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Composting - What am I doing wrong?  RSS feed

 
Dougan Nash
Posts: 67
Location: Eastern Shore, Maryland
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I hope you seasoned veterans can help me. I started composting around July of last year. My first batch (during the warm weather) came out well. It was only half-way done, but I needed something extra to put into my lasagna beds, so it did the job.

Over the winter and fall I have been adding leaves, food scraps, coffee grounds, etc. (you know, the usual stuff) to a 55g black trashcan with holes drilled into the bottom. I think It has gone anaerobic. Since the weather has warmed up I began turning it and it did not smell very good. Admittedly it is more food scraps than browns, but I feel the walls of the trash can are to blame as well. I don't expect it to break down super quick, I just don't want slimy stinky compost. So I bundled up some chicken wire and layered it with leaves and straw. Hopefully it will help.

My problem is - I started composting because I was sick of tossing food scraps into a landfill. Obviously this benefits my garden as well. I know vermicompost would be better for the scraps, but I just don't have the room to start one of those.

Any input would help, thanks.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1621
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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It sounds like it has gone anaerobic - black plastic isn't ideal for compost in my experience, not enough air flow and even with some holes drilled the drainage will be limited. Our compost heaps have always been in direct contact with the soil which lets in worms and bugs, and the sides are wooden planks with gaps between. Kitchen scraps go in, but so do generous portions of hedge and garden clippings and (when the composting loo is in use) humanure and sawdust.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
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Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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I guessing that the material was too wet, got compacted (all the air/oxygen was squeezed out), and didn't have enough nitrogen to get it heated up. During the warm summertime I'm guessing that the trashcan stayed warm enough to promote bacterial decomposition, but during the fall & winter the material got too cool to support bacterial life. When I lived in NJ I could get compost piles to heat up during the winter by making larger piles (about a cubic yard of material) and using fresh horse manure as the nitrogen additive. But the outer layers never composted during the winter due to temperature.

I'm just guessing. I've never used trashcans for composting.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1621
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Just saw the mention of chicken wire. Not a great plan. In our experience - of some old heaps the former property owners had - chicken wire rusts pretty quickly in contact with soil or compost and ends up an unpleasant rusty tangled mess. If you need to keep a compost heap contained then wooden board work quite well, as do haybales stacked on edge.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1357
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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In the summer I would do hot compost, but in the winter I would switch over to worm composting. and start the winter with the compost pile over 3ft by 3ft by 3ft.
 
Isaac Bickford
Posts: 101
Location: Okanogan County, WA
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I had bad results in the past with composting in a trash can like you did too. We've had good results with using circles of old galvanized cage wire, or just in free piles. If you can find some pallets and make a three sided box with the front open so you can fill, that's a good way to contain the material and help you know when your pile is big enough to let it age and move on to the next pile.
 
Rebecca Norman
gardener
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Location: Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 10,500 feet, zone 5
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My dad always used a chicken wire circle for a compost heap, and it worked fine. I think it comes in different grades, more or less long-lasting in this moist environment. I think it's fine that you already made a chicken wire enclosure, and if it rots out in a year, well, then you can make a better one that lasts longer. And you've learned something along the way. I think it'll work fine now that you've got it out of the plastic bin. And no, I don't think vermicomposting is necessary. Plain old "Chuck it in a sort of enclosed pile, keep it damp, and wait a year" has always worked fine too.
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1432
Location: Central New Jersey
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Lots of discussion about composting will include the idea that a compost pile has to be a cubic yard or larger for it to get hot. A 55 gallon drum just is not that big, plus it has problems with not letting air in.

You say you don't have enough room for worm composting - but a 55 gallon drum will work fine for worm composting. In fact, its a big worm bin.

So you might want to just flip your current composting barrel into being a vermicomposting barrel
 
Zach Muller
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Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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Kudos to you for quitting throwing organic material in the landfill! Even if you just dig a hole and stuff the scraps in there you have done a greater service to the earth than shipping to the land fill.

I keep two worm bins under my sink in the kitchen and that takes up less space than a 55 gallon barrel. They handle a lot of my families scraps, and the overflow goes out to chickens. I have been vermicomposting for a few years now so under the sink in a house might not be ideal for a beginner. If you freeze /thaw all your scraps before feeding then you limit the amount of other critters that end up multiplying in the bin. It ends up being a nice clean, non smelly operation if executed properly.

If you stick to regular old piles than more O2 is the idea, million different variations will yield aerobic results.
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