and used as mulch. Worms drag it down.

During the growing season,none of my space is allotted to composting.
 
John Saltveit
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I find that if I let it heat up at least once during the spring, it will retain its moisture for the rest of the season, including our long dry summer. If I don't, it just dries up and shrivels, which doesn't encourage ongoing microbiological development toward compost. I put all of mine in the yard in the fall before all the leaves fall. It might not be 100% refined compost, but it's good for the yard at that point.
John S
PDX OR
 
Brian Knight
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The biggest concern to me is spreading diseases and invasive bugs and plants. On-site sources are definitely preferred, the closer the better.
 
Hans Quistorff
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down side: I seldom get my pile of scraps and derbies to get hot and I hate fussing with it.
I have acquired two nice compost bins so I pretend I am composting. Real what I am doing is feeding my livestock. I have one cat and an untold million worms on my farm. Vines at the end of the season are no longer a problem. I stuff them in the bin and during the winter add kitchen scraps on top which weighs them down and moistens them. Occasionally I take a sharp scraper and chop things down. If I need a little compost I open the door at the bottom and take some out. when the bin is full I pull the bin off and set it beside the pile, put the top layer in the bottom and the ball of worms on top and start over.
Seems to work good to sift wood stove ashes and put the charcoal in the compost bin and broadcast the fine ash on the hill side where the rain has leached out the sand.
 
Nicanor Garza
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5 years ago I tried the whole composting thing, I had to know a ratio of carbon to nitrogen which (with a combination of perseverance) was successful in making fine compost, what I realized is that it takes a lot of resource imports just to make a good years supply for the garden. Thanks to Paul wheatons good info back in 2010 such as sepp holzer which then led to Geff Lawton which finally brought me to Brad Lancaster, a guy that I could relate to because we both live In desert regions, I now take composting to a whole different level that does not require turning a compost heap but instead I use a method called mulch trenching or sunken garden which was on one of my recent topics that explains more in depth info on the mulch forum.
Being in the desert showed me how I can work with local resources starting with rain harvesting then figuring out how to make compost but requiring less labor, which then lead to trench mulching, given time you uncover the top layer of much and all you see is flat ground, so I dug into it with my hands and realized that this mulch layer below had turned into a fine pile of what felt like finely ground coffee grounds, supplementing with diluted human urine and comfrey tea I grew the biggest blue hubbard I ever saw.
 
Matt Powers
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Reason 12 isn't a reason: size doesn't diminish if you get your proportions right (and you aren't in the tropics) though I would say I prefer working with chickens to make "compost".

I just toss my scraps to chickens and leftovers to pig & dog. I do not make compost though I bring in horse & cow manure & "brown" material (mostly animal bedding) into the mix. In the end I end up with a product that is constantly being turned and processed. Very quickly it is soil too loose to pitchfork.

I don't have materials everywhere... yet. I get all of it in 1 season and then it's over for the rest of the barren, dry and hot year. (central valley cali)
 
Matt Powers
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"Tucking" into the soil also seems like too much work. I collect things in a bowl and toss it over a fence. I pitch fork things into a tall pile every few days. I move manure in every week or so. It seems easier than watering & turning.
 
Sue Rine
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I helped make a Berkeley, (is that the right name?) compost heap once. On the first turn after four days we could smell the ammonia coming off it.
The main reason I make some compost is to have it available as seed raising mix....of course that might be another whole disadvantages of..topic!
 
Fred Tyler
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Don't we lose a lot of that carbon when a chicken or pig eat the food scraps? Instead of microorganisms exhaling CO2 isn't the animal doing the same thing?
 
Toni Brock
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I did a Berkeley pile last year (with a broken leg!) And that was too much work! But man the soil it created was AMAZING! It made the most wonderful seed starting mix. I also do the "ruth stout" bury in the garden method. I have a vermacomposting bin. I am just trying them all. I am trying to include some pics of my compost and seed starting mix.
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Michael Longfield
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Compost makes great potting mix, and the ability to jump start new garden beds into soil microbiological diversity. Although on a broad scale it is impractical, and instead we need our systems to create soil and soil life by design.

Ya really shouldn't be losing 95% of your mass. I hardly lose any with the Berkeley method of compost making.

I'm all about finding as many ways as I can to build up my soil life. Lazy is nice, but I like the ability to put in extra effort for extra bonus. Compost, compost tea, worm juice, worm castings, are nice added bonus if ya have the time.
 
Guerric Kendall
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95% sounds like quite a lot. Unless you're dealing with something that has high moisture or low density, you should be getting far more than that. The trick is to compare things by weight, not volume. That's how you figure out how much nutrient has been lost. Looks are almost always deceiving when it comes to dealing with biomass.

Secondly I'm slightly confused as to how carbon and nitrogen are lost in composting. I understand that some nitrogen disappears by ammonia evaporation when it comes to manures, but that's about it. I'm a huge fan of vermicomposting so all that turning, heating up the pile, and other processes are foreign to me. Feeding kitchen waste to animals is one thing, but how would you deal with larger amounts such as tree prunings? Animals can eat the greenery, at least of some species, but what about the woody stems? Burying them would leach nitrogen out of the soil in an attempt to balance the carbon, while if it was left above above ground, it would fix nitrogen from the air as with wood chips. I guess that they could be used in a rocket mass heater but if you use everything so efficiently, you'll eliminate the point of composting at all.

 
William James
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Chickens and or Pigs. Worms in a flow-thru worm bin.
Compost no more.
Just throw stuff away and harvest the goodies.
William
 
Zach Muller
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I used to live next to a huge backyard composting operation. The whole front yard was a towering pile of wood chips delivered by the tree company, the backyard was a towering pile of compost, and each week they would have a trailer full of old produce delivered from whole foods. It was their most time consuming project by far.
Admittedly when staring at such a mammoth pile of fertility you understand why they did it, seeing that much good stuff was like catching a glimpse inside a mummies tomb or something.

Part of the trouble there was that 100 percent of the material was brought in from waste streams. So they spent all their time building a system that revolved around large waste inputs, I was not impressed with that level of resilience. Not to mention it was 90 percent compost piles and 10 percent garden. If either the scraps or chips stopped flowing freely than so did the system. They were an extreme example of importing organic materials, but even on small scales if you are importing specifically to compost than you may want to evaluate your system from every angle and see those inputs as a crutch.

I have not used composting for a few years and do not plan to use it again really. Chickens and worms take care of my scraps, most everything else just composts in place. I do have an area with piles of broken sticks and branches where the chickens hang out, but no composting going on. For meat scraps I do tuck those into the soil or under the mulch.

 
Tom OHern
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I think it is possible to stop composting once you reach a certain level of permie-ness, but that for most people, in most situations, composting is a realistic solution. In my adult life, I started composting when I lived in an apartment where there was no yard waste bin. I built myself a worm bin and started putting food scraps and house plant trimmings in there. It worked, but it had problems, and my wife hated it. But I kept it around for years becasue I had no better option while I was renting. When I finally bought a house, I was able to start a real bin, but raccoons, opossums, and rodents forced me to keep using the worm bin for my food scraps. I tried burying the stuff too, a la Ruth Stout, but unless I was putting it at least a 6 inch into the soil, beneath the mulch, the critters would still find it and dig it up. And finding a new stop to digging that decent size of a hole every day was as much work as securing a compost bin and turning it constantly. And I am lazy too.

I eventually got chickens and thought "Finally! No more dealing with this compost mess!", but it seems my chickens are not the voracious scrap-eaters that everyone else's are. They would pick through what they wanted and leave what they did not. The left overs attracted critters. Plus, I was left with the issue of either having the left overs scattered across my yard where it was unsightly, or across the floor of the chicken run, but then the various critters seemed to double up on their efforts to dig their way into my coop, which was not acceptable.

Maybe if I had pigs, I could finally achieve this ideal of "No composting" but so far, it had not worked. I have reverted to composting my food scraps in this dual chambered compost tumbler. Why it works for me: It keeps the critters out. It takes 10 seconds to turn it and I don't mind doing it even if it is raining (I live in Seattle so it is often raining). There is no digging involved. And the best thing of all is that my wife doesn't hate it. The chickens love scratching through the finished product once it comes out and hunting all the bugs that have taken up residence.

I know it is another piece of plastic and I am not happy about that. But my alternative, at this point in the permie path, is to pay to have my food scraps hauled off to a commercial facility, and I am not willing to do that. I think the idea of "no composting" is a good ideal to reach for, but it is not realistic for everyone. I also think scaring people off by telling them that they send 95% of the carbon and nitrogen up into the atmosphere is not helpful or useful. I do not think made up numbers are something that should be promoted here. I have seen badly managed compost piles (some of which were my own piles) lose maybe 25% to 40% of their mass, but never more than half. If the goal is to come up with realistic solutions, then we should also take care to state realistic problems.
 
brad roon
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Love the thinking involved here. Makes me realize again, the Hindu saying "Desha, Kala, Patra" (time, place, circumstance) is so accurate in so many areas!

We do some composting, and i love the microbials that result - use them to increase the soil life on the recovering family ranch. So many years of chem fertilizer when i never saw a worm; now they are really coming back - in part due to compost as an innoculant.

i love the chop and drop. i love the animals clearing and fertilizing their paddocks. My chickens and hogs playing tractor, lol.

i would like to point out that even if the carbon is lost in the compost pile (reassuring to know that is not a given) that we can MORE than put back our entire national CO2 "contributions" by putting literal tons/acre of Carbon back underground with permaculture and sustainable ag practices. This may be a factor in determining how much if any composting one chooses to practice.
 
Manfred Ramault
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On the thread "Fungi improving soil quality and health" , there are some aspects related to health hazards to humans and other critters induced by composting...
 
Peter Ellis
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Sue Rine wrote:I helped make a Berkeley, (is that the right name?) compost heap once. On the first turn after four days we could smell the ammonia coming off it.
The main reason I make some compost is to have it available as seed raising mix....of course that might be another whole disadvantages of..topic!


As I understand it, that is a clear sign that the pile went anaerobic, which is Not what you want to do when composting. The pile needed to be turned earlier.

There is something to consider about all of this, and that is that no process is "perfect". There are always downsides that can be identified and worried about. It is always a cost benefit analysis to determine what approach or method or technique is best for a given practitioner in a given situation. Personally, I am a terrible composter, have never maanged to get a hot pile going. No matter how many good things may come from proper composting, it's not a good technique for me

I pile up my leaves and branches, through the occasional kitchen scraps and coffee grounds in there, and let the thing go whatever path it is going to go. In another location, with a different set of inputs available, I may use another approach.

I think Dr. Elaine Ingham makes some very strong arguments for making compost to produce compost extract and compost tea to use in innoculating soil. She recommends applying the compost lightly, as an innoculant, rather than a soil amendment. This allows a relatively small amount of compost to have a relatively large impact.

But again, everything has a downside and every choice is a balancing act.
 
Nicanor Garza
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Matt Powers wrote:"Tucking" into the soil also seems like too much work. I collect things in a bowl and toss it over a fence. I pitch fork things into a tall pile every few days. I move manure in every week or so. It seems easier than watering & turning.

Tucking mulch in the soil at first may seem laborious at first but once its formed all I have to do is periodically maintain the structure.
So a tall pile, you mean you just pile manure and mulch in layers?
 
Nicanor Garza
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William James wrote:Chickens and or Pigs. Worms in a flow-thru worm bin.
Compost no more.
Just throw stuff away and harvest the goodies.
William

Yes, I agree, Less work us and yet excellent returns.
 
R Scott
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It is the biology that matters. In a pile, turned into the dirt big ag style, run through cattle, left to rot (until it burns) like the "conservation" lands--they all put most of the carbon back in the air, in varying mixes of CO2 and methane depending on how bad the biology is. It's just a question of how fast.
 
Tina Paxton
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Reason 13!

My kitchen scraps go to the chickens. I also collect the scraps of the Fellowship Meals we have at church to feed them.
My lawn/garden waste also gets processed by chickens, ducks, and rabbits.
The only manure I have to move is the rabbit manure (which is mixed with leaves and other misc--such as raw potato peels that can't be fed to the animals-- that gets tossed in the pseudo-compost pile under their cages).

I am bringing in items from off site -- grass clippings and leaves from my pastor (no chemicals) and tree trimmings from the electric company mulching crew -- since I need it, lots of it, right now. Once I have my BTE garden-hugelbeds-swales system set up I can look forward to having plenty to chop-and-drop from right here.

I just don't have time for turning massive compost piles and it seems silly when the animals can process it for me....

 
elle sagenev
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About importing material- how does that apply to importing feed scraps for the chickens I get throw away fruit and veggies from a grocery store for my birds and they love it. I'd hate to think I'm hurting them or my land by doing it.
 
Jackie Frobese
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There's a lot of great information here, and some good food for thought.

My thoughts on the topic: for those of us who don't have livestock, for any number of reasons, there is merit to doing something, anything with your food scraps other than sending it away with the garbage man. Especially when considering what that means, in my town that means its would be transported almost fifty miles to be added to a landfill, yuck!
so I compost in a very lazy way, adding most anything to the pile that I can keep from the trash can. Stirring it maybe a few times a year, when I feel motivated to do so, and finally burying the usually only just started, or at best half finished product in the garden both in the spring, and the fall. I hope to someday have some chickens to share with instead, but until then...

I also want to give credit to those who make the effort to divert a bit of compostable materials from the waste stream. Like the person that was using the leaves from their neighbors, or the one who was taking the scraps from church. Though we all know the leaves would be better left under the trees as mulch, at least they aren't being trucked away now. If those of us who are concerned with such thing all made these small efforts, a lot of waste in transport, processing, etc. could be avoided. I know that Paul would probably disagree with this for his space, as he is more of a purist about his land, but I find value in it, as there is healing that needs to be done for us and for the earth.
 
Don Dufresne
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I've used mobile chicken tractors for eight years on our modest two-acre plot. I move them one width, every two days. They're moved around planting/perennial beds in the off-season, and throughout the fruit trees,(including chinese chestnuts), grape vines and fruit bushes during the garden seasons. At times, I'll be moving the through 5 foot grasses and mixed wild plants, which they mat down significantly. The tractors are the best way to avoid predators, I've found, and the birds do well. Some of my hens are eight years old and still go through laying cycles every year. It's my "composting in place" system and the soil has become an interesting mass of microbial life with an ever-deepening rich topsoil. The soil has a "bounce" to it, that every gardener and farmer notices. Some of my Amish neighbors have adapted this system after observing the soil. It's remarkable to me how the soil resists freezing in the winter, except in extreme cold. The chickens are able to scratch down quite a ways and do an effective job of turning and cleaning planting beds in the spring. I still maintain many compost bins as well, to which I add, among other things, the plant debris that they scratch up in the beds we will later plant in, but I'm intrigued with the facts that much of what we compost is lost to the atmosphere.

First post and not clear on including images of the system, without a link to another site.

Paul's conversations with Helen are some my favorite podcasts. I appreciate all the information on an ongoing basis.
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Don Dufresne
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Another example
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dara finnegan
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I DO NOT COMPOST! We plant close to an acre in garden every year. My friend does the same, and we do not compost. We have for years taken the manure of sheep, goats, cows, rabbits, with all the hay and straw there within, and put it directly in the garden in rows, like furrows going east and west. Plants like to have their tops hot and their roots cool., mulching this way does a variety of things. One the root systems stay open longer and feeds longer, giving more food and nutrients to the plants. The plants do not suffer extremes of dry cycles, it keeps the weeds out and when it rains, the water seeps down through the piles and creates a tea for the plants. The piles need to be left on the garden for at least two to three years before being rototilled in. Our furrows are often quite tall, but the compost will break down naturally in the sun, and I might add, create stratifying layers of fungi, bacteria and chemicals that your plants will love. Yes, you will have weeds. Yes you will have to weed more often, but all we do is pull them out and lay them down at the base of our plants. They rot and much too. Just try a few rows and look at the difference. Give your plants at least 6 to 12 inches between the furrows to grow in. Just try it. Do comparison rows. See what happens. Never use sawdust as a mulch. Robs nitrogen and has none to give when it breaks down. I have been gardening like this for close to 40 years, and am surprisingly quite opinionated.......best of luck. I only get on once a week, but would like to hear from you.
 
Peter Ellis
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Location: Central New Jersey
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Whether we build a pile and encourage the hot composting process, or we leave the organic matter where it fell and let it decompose at its own pace in that spot, the essential processes of decomposition remain. We have all read about places where the soil biology is so active it is nearly impossible to keep a layer of mulch on the soil surface because the biology breaks it down so fast.

There are some differences in terms of what specific sets of bacteria and fungi are working on the material based on temperature ranges involved, but the essential processes by which bacteria and fungi break organic matter down are similar across the spectrum of primary decomposers.

In other words, as long as decomposition is happening, there is going to be some that leaves the soil as gas. Is that a problem? Where would photosynthetic plants be without carbon dioxide? Nitrogen can escape from the soil, but it also gets pulled out of the atmosphere and returned to the soil.

All of these things are cycles. Which methods we use to feed and otherwise care for the microherd in our soil can be chosen to work best for our specific situation and needs, and we can be flexible and adaptable in our methods, doing whatever works best for what we want to do at this time.
 
alex Keenan
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The best lazy man compost I have ever seen was very simple.
My friend created a series of boxes cut into a hillside. The first box on top of the hill was level with the soil so all he had to do was drive his wagon up to this first box and dump the material.
The side of the first box facing out had bracket the 2X6 cedar boards fit into to make the one side. The next box was just below the first at the edge of the 2X6 boards so when the boards were remove the material would dump into this box. As the board were removed what was on top of the first box would be at the bottom of the next box.

Now he had about five boxes set up in series on this hill. The bottom box was setup so he could drive up to is and dump this box straight into his cart.

Since he used a powered cart to move items to the top and to take compost from the bottom it was not very labor intensive.

It was also very easy to let gravity do most of the work with moving the compost from bin to bin.

 
Ben Zumeta
Posts: 179
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
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I agree about the monoculture, importing material approach to composting being flawed, but how about the classic "my neighbor wanted to cut down some trees and I couldn't stop them" situation. This is what happened today with 4, 20yr old douglas firs and a similar sized redwood (18-24" thick, 30' tall, this is the fastest tree growing place on earth) across from my house via my driveway. They were growing into power lines that should have been considered before planting. On top of my hating to see these trees go for Loraxian reasons, this will increase a my existing flooding problems in winter. However my neighbor offered me the wood, and I do not think anything noxious has been sprayed since his late mother got the place 11 years ago (we talked gardening a lot before she died and she left close to a hundred organic gardening mags). I plan to use the greenery for bird bedding and the wood for hugel beds. What's wrong with that Paul? My other neighbor is also an organic landscaper who hooks me up with woody debris/mulch, should I avoid this almost free biomass? I feel like it does a lot more for the salmon streams downhill of me to manage flooding with the wood than burning it like everyone else around here would do.  I am thinking about planting fruit trees and or grapes to replace the fir's wind and sound block from the road, but they will be over a septic tank and along a driveway. Should I worry about pollution of the fruit? Ultimately, where one lives in a place that people seem to be happy to give away immense amounts of organic matter that is relatively unpolluted (nothing here at the foot of old growth redwoods is as polluted as the best stuff in the Chesepeake watershed), where do you draw the line in terms of putting it to good use and mitigating waste versus avoiding pollution?
 
Marco Banks
Posts: 496
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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First of all, chop and drop gasses off just as much carbon and nitrogen as composting.  It just takes months and years, rather than weeks.  The volume (by percentage) of carbon sequestered into the soil is pretty much the same.  Dead plants gas off.  But live plants are pumping root exudates into the soil --- a much more effective means of carbon transfer deep into the soil profile.

Whether those kitchen scraps re-enter my garden as compost or animal poop doesn't matter.  Both methods burn carbon --- it's lost to the atmosphere regardless of whether a big animal eats it (a cow) or very tiny ones eat it (microbes).  Further, once the poop comes out of the animal, it's not like it's stable.  Bio-char or humis are the only plant based carbon that I know of that remain stable.  Humis is a black, jelly-like substance that has decomposed to a point where it no longer breaks down.  Bio-char is resistant to further decomposition.  But animal poop gasses off just like compost, so in the end, it's not a qualitatively different substance.

So why add compost or manure to your garden?  The MICROBES!  It's all about the microbial life that hitches a ride within the decomposing carbon source/biomass.  I want to increase the population of those microbes in my soil so that they can form a symbiotic relationship with the plant roots.  Mo microbes is mo better. 

Animal digestive tracts are microbial factories.  Worms are microbial factories.  Compost piles are microbial factories.  Chop and drop is a much slower microbial building process --- not the factory that the other methods of decomposition, but in the end, it does eventually feed the soil microbial community.

Don't make compost if you've got a bad back.
Don't make compost if you don't have the time to attend to it and its just going to get stinky and gross.
Don't make compost if you've got pigs to do it for you (but again, the net effect in terms of carbon loss will be the same).

But feed the microbes one way or another --- either in the pile, the pig or the worm --- feed the micro-herd.
 
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