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Mind set about compost  RSS feed

 
Mohamed Ahkim
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Hi,

this is a great forum. I was thinking about mulching and compost. Is the "permaculture" mindset that you mostly use compost for plant nursery (you need transportable fertile soil), otherwise you just mulch the (fixed) plants?

Is it possible to create a (stable) manure 'bank' and a (stable) carbon bank (wood, leafs,...) so that you combine them only when you need fertile soil? I was thinking about this because I saw how Goeff Lawton created his 1 m^3 compost heap and made it use ready in only +-20 days. This way I would know when I need to start 'combining' manure with high carbon stuff and gives me a lot of freedom to manage fertility.

Mohamed
 
Tyler Ludens
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I only do sheet composting (very thick mulch); I never make compost heaps. I just put everything, including manure, directly onto the garden. If I needed good soil for starting plants, I would probably dig it from my garden, unless I need a large quantity.
 
Su Ba
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I use both compost and mulch in my garden beds. By incorporating compost into the top 3-6 inches of soil between crops, I can produce an incredible amount of food this way.

When I make compost I cover the piles after a few weeks in order for them to dry out and slow the decomposition process. That way the compost will "hold" much of its nutrients and composition until the time that I need it. By covering the piles well, they seem to lose less nitrogen than if exposed to the rain and wind.
 
Peter Ellis
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I think it might be a misunderstanding to think in terms of managing fertility, rather than in terms of simply continuing to build all the fertility that we can on an ongoing basis.

I don't know quite how one would hold materials for composting in a stockpile without them composting.
 
Thomas warren
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To so what geoff lawton did you would need the right weather and sizeable quantities of the material.
If you have those, it would seem prudent to compost them (slow or fast) and use it when needed, perhaps maintain a compost bank instead of a compost ingredient bank. I would worry about nitrogen loss if you have too much nitrogen bearing material and you don't mix it with carbon.
 
Mohamed Ahkim
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Thank you for the replies

Tyler Ludens, your idea sounds ok when you indeed need small quantities of soil.

Su Ba, thank you for the advice. How do you incorporate the compost in the topsoil without destroying the top soil? When you put new plants in, you can add the compost first than you add the plant. When you have "perennials", why don't you just 'mulch' it with compost?

Peter Ellis, your philosophy is correct. I thought too much in terms of working less instead of "keeping all the energy and fertility on the property".

Thomas warren, I am thinking about a dry climate (20 cm of yearly precipation, 1100m altitude East Morocco). Is the compost usable months after it decomposed?
 
Dale Hodgins
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When composting woody waste, it is possible to "hold" materials for very long periods, simply by withholding nitrogen rich ingredients. Some portion of the pile, may be separated at any time and mixed with manure, urine, animal carcasses etc. and it will quickly break down further.

In dry environments, material can be held, simply by withholding water.
 
Desiree Thomson
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You can build your own compost bin and apply compost only when you want to. Mulching is also a good way to improve soil and you can use both, but try not to use both at the same time. Sometimes it can backfire, I know that firsthand. In my efforts to make my plants healthier and grow faster, I applied too much compost and mulching and they rotted. But I've learned my lesson and now have my own compost bin and add compost only when needed. You can check out how to build a compost box here:
http://www.streetarticles.com/gardening/how-to-make-your-own-compost-bin
 
Dale Hodgins
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The materials that caused the plants to rot, may have been in direct contact with the stems and added during the growing season.

 If done at the beginning of the year, there should be no problem in using compost a foot thick.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Hi Mohamed and welcome to Permies!

1.) If people stockpile compostable materials it is usually the carbon rich items, like straw, or leaves.

2.) These are usually dry items, and are left beside the compost bin, or heap area for times when nitrogen rich supplies are around, such as when a chicken coop is cleaned. These dry carbon rich materials tend to be a lot less biologically active (though they may have dormant biology waiting eagerly for nitrogen and moisture to jump to life). These can be safely added to the surface of your soil as mulch and can be placed right up to most plants without harm.

3.) The nitrogen rich materials tend to be wetter, they tend to smell more strongly, and they tend to break down too fast to be stored well. The fast break down factor and the strong smell are both mostly to do with their high active biology. Nitrogen rich material is sometimes called "HOT" material, because it will burn your plants. Drying nitrogen rich materials out to facilitate storage will result in a loss of microbial action and thus nutrients.

4.) When enough nitrogen material is accumulated, the compost then can be made and mixed in the appropriate ratios, according to the amount of nitrogen rich material that is found.

5.) Many people have an ongoing compost pile/heap, that the kitchen waste and green farm waste can be regularly added to in small amounts. The carbon stockpile is added in appropriate amounts to balance the ratio. This is not the most efficient way to make compost, because it is better (for efficient use of the biologically active components) to have a quickly built pile that becomes biologically active all at once, then one that is added to over a long period of time. Regardless of this last mentioned fact, this is the most common method, by far.

6.) An understanding of the optimum moisture level in a compost heap is the one factor that makes the ingredients turn into the prime habitat for compost. When building the pile, it should be moistened but not made wet.

7.) Everything else is up to you, with the following things in mind:

The materials that caused the plants to rot, may have been in direct contact with the stems and added during the growing season. If done at the beginning of the year, there should be no problem in using compost a foot thick.


Like Dale said here, when you apply the compost is important. It is also important to be sure that your compost is actually done (completed it's full compost process). The compost should feel and smell and look like amazing soil. Nitrogen rich materials (if left uncomposted) will burn your plants, especially seedlings and veggie stems. This unfinished material can be added to your garden, but it can not be right against your plants. Added to the surface nearby, but not directly against the plants, the nitrogen will go downwards into the soil and be available to the plant as it's roots expand and the plant grows. The compost can also be added deeply below a transplant and mixed with soil. (I put a stockpile of uncomposted manure under a squash plant, but make sure their is at least 6 inches of soil above the manure.) In this way, by the time the plant's roots get to the rich nitrogen rich substance, the rich material has had a chance to break down and the plant can sink it's roots by choice where needs the nutrients or can choose to put roots around the rich substance to seek other resources.

 
Mohamed Ahkim
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Thank you for the information, now I know better what to do
 
Steven Kovacs
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:
5.) Many people have an ongoing compost pile/heap, that the kitchen waste and green farm waste can be regularly added to in small amounts. The carbon stockpile is added in appropriate amounts to balance the ratio. This is not the most efficient way to make compost, because it is better (for efficient use of the biologically active components) to have a quickly built pile that becomes biologically active all at once, then one that is added to over a long period of time. Regardless of this last mentioned fact, this is the most common method, by far.


This is what we're doing with our kitchen compost because we don't generate enough "greens" to make a large, hot pile. Is there a good way to make hot compost when you're relying on a slow stream of kitchen waste for the nitrogen?
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Is there a good way to make hot compost when you're relying on a slow stream of kitchen waste for the nitrogen?

Hi Steve:
The way your question is worded, the answer, I think, is no. But... there are other possibilities:

Both of the ideas I have in this regard, require you to have some sort of decent community that you interact with. The rest is up to you to channel their resources:

1.) One way that I can think of is to ask your neighbors for a contribution all at once. They can put it on top of their own compost bins for a couple weeks without mixing it, but then bring it to your place on a given compost day. The next bulk community effort can be in someone else's bin. This is a great community building event, all around, especially in the soil!

2.) Another way is to get a group of friends to each pee into a personal jug for a day and bring it the next day (urine does not store well) to add to your carbon source, building your pile, and turning it with a fork until it is adequately moistened or marinated with golden elixir!
 
Steven Kovacs
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Robert,

Thank you, those are good ideas. We're relatively new to the community so #1 is much more likely than #2.

We've also got a half-empty small chest freezer; would it make sense to freeze greens (or other N sources) for use in a large batch later?
 
John Polk
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We've also got a half-empty small chest freezer; would it make sense to freeze greens (or other N sources) for use in a large batch later?

I think that this is a good option.
I often store vegetable trimmings in the freezer until I have accumulated enough to make a batch of 'vegetable broth' for cooking purposes. This provides a free resource for improving the nutritional content of my future meals, and the left-over 'mash' can then be incorporated into a compost pile. The resulting mash has less nutrients (because those nutrients went into my stew or rice), but it is still a viable addition to a compost bin.

 
Roberto pokachinni
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We've also got a half-empty small chest freezer; would it make sense to freeze greens (or other N sources) for use in a large batch later?


Pro's of the small chest freezer idea: 1. You know exactly what is in your compost. If you take scraps from your neighbors as I suggested, you are never fully sure of the quality.
2. You preserve a great deal of the nutritional quality of the compostable material.

Con's of the small chest freezer idea: 1.) You use electricity (money if you don't make it yourself), to make compost.
2.) You might not have enough nitrogen mix stored in a small chest freezer to make a compost sizable enough to create an ideal compost pile *
*Ideal compost (as far as I know) requires a dimension of at least a cubic yard. This enables the community of thermophilic (warm loving) bacteria to maximize it's habitat and thus break down all the carbon to soil.

A larger freezer may be necessary. If you had a large chest freezer, you could have pails in it that you could cram with kitchen waste, and be more likely to have the amount for the a productive hot compost.
A way to make a large freezer more efficient (an worth while) is to place pails partially full of water (that turn to blocks of ice), to fill the space and hold that freezing temperature. When you need another pail for nitrogen material, remove it from the freezer, let it thaw, dump it in the swale, and begin to fill it with kitchen waste. After a while the freezer's collection of ice pails are transformed to nitrogen kitchen scrap pails, and you are ready to make compost.

Fresh lawn clippings (particularly shortly after a rain) are a great source of nitrogen waste that could be collected in a neighborhood, as well, with little social stigma (compared to urine!).

Perhaps it will take a combination of ideas, including the unused space in your small freezer to do the trick. Good luck.
 
Steven Kovacs
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Thanks for the good ideas!

John, I will likely adopt your idea of freezing the used vegetable trimmings, since we already store them to make stock with.

Roberto, The freezer is probably too small to store enough for a hot pile, but assuming the winter ever gets to normal freezing temperatures here, I may be able to just stockpile things outside and build a large pile in the spring.
 
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