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Composting everything on a small suburban plot in a cold climate  RSS feed

 
David Bennett
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Location: Stockholm, Sweden
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I was wondering about David's conclusions about the ultimate way to compost everything on a small suburban plot in a cold climate.

Through a few years of experimenting I've gotten it down to bokashi and then into an insulated, rat proof worm bin. The bokashi takes care of milk and dairy and to some extent pre-processes the contents for the worms. Of course the bokashi gets slightly acidic so it takes a week or so for the pH to level out before worms can tuck in but using these methods together I've composted chicken bones, dairy etc. in the middle of winter (-15 C/5 F) without it freezing. Although that time, the rats found their way in so to keep the neighbourly peace, I took that bin apart and had a raised tumbler for a while. But that was too wet and heavy to rotate so it never really worked as I wanted it to.

The current bin is raised 12 inches off the ground so the rats don't have a cosy spot to hang out - we'll see whether it works when the weather turns cold in a month or two.

Although I am in love with my worms, I'd be one less step to just bury the bokashi directly, and some time I do, between plantings. Although the volume of waste from the family would be too much to just do that I think. What thoughts or experience do you have regarding critter proof, small scale urban extreme composting when combined with as many perennial plantings as possible?

Cheers!
 
Doug Barth
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Hey David (and David the Good),

I live in a cold climate with a small plot same as you. I haven't heard of bokashi before. Thank you for bringing this interesting tidbit to my attention. We don't drink cow's milk but we do enjoy cheese. Mmmmmmm. I'll talk to the Miss about that.

What are your thoughts on composting on ground under heavy mulch? ruth stout talks about it in her book, Gardening Without Work. I have a herb garden I was thinking about a heavy straw mulch and throwing extra what I don't throw to my Red Wiggler worms. Would the earthworms in the ground process the stuff if you have a good environment for bacteria?

I hope David the Good has something to add to this. But if you just want to say get your book. I'll all about it.

Doug
 
David Good
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Location: Equatorial tropics
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books forest garden
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@David Bennett

I used an old refrigerator to compost everything from humanure to carcasses through the winter back when I lived in a temperate climate. I gutted it and laid it on its back with a piece of plywood on top for cover. Alongside I kept bags of fall leaves I could add as needed when I brought our fresh waste from the house. It stayed very hot through the winter even when the ground was frozen, though your climate is more extreme than mine.

We had quite a few perennials on our homestead (hey, I'm a permaculture nut) so there was also a lot of good stuff from the garden we could add. The trick with keeping it cooking through the winter was to simply have the pile be large and kept from the extreme cold. The insulation in that fridge was a big help.

If I were without that kind of insulating power, I'd probably just pick a spot away from the house and make a big pile as stuff comes through the house, covering it with lots of leaves over the winter and raking them back as I add new scraps from the house. When spring comes, it will jump. Tightly fencing in the area to keep the vermin out would make sense for keeping neighborly peace, though it would be a bit of investment.

Incidentally, I've seen bokashi used to compost fresh human waste in a composting toilet system to great effect. It works.
 
David Good
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@Doug Barth

Straw is no longer safe (AT ALL) for gardens due to the presence of long-term herbicides (Aminopyralids) that are now being sprayed on grain and hay fields everywhere. It's really nasty stuff - I no longer gather or buy straw from anywhere. It frustrates me to death.

A friend's garden was wrecked this summer - check this out:

http://www.greenbasket.me/2015/08/08/my-garden-is-poisoned/

I've also had many other gardeners report similar damage. See this post, for instance:

http://www.thesurvivalgardener.com/more-victims-of-satanic-grazon-herbicide/

I dedicate some time in Compost Everything to talking about this issue and how to avoid it. The problem also effects manure - a LOT of manure - from cows and horses.

The sad thing is that - yes, the worms love the straw and otherwise it's a great idea. Grow your own biomass on the property instead and throw it down. I had a lot of worm activity even in freezing weather thanks to a long-ago pile of straw in my garden.
 
Gary Huntress
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Thanks, David, for heads up on poisoned hay and straw. I was just going to go and purchase a couple of bales but I think I'll cut my red clover and use that instead.
 
David Good
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@Gary

It kills me to say it since straw was once a mainstay of my gardening... but there's no way I'd use it anymore. In my book I tell the story of a $1000 loss of plants due to toxic manure. It's insane.
 
Norlyn Driver
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David==thanks for the straw warning. I have actually been avoiding straw by using goldenrod, which grows at an insane rate around the shale barrens here. It can be harvested with a scythe; then I strip the leaves (gotta have the TEA!) and use the stems for mulch. The stuff is a great mulch, and talk about renewable! I am also quite interested in the refrigerator idea--I think I have an old chest freezer available, and I'll just need to defeat the seal some for a bit of ventilation. I try to compost everything I can, and the winter boost would sure help!
 
David Good
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Goldenrod and a scythe... sounds like the makings of the next Great American Novel. I love it.

Good luck with the chest freezer.

There are some weeds here I love just because they grow so fast and can be cut and dropped. Even ragweed is allowed to grow in my food forest until just before it blooms, then it's dropped around the fruit trees.
 
Chris Gallo
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Location: Mid-Michigan 6a/5b
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@David Goodman,

I have an upright freezer that I plan to use for a worm bin (laying on it's back). You said that you use a piece of plywood for the top. Did you do this because it didn't have a working door, or is there a reason to remove the door? I am in mid-Michigan. Should I wait until spring to get started, or is it feasible to get going in the winter?

C
 
David Good
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Location: Equatorial tropics
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The door to the fridge would have worked; however, it was heavy and had a seal on it so I was afraid a child might get stuck in there. The plywood seemed safer to me, though it didn't have nearly the insulating power.

I would start now and see what happens.
 
David Bennett
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Location: Stockholm, Sweden
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I just put together a winter ready equivalent of the fridge. 2" polystyrene insulation behind 0.5" wooden panels.
I won't be trying carcasses. I'be been thinking about humanure but if the neighbours (maybe even my wife) got wind of it I'd get even stranger looks.
A visitor to next door asked if the mulch piles were compost
 
Thomas warren
Posts: 68
Location: Yakima County, E WA
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I live in an urban area of a rural town, just built a 4'x4'x6' frame, put chicken wire around it and cardboard on the sides to insulate it, and a glass piece over the top to try to greenhouse it. I filled it up most of the way today, and the temp is still 65 degrees inside, 5 more than yesterday. From my understanding if I can keep it insulated enough to keep the psychrophiles doing well it will create conditions for the mesophiles and they'll make sure it doesn't freeze. I'll have to report more later, as this is a new project. Winter gets down to 15f every now and then.
 
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