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composting large amounts of fruit and veg

 
michael tirth
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Location: west of ireland
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I have a 5 acre field that is relatively waterlogged and full of rushes which i want to turn into a forest garden.
I have been offered 10 large pallets a week of out of date fruit and vegetables in cardboard boxes.
I would like to know how i can compost the fruit . vegetables ,cardboard and pallets? if useful, in a way that will cover the entire field to create a good humus layer which could cover and kill the rushes ,without harming the local waterways by any possible run off from the composting and without causing any smell.
I also have access to large amounts of cow and horse manure if needed and I also have a shredder to shred the fruit, vegetables and cardboard if needed?
I also have a wood chipper for the pallets?
I would then like to cover the humus layer either during of after with a good layer of wood chips which i can get from the forestry services ,so as to recreate a forest floor.
I don't have access to any machinery to turn the compost piles!
I expect to start composting this winter and for as long as it takes to cover the field!

Any help and guidance will be much appreciated ?
 
John Saltveit
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It's going to be full of nutrients, microbiology, which is good, but also it will rot because it's unbalanced. Too high in nitrogen. Yes, I think adding wood chips, leaves to it will make it more balanced. You probably will get rodents, which is not necessarily only bad. Adding manure will add even more nitrogen which is unbalanced, but will tend to somewhat discourage rodents. Yes, I would add lots of wood chips and leaves. This time of year you can probably get free leaves. Other times, not so much.

You won't have to keep turning it. Putting cardboard on it can be good. You can probably get free wood chips from utility companies or tree cutting services, depending on where you live. OVer time, worms will take the nutrients into the soil and greatly improve the quality of your soil. That's what we did.
John S
PDX OR
 
William Bronson
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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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Sounds like a recipe for chickens to me!
Free food turned into more fertilizer. Insects and rodents drawn to the refuse? More food for the birds.
They will turn the pile, reduce it, etc, and make egg too.
Only pigs might be better. Sounds like you have the makings of a great place there.
 
Peter Ellis
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Location: Central New Jersey
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Go into industrial scale black soldier fly larva production
Not really the right choice for what you are going for, but a great way to dispose of those volumes of aged foodstuff.
 
justin edmonds
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HEY mike, you took my advice and posted here huh, follow this link and the conversations in the forum relating to it , you may be able to get the answer youre looking for, J http://permies.com/t/49934/composting/David-Goodman-aka-David-Good
 
justin edmonds
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PM me if you need any more advice, ill help wherever i can
 
Su Ba
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I really don't have advice or directions for you, but your project caused me mull over some aspects of it......

... Your soil is waterlogged. Composting requires air, thus just dumping or plowing in that much moist material into that wet ground may turn your land into a stinking, rotting mess.
... Composting large amounts of wet waste vegetables calls for mixing in adequate dry material with it to prevent a stinking mass of slimy glop.
... Unchipped wood will take years to breakdown. That trait is a plus for hugelkultur but a detriment for composting. Therefore I would somehow shred those pallets.
... Cardboard boxes often have plastic tape on them. That tape will not biodegrade. I use cardboard on my own farm but hand remove the tape first.
... Shredding the material for composting makes composting go quicker. I usually don't shred waste vegetables, but then I don't deal with the vast volume that you do.
... In the wet areas of my own farm, adding copious amounts of compost and manure did not resolve the wet problem. But it did give me very sticky, wet soil that my taro and Chinese cabbage loved. Some of the wet areas I cut drainage channels to allow excess water to run to drier sections. I also tilled in a truckload of volcanic cinder to aid drainage.
... Pigs on wet soil will turn it into a bog or pond. Unless the pigs are removed after a very short time, they will cause more serious damage to wet soil than helping it out.
... Trees help with removing water from the soil. In my area, eucalyptus will remove soil moisture better than most other trees. Perhaps your local Forrest service can give you some advice on which trees or shrubs prefer wet soils, and which are notorious for robbing soil moisture.
 
Dan Boone
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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Michael, welcome to Permies!

One thing that happens a lot here is that someone will ask a question and, instead of getting an answer, they get a dozen suggestions about how to do something other than they were wanting to do. In that spirit, I don't have any answers to your questions, but I will share the first thing that came into my head when I saw "10 large pallets a week of out of date fruit and vegetables". And that was "wow, some off that stuff will still be perfectly good!" And now all I can think of is that in your shoes, the first thing I would do is build a huge solar dehydrator, like, the size of a schoolbus. And I would be dehydrating the best of the still-edible produce every week, and storing it up in five gallon plastic buckets to eat for, like, forever. Weather and climate permitting of course.
 
John Saltveit
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Another way of saying what Dan said is,.....

Many of us will offer alternative ways of approaching the situation that might add perspectives that you hadn't thought of.

Some of it will be confirming in that it will be exactly what you already thought of.

We might say what we might do in the situation without telling you what you should do,

because many of us aren't you and don't want to tell you what to do.

I have learned a lot from people's different points of view, even if I don't take their advice that time or ever.

It opens up a world of possibilities and perspectives.

You can act on whatever you find interesting or ask more if you want, or none of the above.

Sometimes I don't really get some process until people explain it in a different application two or three times. My two cents.

I just heard today that dried fruits and vegies store better in a seal a meal deal vacuum pack thing. Otherwise, just a few weeks unless incredibly dry.

John S
PDX OR
 
justin edmonds
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Hey there, Me again, I think one of the posts has a serious consideration, RATS,,,,,, maybe you should look at composting it down first, i have ideas if you need them but also, its 5 acres, scale down your efforts SMALL STEADY SOLUTIONS,,, there is a technique mollison talks about which is boxing in your waste with hay bales, apparently its a quick composting method and the bales will help soak the nitrogen load, maybe somrone else on this forum can shed light on the method and provide a link??
 
justin edmonds
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Check this out,, http://www.pfaf.org/user/plant.aspx?LatinName=Elaeagnus+x+ebbingei you may have to plant it in a slightly raised bed/lazy bed/swale mound ... (you.ll have to decide whats best), because your soil is so wet buts its f..in hardy and good for coastal regions... no-one else will know why im posting this seemingly irrelevant link, ill come look at the site for you if you like
 
michael tirth
Posts: 3
Location: west of ireland
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Dan Boone wrote:Michael, welcome to Permies!

One thing that happens a lot here is that someone will ask a question and, instead of getting an answer, they get a dozen suggestions about how to do something other than they were wanting to do. In that spirit, I don't have any answers to your questions, but I will share the first thing that came into my head when I saw "10 large pallets a week of out of date fruit and vegetables". And that was "wow, some off that stuff will still be perfectly good!" And now all I can think of is that in your shoes, the first thing I would do is build a huge solar dehydrator, like, the size of a schoolbus. And I would be dehydrating the best of the still-edible produce every week, and storing it up in five gallon plastic buckets to eat for, like, forever. Weather and climate permitting of course.


Good on ye Dan , weather and climate wouldn't suit , but you've got me thinking !! thanks
 
michael tirth
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Location: west of ireland
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Su Ba wrote:I really don't have advice or directions for you, but your project caused me mull over some aspects of it......

... Your soil is waterlogged. Composting requires air, thus just dumping or plowing in that much moist material into that wet ground may turn your land into a stinking, rotting mess.
... Composting large amounts of wet waste vegetables calls for mixing in adequate dry material with it to prevent a stinking mass of slimy glop.
... Unchipped wood will take years to breakdown. That trait is a plus for hugelkultur but a detriment for composting. Therefore I would somehow shred those pallets.
... Cardboard boxes often have plastic tape on them. That tape will not biodegrade. I use cardboard on my own farm but hand remove the tape first.
... Shredding the material for composting makes composting go quicker. I usually don't shred waste vegetables, but then I don't deal with the vast volume that you do.
... In the wet areas of my own farm, adding copious amounts of compost and manure did not resolve the wet problem. But it did give me very sticky, wet soil that my taro and Chinese cabbage loved. Some of the wet areas I cut drainage channels to allow excess water to run to drier sections. I also tilled in a truckload of volcanic cinder to aid drainage.
... Pigs on wet soil will turn it into a bog or pond. Unless the pigs are removed after a very short time, they will cause more serious damage to wet soil than helping it out.
... Trees help with removing water from the soil. In my area, eucalyptus will remove soil moisture better than most other trees. Perhaps your local Forrest service can give you some advice on which trees or shrubs prefer wet soils, and which are notorious for robbing soil moisture.

Ye, i think drainage channels are going to have to go in! thanks
 
John Saltveit
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Posts: 2001
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Justin,
I am growing that plant. I like it, but it has almost nothing to do with composting fruit and veg.
John S
PDX OR
 
Roberto pokachinni
pollinator
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Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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What a great resource!!! You are lucky to have such a massive load of nutrient coming your way!!!

I agree strongly with most of what has been written in response here, especially su ba's comment. You definitely have stinky mess potential!

Animals can be a great asset, and this takes planning and forethought. It might be in your interest to dig out a pond or two and a few canals to drain some of it, if it is too wet.

Definately start small and build up. 5 acres is a lot of ground to cover.

You mention wanting to recreate a forest floor, I'm assuming you want to make a forest, and I think that is great. Definitely consult with local foresters/government extensions agents, and also nursery owners to see what would best grow in your field.

Since you have a chipper and no other machinery, I would suggest planting areas of your meadow with willows, alders, birch and maybe some bamboos depending on where you are. Like Su ba suggested, if you want to drain your swampy land a bit there are trees that will help.

( Suggestion: edit your profile maybe to show your whereabouts; it helps with people to respond more appropriately with their suggestions).

It might be in your interest to hire a couple of people on a one time shot, or organize a volunteer blitz to plant as many willows (which multiply easily by jamming a cut live stick into the wet ground) as possible in an area of your field. From the quick growing woody fiber, you can create coppice/pollards (basically a pruned stump that increases multiple shoots), and then, after it gets rippin', chip it up. Your project is moisture and nitrogen rich, so you need as much carbon as you can get.

Some chippers require that you run the material through more than once to make it readily compostable. The smaller you chip/shred your material the more surface area on any given bit of woody waste; the more surface area the more moisture contact; the more moisture contact, the more biological activity; the more biological activity the faster the carbon gets bound into the system with the nitrogen to make finished compost. AND YOU ARE GOING TO NEED LOTS OF CARBON. Import it if you have to, especially if it's not too pricey to get it there, or ask people to dump it at your place. Put up a sign. Get waste spoiled hay, leaves (as was suggested)..., any carbon sources.

I would very strongly suggest looking up Chinampas. There are some great articles written about this (midwest permaculture's site I think had a great article). These are basically raised growing beds in wet areas (usually lakes and ponds, but it would work great in your wet field, I think.) These were developed by the Pre-Columbian Mayans and Aztecs and others. Given the info you provided, I would sheet mulch (carbon and nitrogen layers to make a sort of compost in the shape of a raised bed. This material is then covered with growing medium)... as such: chipped pallets/ shredded cardboard/chipped willows/shredded reeds layered with your nitrogen rich veggie waste, dig up areas around the beds, throwing that material on top to let it dry out and provide big deep beds. Put cardboard on top to kill the local flora, if you like. Punch holes in the cardboard to put transplants, or just plant your forest herbaceous layers into it. If you are in a warm subtropical zone make the beds wide and shorter, and if you are in a more temperate zone, make them narrower and taller.

You could stabilized the sides of the beds by laying the pallets on the slopes. There are lots of ideas around for using pallets for all kinds of things in the garden.

A few quick searches will gain you much here.

Welcome to Permies!
 
Davis Bonk
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[youtube]https://youtu.be/emgCIB7aL9QQ[/youtube]

I would make a composting chicken tractor with egg layers and sell eggs until your trees mature. Hopefully you can create enough "Duff" in a few years to keep pigs from damaging the native soil structure. I would plant 1/3 of it as pig food and the rest as human. You will end up with a lot of damaged and seconds to feed your pigs. Grapes especially and most fruits in general don't prefer really moist and swampy fertile soil. At least when compared to nuts. There are a lot of oak (quercus), hickory/pecan (carya), walnut (juglans) and hazel (corylus) species that would do quite well in a swampy environment. I think persimmons and pawpaws like it wet but someone else should confirm that.
 
justin edmonds
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Hi John Saltveit . volunteer guy. The post seemed random but I know the guy and it was to do with his plans for the land. Didn't have his email have a beautiful day. J
 
justin edmonds
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Hey man . me again. I recieved the following from a guy at tipperary eco village. It may help.



Interesting notion. I have a few thoughts.

If the field is full of rushes, and waterlogged, here is a possibility of any mulch turning anaerobic - which would lead to smell, and runoff.

I am not sure if rushes can be killed off using a mulch of cardboard/woodchip/vegetables - this would have to be tested.

Sounds like a huge amount of wet and nutrient rich material. Sheet mulching with this type of material, will likely lead to runoff of nutrients, even if it doesn't go anaerobic, given the amount of rain that will fall over that large area.

I would suggest using the chipper to create a long windrow (long pile about 1-1.5m high) of mixed veg/fruit/cardboard/woodchip/manure/etc. that is covered with plastic or waterproof tarp. This windrow should be in a location that is easier to access, and as dry as possible. If the mix is reasonable, with a good amount of carbon, there is no need to turn the pile. This would allow a few months for the initial decomposition to occur, and allow most of the potentially problematic nutrients to become bound up in the organic matter and decomposing carbon. By continually adding to one end, or making new rows, the partially/mostly decomposed material can be removed from the other end after a few months, and spread on the field. Using this method, there is unlikely to be as much runoff, and all the smell should be contained. Spreading this stuff around the field will also be easier
 
Rick Valley
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Like almost all questions, the asker hasn't given sufficient information. But the answers saying drainage is needed are in a potentially productive direction. Or disastrous. Rushes like compacted soil. Will simply draining the water away help in case of drought? No. You'd want water storage as well. Perhaps serpentine channels linking basins, with the resulting spoil piled over waste wood? And composting human edibles without huge amounts of carbon (and some clay to enable stable humus formation in the process)- just greens and fruit will result in a very bacterially dominated compost which is not what a forest wants. Which is a FUNGALLY dominated compost. Even a moldboard plough applied with art could create enough change in elevation to create the drainage needed. Or a walk behind with a rotary spade and a scraper blade could do it. Hast dug any soil profile pits yet? The waste food could feed a horde of hogs. Lots of information to gather yet.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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I think you might start with "the problem is the solution" and also sometimes the solution is the problem. The water you have on your land, and even the rushes, are problems, and they can become solutions. What other problems do you have in abundance?

The extra nitrogen you are getting from the donated veggies is a solution that could be a problem if they go anaerobic, so it may be better to just say no for now until you are sure of what you want to do. One thing at a time. Maybe someone else in your area would have a use for them before you do. Or maybe you can stockpile it in some way that does attract rats but it's OK because far from everything else. And then use it when you are ready.

Or, maybe there's a use for excessive quantities of nitrogen. I don't know.

Other possibilities if you do get the veggies:

--massive amounts of sawdust from a carpenter or mill? most carbon per nitrogen, 25:1 ratio according to a book on composting I have here, "Let it rot". (Stands to reason as it's dried wood).
--borrow pigs?
--give to farmer with pigs and take poop in return?
--build/hugel up (the chiampas idea, I guess)
--check into what Will Allen and other urban farmers do. They often have a lot of throw-away food
--what eats rats?
--chipdrop.com--not sure if this is international, but it lets arborists get a free home for wood chips, delivered free to your driveway or lawn.
 
Scott Olsen
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I have been receiving about 4 tons of food waste per week for the last several years and using it to remediate 14 acres of previously chemically farmed land, as well as growing produce on 2 acres of organic land The food waste is not just fruits and veggies as in your case, but is literally everything a commercial kitchen might throw out (sadly). Still there are some similarities. I have been dealing with commerical food waste since 2006 and have ramped up to my current volume. After scrounging out the stuff that is easily accesible for our 50 chickens, the rest goes to some sort of composting. I started with aerobic composting, but had trouble importing enough carbon. Next I tried vermicomposting, which worked great and I still do it, but I could set up a sytem large enough for the volume and it was too slow to deal with the meat/eggs/dairy,etc. I then tried bokashi fermentation and in my experience it is much more efficient at getting the material incorporated in the soil. No need to worry about C/N ratio or how wet the material is. I use 55 gal. barrels to anaerobically ferment the food waste with an EM innoculant (I have purchased and made my own, both seem to work). Shredding hels pack more into a barrel and it ferments ore quickly. It is sealed up in the barrels so no vermin problems during this phase (1-3 weeks, depending on ambient temp). The next phase is to incorporate into the soil. You can mix it with the soil or bury it, either of which may require some equipment or a lot of sweat at the volume of material you are receiving. I use a tractor and a disc to incorporate. At that point there is some smell, but it smells like vinegar not rot, and the smell dissipates in a few days or immediately in the case of burying the material with 6" or so of soil. There is also some vermin potential in this phase, but the material is incorporated into the soil rather quickly after the fermentation and so after a few weeks (again depending on ambient temps) any vermin are no longer interested. THe wet boggy soil may be an issue for incorporation. Not sure what might be done to alleviate that. THe fermented material can stay in the barrels until drier weather, but you might get quite a back up. What to do with all the material during the wet Pacific NW winters has been my biggest challenge.
It has been our experience that growing food in the soil that has incorporated the fermented material is better than before we started this process. By better I mean more productive, healthier and better tasting. You can find a lot of internet stuff about bokashi these days, but some of it seems misleading to me and most of it is small scale. I think with just friuts and veggies as in your case, the bokshi method could be used to incorporate the material faster than any other method I have found. Just another alternative that I have found useful.
 
Matt van Ankum
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If I had that much veg waste I would feed it to my pigs and being as it is winter, I would do it it inside. This would protect the energy reserve from leaching, pigs would love it, they turn it into manure , you compost the manure in the spring and then you have a wonderful resource. I would think you would need a tractor or skid-steer to make this work.
 
Leonard Barron
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lots of carbon to process all that nitrogen.(shredded leaves) The volume of nitogen you are receiving could be processed best in a windrow style if you are staying aerobic. You could do large scale vermi-composting and they will work with you at comfortable ambient air temperatures. Going anaerobic would provide you with methane and bio-fuel for cooking. I do not know your budget, equipment and man power, but I would pull out the stoppers and employ as many ways as possible.
 
Dave Smythe
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I expect you are familiar with what Colette O'Neill has achieved at Bealtaine Cottage starting with a similar plot a decade ago?
 
Hans Quistorff
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Focus on the pallets for a start. Pallets are valuable resource. First they make excellent compost bins. If the tops of the pallets have narrow spaces between the boards placing 4 in a square with the boards vertical will make a compost bin. Ask around for hay bale twine to tie them together. I think a layer of chips, a layer of fruit & vegetables, a layer of cardboard makes a lasagna compost. Worms should work there way up through the layers. Do not use waxed cardboard in the layers but you could use them for the sides if the spacing between the boards is too wide. Otherwise slice waxed cardboard in strips and sell it for kindling.
I am not sure about the rushes you have; if they are the kind that make clumps with hallow stems like an onion top they are no problem, Just mow them for convenience where you are working.
I have a 3 acre field of clay that is a 1 foot flood plain. The natural progression hear is alder then ceder. If you want to have a progression into a food forest I suggest planing out a raised bed the width of your pallet square progressing across the field spaced for convenient alleyways.
I have a grove of plums that were planted between the field and the driveway ditch and they do fine with grass mulch to suppress blackberry seedlings. Between the field and the public road I maintain a hedge of wild roses which don't mind having wet feet. Over the years of different owner trying different things what has developed is a field of perennial flax with some shallow ponds which hold water until august. So I have filled the ponds with flax for the winter and will rake it out in the spring and plant rice and see if it will mature.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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michael tirth wrote:I have a 5 acre field that is relatively waterlogged and full of rushes which i want to turn into a forest garden.
I have been offered 10 large pallets a week of out of date fruit and vegetables in cardboard boxes.
I would like to know how i can compost the fruit . vegetables ,cardboard and pallets? if useful, in a way that will cover the entire field to create a good humus layer which could cover and kill the rushes ,without harming the local waterways by any possible run off from the composting and without causing any smell.
I also have access to large amounts of cow and horse manure if needed and I also have a shredder to shred the fruit, vegetables and cardboard if needed?
I also have a wood chipper for the pallets?
I would then like to cover the humus layer either during of after with a good layer of wood chips which i can get from the forestry services ,so as to recreate a forest floor.
I don't have access to any machinery to turn the compost piles!
I expect to start composting this winter and for as long as it takes to cover the field!

Any help and guidance will be much appreciated ?


What an awesome opportunity and at the same time there is the possibility of it becoming overwhelming, so lets get to one method that should work well for your situation.
I would divide up the land you want to develop into blocks small enough that you can complete a block with one weeks worth. This will keep it all manageable for you and you will be done with a block when you walk away.

The first thing to do is put down a really thick (at least 12 inches) layer of wood chips, this will elevate and also give you a good base layer for all the liquid goodies to leak into without turning into a stinko mess.
Now you can start layering; the first layer would be vegetable and fruit, the next layer should be something dry (cardboard will work but any organic material will work for this "divider"), if you can, also add a 3-5 inch thick layer of wood chips just to keep everything ooze free over time, repeat these layers until your finished with the ten pallets worth and your lasagna is around 2-3 feet tall.
Now you can start prepping the next block of land, by doing it this way you are going to find that you can finish a block and walk away, not having to check on it for a long time, it will rot down, the liquids will be adsorbed by all the woodchips, the woodchips will support mycorrhizal fungi growth and bacteria.
The trick is to make sure there are enough "dry materials" to adsorb all the water that the decomposing fruit and veggies will give off, if you have done it right you will not have a stinky mess, critters are going to come into the piles and burrow around to find easy food for themselves, don't worry about it, they are actually helping you not have to do anything to the piles, their tunnels and digging will add air to the piles.
Once you have completed say an acre, you will have your method tuned and it will go smoother for you.
At that point you can start another acre or you could decide to go back over the first acre with another set.

If you work at soil building this way, you will find that you have not only created great soil but you will also take care of that "swampy" land issue.
Remember you can use the shredder for making materials smaller and so faster decomposing, you can use the chipper on the pallet wood (do try to get all the nails out first, replacing flails can be expensive)
Have fun, sure it will be work but it should also be fun so it doesn't become a huge chore, you are going to be at this for quite a while given that you are wanting to cover 5 acres ( 1 acre = 203x203 feet aprox. )

Other things to remember about this method; Will not need any moisture added, You can always add any manures as a layer, Volunteer work by critters is not a bad thing, If you have chickens, build a block and turn them loose on it, they will mix things up nicely for you.
 
Lori Smith
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I quickly scanned through all the posted replies and didn't see anything about checking the safety of composting the pallets themselves...so it's best to do some research before trying that. Here's a quick site to check: http://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-product-design/how-to-tell-if-your-pallet-is-safe-to-reuse-pallet-safety-info.html



PS If you see the first signs of termites, throw down some cornmeal. They will eat it and take it back to the nest, bloat and die off.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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Location: Massachusetts, 6b, urban, nearish coast, 39'x60' minus the house, mostly shady north side, + lead.
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Really good point. When I looked it up, blank pallets (no colored markings or letters or numbers) are _probably_ fine.

The way to pull them apart I find easiest is actually to saw around the nails, prying is so time-consuming and you don't gain a lot of wood from those leftover bits. I'd start by giving it a good whack to see what comes apart easily, then whatever doesn't I'd hack apart with an axe or saw it up. Laziest way I've thought of.
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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Location: Massachusetts, 6b, urban, nearish coast, 39'x60' minus the house, mostly shady north side, + lead.
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whoa, just read the termites thing--wow! does that really work that easily? that's a mind-blower. Not that I've ever seen a termite, but people fear them.
 
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