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Posts: 34
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I’m fairly new at composting and need some help to make sure I’m on the right track.

Goal –
1, Significantly reduce the amount of trash I take to the curb each week.
Solution - Recycle as much as possible
2, Rejuvenate my lawn (soil) I have killed over the years with chemical fertilizers
Solution - Top dress my lawn, apply compost tea and switch to organic fert.

Plan –
I need to compost anything that is compostable (is that a word). That means I plan to setup several different types of composting stations.
  A worm composter for kitchen scraps (monthly compost supply)
  60 gal drum tumbler for fast composting (every few months)
  Larger pile for shredded paper, woodchips, cardboard, napkins, large yard waste  (1 year pile)
  A larger / long term pile for my fall leaves (two year leaf mold pile)

This steady supply of compost should allow me to top dress parts of my 15,000 sf lawn every fall, make compost tea on a regular basis and also add compost to flower beds all year long.

Make sense??
 
Dave Miller
pollinator
Posts: 416
Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
15
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You are welcome to do whatever you want, but I think you are making it more complicated than it needs to be.  I compost nearly every plant-based item that comes into our house or grows in our (0.6 acre) yard, and I just have a single pile that I turn occasionally with a pitchfork.  It is surrounded by a short wall made of stones to make it look a little nicer, but really it is just a pile on the ground.  I do have it on a sheet of plywood because we have trouble with horsetail growing up through it, but I think most people just have their pile on the ground.

I always bury fresh kitchen scraps in the pile to avoid attracting creatures or insects.  But I know a lot of people with smaller yards use a worm bin.  I do tend to have "input" and "output" sides to the pile, and sometimes I put completed compost in a separate pile so I can use it easily.  But generally the finished stuff tends to migrate to the bottom of the pile so when I need some I just dig down to the bottom.

I have heard mostly negative things about tumblers.

You can compost just about anything in two weeks if your mixture is right and you turn it every day.  But unless you are in a big hurry, there is no reason to turn it that often.

I have only recently started composting paper (not newspaper - I use that for sheet mulching).  But I compost napkins, paper towels, etc.  I am composting "compostible plastics" for the first time now, we'll see how that goes.  The chip bag is breaking down nicely, the cup doesn't seem to be doing much yet.

I have even tried composting cotton rags (jeans), which did not work that great.  Most of the material did break down, but the seams took much longer.  And some "100% cotton" materials did not break down at all so I have my doubts about their 100% claim.  Or maybe I forgot to check the label.

I do not have a chipper, so I have found it best to put large woody material into brush piles (logs & branches) which are used by wildlife.  When they are pretty rotten I move them into the compost pile, although I think I'll start using them for hugelkultur beds.  Trying to turn a pile that is full of sturdy branches is a nightmare.
 
Aljaz Plankl
Posts: 386
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One of the best article on composting out there - http://journeytoforever.org/farm_library/QR/QRToC.html. Enjoy!

P.S.
You could just put everything you can compost on one pile during year and just use it as mulch on your lawn in fall.
 
                                
Posts: 34
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Thanks for the feedback. I agree adunca, I'm likely over complicating things.

Today I have a small (but growing) pile on the ground and my 60 gal drum. The pile on the ground heats up much faster and better then the drum. However, the drum allows me to put kitchen scraps in without fear of animals finding it and is real easy to turn.

Everyday I add small (softball size) amounts of kitchen scraps & used coffee grounds in the piles along with some dried leaves or a chopped hay/straw mixture I have. All of these things seem to break down quickly. 

In my desire to recycle more I want to add more paper based items (cardboard, napkins, shredded paper, etc) into the pile but I don't have the same supply of greens to offset the C's available to me everyday. I'm concerned that if I start adding these slowing composting items I'll mess up the balance of the pile. That's why I thought it made more sense to have fast and slow piles.

Thanks for the link Plankl...this method is different than everything else I have read so far.




 
Jami McBride
gardener
Posts: 1948
Location: PNW Oregon
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books chicken duck food preservation forest garden hugelkultur trees
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I agree with everything posted thus far.  Keeping it simple keeps it doable for the long haul, I have many neighbors who have tried their hand at composting at one time or another and eventually give up because the process was just to involved.

Toward this goal of simplicity I would add the recommendation of the addition of 2 hens (chickens) most cities allow for a couple of hens as long as they don't cause your neighbors any problems. 

The hens will turn the pile for you - cross this job off your to-do list.  The hens will control bugs/pests - another issue gone.  Then hens will deal with your kitchen scrapes not leaving much to attract other animals - no more barrel needed and no burring required.  The hens will add their droppings, and cover them in loose soil/compost, helping with the breaking down process.

Just add leaves, food scraps, plants that are not woody and all grass clippings.  Rake off the top layer and find dark brown compost almost any time of year.  This is the only purpose I keep chicken's for, ducks are much less work (the way I do them) and lay more eggs *grin*

Chickens, or adding an animal component to your situation may not be something that interests you at this time, however it makes composting EASY PESY no doubt about it.

All the best,
 
Ken Peavey
steward
Posts: 2524
Location: FL
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When I first made compost I gave the heap all my attention.  Turning and watering, getting the sticks out, burying food scraps, adding more stuff, turning it some more.  I made compost, in good volume in just a couple of months.  It still gives me amazement to open a heap and see the steam come out, winter or summer.

If you did nothing to the heap other than build it, you will have done enough.  Compost happens.  If you want to put in the thought and effort you describe, then by all means, go for it.  You will gain an understanding of the process that you won't get from a book.  There is nothing wrong with zeal.

If animals in the heap seeking food is an issue, I would suggest making the worm bin a priority.

I've been composting for several years.  At this point all I do is heap it up.  The heap will take care of itself.  Instead of building a heap to make compost in a couple of months, I'm building a windrow to give me compost for next year.  The time I save from neglecting the heap I can spend doing other things, such as gathering far more compostables.  I still end up with compost, but with much less effort involved.

Keep decomposing!
 
                                
Posts: 34
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Seems like everyday I learn a lot more.
I've now decided to start a veg garden in the spring to close the loop on organic...grow the food...add to compost...feed the soil...grow the food.

However, I'm thinking my current compost piles may not be any good for the garden.

1, I've used grass clipping that were treated with chemical lawn fert over the past years.
2, I only use water from a rain drum to keep the piles moist. However, the water comes off my house roof.

Am I right? Are these two piles no good for a veg garden now?

 
Ken Peavey
steward
Posts: 2524
Location: FL
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As a species we have poisoned the air, the water, and the soil.  As you move further down the path you are on, gain experience, and an understanding of natural growing methods, you will find that your tolerance for contaminants will change.  As things stand, you have compost and rainwater available.  The plants will grow.  The soil will improve.  If you are willing to tolerate the levels of contaminants, you can grow whatever you like.  If the contaminants are not acceptable for food production, consider a non-food crop.  If you find you can't use it anywhere, your neighbor might be able to use the stuff.

You are in a transition between chemical methods and natural methods.  The choice is all yours concerning the use of those resources available.  How strict are the standards you wish to apply for your crop inputs?  Is the compost dripping with toxic waste?  Do you feel comfortable feeding food crops grown with that compost to your kids?  Gotta be way better than that crap from Walmart. 

 
                                
Posts: 34
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Your right Ken, the more I go down this path and learn the more upset and determined I get to go green at home. 

I was told the rain water could be a problem because it came off my house roof where there could have been bird droppings. The grass clippings were added twice and divided between two compost bins.

I guess the conclusion is - adding this compost to the veg garden is not ideal but it is likly 100% better than what I was eating before.

Make sense, or are these piles so contaminated I should use them on my flower gardens and go buy new compost?

The next question would be..how do I know what I am buying is any better or are there strict rules in place
 
Ken Peavey
steward
Posts: 2524
Location: FL
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The National Organic Plan, NOP, has strict standards for organic certification.  If organic is the stuff you want, it will be clearly labeled and you will pay a premium.  Organic compost is hard to find at an affordable price in the volume needed for a serious grower.  The NOP demands all materials going into compost be organic.  If its horse manure going in, that horse has to be fed organic food or grazed on organic fields.  For the hassle, you'd do well to make your own compost.

You have already made compost with the information you had available.  Trust your judgement.  The simple fact that you are amending the soil with humus will give it and the microbial life a boost.  It will take time to condition your soil and every little bit helps.  If soil has been treated with chemical fertilizers/pesticides/herbicides, NOP says 3 years before it can be certified organic.  Use that as a guide.  Use that compost you made.  This time next year it will be 1/3 cleaner as the contaminants break down and wash away.  2 years, 2/3. Then consider the fact the inputs you are adding from now on are on a par with your standards.  You'll be fine.

As for the rainwater, use it with no worries.  if the birds pooed on your roof, they surely pooed on the soil.  Also look into rainwater harvesting.

You've got your foot in the door, keep going through it.  There is a wealth of information in these forums and plenty of regular people willing to offer advice backed by years of experience. 
 
                                
Posts: 34
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Thanks Ken, I'll use what have now and will keep improving as I go along.
Thanks
 
                                
Posts: 34
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Update and question –

I’ve made a DIY 60 gal tumbler compost drum and put a small (3x3x2h) compost pile directly on the ground (no enclosure) for several weeks now.

60 gal drum - Collected brown and green material and filled it almost to the top. Found it was not heating up very well. I added a 5 gal bucket of rabbit manure, some improvement, couples weeks later added worms and 5 gal of chicken manure. Keep it moist but not wet.

Pros/cons –
Cons –
- Turning the drum with damp material is very hard...could weight about 250 lbs. Decided to remove about a 1/3 of the material (used in flower garden) but still very heavy.
- Not heating up as fast as loose pile on the ground
Pro –
Great to add kitchen food scraps without worrying about animals

The pile on the ground made up of the same material is heating up nicely and the worm population is so active it’s actually funny to watch. 

Is there a better use for the 60 gal drum? Considered only added kitchen cuttings, coffee grounds and shredded paper or straw but  at that point a worm station would be a better container? Also, I found the worms are no where near as healthy or active in the drum.

Thanks
 
                                            
Posts: 12
Location: Tacoma, WA - Zone 7b
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Here's our compost solution for our 1 acre suburban lot (this is what we used before this year, when we added chickens to our composting solution).

We have two recycled plastic compost bins similar to this: http://www.composters.com/compost-bins/earthsaver-compost-bin---85-gal_17_1.php

When one gets full, we move onto the next, usually by the time the second one is almost full, the first one has decomposed about 1/3rd.    We then move the contents of the first to the 2nd and start filling up the first one again.  By the time the first one is full, the second one is usually ready for harvest.

We don't add grass clippings, though.  We use a mulching mower on high that keeps the trimmings in the yard.  When the compost pile is going slow from lack of nitrogen, we'll add the free "grounds for your garden" from our local coffee/espresso stand.  This year, we started a comfrey patch to help with our low nitrogen issue, too.

We only add un-cooked kitchen waste and chipped/shredded yard debris.  Our cooked  kitchen waste tends to attract rats and raccoons.  Instead we add the cooked waste (non-meat and non-dairy) with shredded junk mail to a vermiculture bin.


I hope this helps!

-Eric
 
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