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A variety of basic newb questions

 
Octavia Greason
Posts: 28
Location: Ohio
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Sorry for the vague topic, my questions are too disparate to really find a descriptive title.

First, coffee; is it green or brown? I was certain used grounds were green but I read something saying they were brown and now I have to ask as I just added a good 15lbs of grounds to my bin.

Second, turning; do I need to wait until my compost has heated up to do this? Or will it help it heat up? My compost is still quite cold (I assume that good compost would heat up even if the outside temp is highly variable).

Third, dead leaves; I understand these are quire nutritious but I think my compost is remaining cold because of my brown materials, I'm worried that my leaves may be less effective because they're soggy or because since leaves are so light I may not be adding enough. Considering that leaves aren't exactly dense should I be adding extra of these? Would cardboard be a more 'effective' brown?

And lastly (I think), slugs; I've seen evidence of them in my compost, should I worry? Or would they be helpful to the composting process? (I assume they came with the dead, soggy leaves).

Sorry for the basic and random questions, I'm just not finding satisfactory answers on the internet and I'm worried about my cold, undissolved, compost.
 
Todd Parr
Posts: 670
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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1) Green
2)Yes, wait until it heats up, and then cools down again. This answer assumes you have a working pile. If it's too cold = too much water, not enough air, not enough greens. It sounds like you need to turn your pile now to get some air and rough browns in there.
3) Leaves work best if you shred them so they don't mat up. If they are soggy, you have too much water. See number 2. I much prefer leaves to cardboard
4) slugs = too much water. You won't have slugs in a warm compost heap (at least I never have). Don't worry, just get the pile heating up.

It sounds like you don't have a compost heap, you have a big pile of wet stuff. You need something in there to make some air spaces. If you just take a pile of wet leaves and pile wet coffee grounds on, you will have what you have. You need to find something that will create some air pockets. Anything like old dead cornstalks, dry weeds with hollow stalks, wood chips, any kind of rougher browns will really help.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1356
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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you need at least a 3ft by 3ft by 3ft pile for it to heatup. And even with that min size going into the winter it might still cool down and stay cold for the winter in Ohio
 
Todd Parr
Posts: 670
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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S Bengi wrote:you need at least a 3ft by 3ft by 3ft pile for it to heatup. And even with that min size going into the winter it might still cool down and stay cold for the winter in Ohio


I used to believe the same thing. I had a brooder box for my chickens made from an old bathtub. The bedding was about 4 inches deep. The brooder had a water nozzle that dripped just a bit and I didn't notice. That is until I noticed how much heat was coming up from the floor of the brooder. The water soaked the bottom inch or so of bedding and started composting the chicken food and bedding. As I said, it was about 4 inches deep and the heat coming off it was incredible. That's when I decided the 3 foot deep thing was a myth.

I agree that in winter, you probably aren't going to have a hot compost pile in Ohio. I haven't done it yet here in WI.
 
Michael Newby
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Location: Mount Shasta, CA Zone 8a Mediterranean climate
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Another thing to consider is how large is the pile and how is it made?

For a good hot compost you want at least a cubic meter of material so a pile that's about 3' by 3' by 3'.

Is your compost just in a pile on the ground, in some sort of open container like a box made out of pallets, or in one of those tumblers that you see in gardening catalogs? Like Todd said, it sounds like your compost is too wet to get up to temp right now and if you find that being the case a lot of the time you might need to cover your compost somehow to keep it from getting soaked in the spring rains. Otherwise I'd agree with Todd, turn/mix your pile and try to add something that will increase the air space a little and make sure your carbon to nitrogen ratio is dialed in as good as you can (shooting for 25-30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen). Don't forget that dead brown leaves are much lower in nitrogen that fresh green ones.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9457
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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For a long time I didn't have enough material for a proper hot pile, so I did sheet composting on garden beds. I don't know if this would work in slug territory - we only have a few, very rare, harmless native slugs here. Sheet composting is just piling thin layers of material on the bed. It's possible to plant some things into the bed while its composting by making holes in the material and filling them with good soil. Works best with robust plants like squash. Also known as lasagna gardening: http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/lasagna-gardening-zmaz99amztak.aspx?PageId=2

After years of sheet composting I'm finally getting extra material and am now building a compost heap in a chicken run, to try something inspired by this: http://geofflawton.com/videos/chicken-tractor-steroids/
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1356
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Chicken manure is very hot so it is more of an exception to the rule. The chickens also help with the body heat, heated poop, and heated pee that they provide. They probably also 'turn' the 'compost' with there feet, even if you didn't see them doing it.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 1992
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
152
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Octavia Greason wrote:Sorry for the vague topic, my questions are too disparate to really find a descriptive title.

First, coffee; is it green or brown? I was certain used grounds were green but I read something saying they were brown and now I have to ask as I just added a good 15lbs of grounds to my bin.

Spent Coffee grounds are definitely a green, they are a nitrogen provider and that is what "green" means in the world of composting. The best way to use them in composting is to place them in the center, this way they will create the heat.

Second, turning; do I need to wait until my compost has heated up to do this? Or will it help it heat up? My compost is still quite cold (I assume that good compost would heat up even if the outside temp is highly variable).

Most people just starting out composting tend to turn their heaps not only too soon but also too many times. Compost only needs to be turned if it has stopped heating, if it hasn't heated in the first place, you need to open it up and add "greens" to create the heating cycle.
The best way to explain this is to think of a garbage bag full of freshly cut grass clippings, it will heat so much that the bag can combust, that is what you are looking towards, very high heat caused by concentration of nitrogen and moisture.


Third, dead leaves; I understand these are quire nutritious but I think my compost is remaining cold because of my brown materials, I'm worried that my leaves may be less effective because they're soggy or because since leaves are so light I may not be adding enough. Considering that leaves aren't exactly dense should I be adding extra of these? Would cardboard be a more 'effective' brown?

Browns are good but if you don't have greens then you are moving towards leaf mold instead of compost. Browns are very necessary and if you only have browns, then add in lots of spent coffee grounds (wet) with the coffee grounds put into the center and perhaps even several layers, then you will see heating begin. Cardboard is a brown but has less nutrient value than dead leaves. All paper can be composted but don't let it take over your heap content wise.

And lastly (I think), slugs; I've seen evidence of them in my compost, should I worry? Or would they be helpful to the composting process? (I assume they came with the dead, soggy leaves).

slugs are an indicator of too high a moisture content and of a non working heap, something is wrong with your method if you have slugs.
Sorry for the basic and random questions, I'm just not finding satisfactory answers on the internet and I'm worried about my cold, undissolved, compost.

The reason we are here is to learn how to do things, so never be sorry for asking what you don't know. How else would you learn what you need to know?
A cold heap is indeed in trouble and needs some corrective measures so it will start the heating cycle. It is sometimes necessary to pull a heap apart and start over to get everything in the right order and quantity so heating will begin. Always ask, here you will get answers and ideas about what to change to get to the point you wish to be at. I've been composting for over 50 years and there are others here with as much experience or even more knowledge about composting but most importantly, we are here to share our knowledge to those who want it.
 
Octavia Greason
Posts: 28
Location: Ohio
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Well then, it sounds like my primary problem is probably a pile that is too wet and too green. I'll have to dig through my leaf bags and grab only the dry stuff. I have some plants by my patio that are dead with large, hollow stems.

Sadly, a 3x3x3 pile isn't exactly an option for me. I'm limited by the fact that we don't own our place and since I'm not on the lease (shh, don't tell) I can't ask the landlord's permission to do stuff that would have a lasting effect on the property.
Essentially, we don't want to plant anything in the ground and we don't want to kill grass. This leaves two areas that are large enough to put a large pile on; a dirt area that our local stray likes to spray, and the concrete area where we'll be putting our many containers.
Right now my compost is in an 18-gallon rubbermaid tub with holes drilled in it, sitting on top a thin dirt area along our fence.

Is it completely impossible to compost in a container of that volume or will it just not get hot?

Also, thank you for all the great information =D
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9457
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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The conditions might be more suitable for a worm bin.

 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 1992
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
152
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you can compost in a bin, in fact it goes lots faster in a bin because you can have complete control of moisture that way.

I use tumbler type bins for certain compost (it is most applicable to humanure/pet manure composting.
These are pretty easy to build or you can simply buy one. There are lots of good designs available on Mother Earth News' web site.
I build mine out of untreated wood, simply because I can make them as large as I want and when they rot, they become part of the compost in the new tumbler.
My design takes two 1/2" thick sheets of ply wood, 30 2x4's, 2 pipe flanges, 2 pipe elbows and then some pipe pieces to make it turn, coated deck screws hold it all together.

You can make one out of a plastic drum or metal drum as well. These are faster to build but they need a pipe through the center of the barrel and these take 4 flanges with bolts, nuts and washers. The plans for the plastic one are on M.E.N..

On Buzzard's Roost we use several different methods for composting, each is used for particular reasons. We use free form heaps (no containing structure), structured heaps that are in pallet squares, and tumblers, then there are the worm bins for vermicomposting.
A free form heap is just materials piled up, these are almost always no-turn heaps, left to decompose, they take about a year to finish off.
A structured heap is usually a 4 foot cube, these take around 6 months to finish off.
Then there are the tumblers, which take around 24 days fill to finished compost unless it is a manure tumbler (these I run very hot (lots of added nitrogen via grass clippings and spent coffee grounds).
Tumblers need "paddles" attached to the inside of the drum so the contents get well mixed when you rotate the drum (one turn every day after the first week), a drum also needs some small holes in it to let excess moisture leak out.

In your situation you might find that a small tumbler would be the best fit and less noticeable than either of the heap methods. Do a search for "compost tumblers" and you will find many different commercially made units, one is bound to fit your needs.
A "bin" such as you have described is perfectly usable, instead of a lid try a piece of old carpet, set the bin up on bricks so it can drip out excess water.
You could also use vermicomposting as mentioned by Tyler, it is all up to your needs and desires.

One other great source for nitrogen is urine, just collect it and pour onto your compost. You can also dilute it 10 parts water to one part urine and directly use that to water your gardens.
 
Miranda Converse
Posts: 243
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I am also very new to composting (just built my pallet-bin a week ago) and have a few questions myself so I'm going to hijack your thread for a minute.

I wasn't sure I would be able to get enough materials to get a good pile going because we don't produce a whole lot of food waste but I was able to fill the bin about halfway this weekend from some spring cleaning.

Right now this is what is in the bin;
Cleaned out chicken brooder; about 10lbs of chicken poo, food, pine straw and some paper towels
Cleaned out bird cages; A couple lbs of newspaper, parrot poo, and parrot food
About 10lbs of dry feed corn that bugs got into
Maybe a dozen eggs, cracked and on the bottom of pile
A handful of veggie scraps and weeds
A few pieces of cardboard

It's obviously lacking in green stuff and the few days it's been there, it already stinks.
So my questions;
Where are some non-conventional places to get green material? Our chickens keep the grass cut and if we do mow, we use the mulching setting. We don't drink coffee but I am going to try to go to a coffee shop and ask for their grounds. Any other sources I'm missing?

What else can I put in the pile to balance it out and also make it not stink? Too much moisture is going to be a problem until late summer when the rains stop. I know the chicken poo is contributing to the smell but it's a bit more putrid than just plain chicken poo. I think it needs to be mixed better too...




 
Octavia Greason
Posts: 28
Location: Ohio
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Hijack away =D

I went ahead and took the contents of my bin apart layer by layer and put them in my secondary bin, this time with a lot of dry, dead leaves. Hopefully these will balance out the tons of moisture and probable lack of oxygen. Now I have 1.25 bins instead of 1 almost full one.

Thanks again for all the advice guys, muchly appreciated.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 1992
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
152
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hau Miranda, the materials list you give is more inline with vermicomposting (worm farm) rather than normal composting.

The stench is most likely from the eggs and veggies mixed with the feed corn. When you use food scraps such as the three mentioned, the best place in a heap for them is the center of the heap.
When you put this type of material on the bottom, there is no way for the moisture to leave the area, this creates a bacteria playground (and not the good bacteria either). Rot sets in and the stench gets stronger and stronger.

The cure is to move these moisture rich items to the center of the heap, with a large amount of dry material under it to soak up most of the "wet" that will come out of the eggs and veggies.

The good news is that you have plenty of nitrogen from the chicken and parrot manures. What you need are more dry browns, greens are mostly needed for moisture and nitrogen and it seems you have plenty of nitrogen.

If you happen to have neighbors that cut their lawn, see if you can take the clippings off their hands. ( when I lived in the city I used to go collect all the garbage bags of grass clippings and the leaves from the neighbors).
If you have tree services close by, get with them and you should be able to get all the wood chips and leaves you can use.

For a compost heap that incorporates eggs, veggies or other food scraps (meat included) you need to be able to make those components less than 20 percent of the total, more than that and you will have odor problems continually.
In a pinch see if you can collect everyone's old news papers and cardboard, this needs to be shredded, and use that in place of leaves.

All compost heaps need to be able to drain away excess moisture so they can be aerobic in nature. If you can't do that, research bokashi style composting, this is a fermentation style and it is anerobic.
 
Miranda Converse
Posts: 243
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Hau Bryant, you are always a wealth of knowledge!
I actually went back out there yesterday and the smell has considerably diminished, although now there are a lot of flies. I do have a source of lots of shredded paper and pine straw by the tons surrounding my property. I think I'll try to mix some of that in and put a good layer of pine straw on top to keep the flies down.
The eggs will be pretty minimal. Only when I find a stray nest that I don't know the age of or an incubated egg doesn't hatch. And food scraps are even more minimum since anything edible goes to the birds or goats.

If I were to try to vermicompost, can I do it right in the pallet bin? Everything I ever see talks about using plastic bins or whatnot. I wouldn't really be worried about them escaping because they will be close to the garden and it will just add to the soil critters...
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 1992
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
152
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
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Yes you can make use of worms in the pallet bin. In fact worms come to all compost heaps once they have cooled from the heating action, they, and other bugs are what turn the heap into finished compost actually.

I like to use "natural" materials for constructing everything.
The only plastics we have at Buzzard's Roost are feed pails and water troughs.

I like to use wood for as much as I can, since it can be turned into compost once it has rotted so much it can't be used for what ever I built out of it.
A building might need replacing so that wood becomes raised beds, those break down and the wood turns into compost bins, which breaks the wood down even more and this is where it usually turns into compost.
I need to also mention that the only treated wood on our land is under the floors of our buildings and it has been painted to keep moisture out as much as possible.

We have one true worm bin, it is mostly for producing worms for bait fishing, all the rest of our worms are where ever they want to be.
Wolf asked me if I had any idea of how many worms we had on the farm once, it was after a rain, so I went around and counted the casting piles where they came up to escape the wet ground.
I counted 3 thousand of these piles before I quit, I had covered 50 square feet of land during my counting episode. I currently give the guesstament of "Billions" when asked about our worm count.

Like you, we don't actually use a lot of kitchen waste for the one worm bin we have, most of that stuff goes to the hogs or chooks (we can't call them chickens, the dogs know that chicken is what is put into their food bowls as their treat).
What I do put into the worm bin, kitchen waste wise, is potato peels, citrus skins and the odd banana peel. Since I use a lot of dried leaves for the bedding the worms end up processing those for the most part.

I use the deep litter method, both for the chooks and for the hog houses. We clean the hog houses more often (about every month) than the coop but all of that material ends up being composted.
The compost from the tumbler is further finished by putting it in a pallet square so the worms can have a go at it before we use it in the gardens.
 
Emily Smith
Posts: 64
Location: West Central Georgia
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:(we can't call them chickens, the dogs know that chicken is what is put into their food bowls as their treat).


See??!! My family thinks I'm nuts because the kids and I started doing this from about day 3.


And thanks for the mine of info; I'm glad for this thread. I'm a total newbie, too...have never truly composted before. We have a brush pile, but that's it. I'd like to change that, but it has to be done right or I think my hubby will veto the practice. So it can't smell (much?) or attract rodents or critters like raccoons. Also our dogs can't have access, but I'll want our chooks to have access (there's 8 of them, 5 weeks old right now). So I'm pondering on all of this while I keep throwing food away.
 
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