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Composting with Timothy Hay & partially decomposed grass clippings  RSS feed

 
Briony Beveridge
Posts: 13
Location: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
forest garden trees urban
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Hi there!

I've just located a large source of spoiled Timothy Hay that apparently did not have many herbicides used on it.
I also raided my neighbours' yard waste and have 12 large bags of grass clippings.
I'm new to composting and have been reading up on carbon/nitrogen ratios of these things, but still have some questions.  I'm looking for fast, hot composting if possible.  I'm willing to water/turn it, & will inoculate from my other compost piles, the forest, etc.

1. Hay has a million different C:N ratios in what I've read.  gaia's garden & others say 25:1 Many sources say it's a brown (eg. 70).  Does anyone have experience with Timothy Hay - does it require a lot of green to be added to it to get hot?

2. Grass clippings.  This is what I've read:
- Fresh green clippings about 17:1
- Less nitrogen if they've dried out, but they'd still qualify as green
- Partially decomposed things loose nitrogen too.
The clippings I have were HOT when I picked them up - they were sitting in large paper bags.  I've had them for a couple of weeks.  So I'm sure they've lost some of their hot nitrogen power.

So it sounds to me like I've got 2 materials on my hands that are possibly fairly close to 30:1 to begin with.  If I give them the right moisture & air will they heat up on their own?  Or should I find some manure or coffee grounds or something to get things going. 

Finally, can I do this in a big pile in my back yard, or would I be better off investing in a large container?

Thank you very much for any advice!!

Briony
 
Briony Beveridge
Posts: 13
Location: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
forest garden trees urban
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PS -
Kourik has Timothy grass at 58:1
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
254
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
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I use Timothy hay that has spoiled as a brown, I also use old straw (hog bedding), over the last two years I have never had either act like it should be a green in composting.

I use heaps and have a tumbler that has not been used this year, a tumbler (container) is good if you want to keep the compost pile out of sight (but carpet or tarps work fairly well for that too), or if you need to speed up the decomposition process.

When I am building a heap I use 2-4 inch thick layers starting with a browns layer, I build up to a 4-5 foot height (this is dependent upon your height and comfort when building a heap) and the foot print is 4 feet square, round works just as well so it really is your choice.

If you want a heap to heat up really fast or get really hot then you want a large green core surrounded by lots of browns.
You also want this heap to drain excess water easily and you will want a cover over the entire heap (this holds the heat in so it can get above 160 f)
Keep in mind that fresh grass clipping put into a black plastic bag, sealed and left alone will generate enough heat to have spontaneous combustion at which point the bag will explode.
So, to get a heap really hot, think along those lines when building your "Hot Heap", and remember that it is possible for it to catch fire, place appropriately, as in away from any thing you would hate to burn
I build hot heaps for composting meat and meat byproducts, bones, etc. I use two layers of 6 mil. black plastic as the cover on these heaps and they are placed in an open area just incase they should catch fire.

I am 6'2" tall so 5 feet is a workable height for any compost heap for me, comfort when working with a heap is often an overlooked consideration.
Many people say compost piles need to be 4 feet tall, but if you aren't tall enough to work the heap when it needs air, then it could be anti-beneficial.
A heap that is a 3' foot cube will work fine, heaps do not need to be contained but it helps make your composting area look neater (complaining neighbors are avoided).
If you want an easy to judge way to build heaps, most pallets are in the 4' square range, so if you build a box out of pallets by tying them together then you have an automatic measurement.

If you should find you need more nitrogen you have options; pee is high nitrogen, coffee grounds are high nitrogen.

Contrary to popular sentiment, you can compost meat, you need to prep it correctly though so it breaks down fairly fast and your heap needs to get really hot.
Animal draw and the possibility of pathogens are the main reasons most people don't compost meats.
In China they have been composting meats & human wastes for centuries, it just requires the above "Hot Heap" method.

Air is the main reason people turn their heaps, if you build a heap with enough rough browns you can get away with a no turn heap that won't go anaerobic (fermenting compost, that was not meant to ferment, is a stinky heap).

Compost heaps can be as large as you want, check out any commercial operation, their heaps are huge.  In the compost world any heap smaller than 3' cubed needs to be in a container, otherwise it will not work very well or will take forever to break down.
 
Briony Beveridge
Posts: 13
Location: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
forest garden trees urban
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Thanks, Bryant, for your help.

I put a pile together with the Timothy Hay, horse manure, and old grass clippings yesterday.  I put relatively more manure in the centre.  I started out mixing but got tired so layered it. Watered it lots, and innoculated with various other composts, forest dirt, etc).  The pile is about 4 X 4 X 3 feet.

My remaining questions:

1. Any thoughts on the old grass clippings?  They have been sitting in big paper yard waste bags for about 2 weeks, and were initially very hot. They are fairly dry now, and have matted themselves into moldy layers.  I hacked at them with an axe to break up the mattedness.
a) are these good for composting?
b) any guesses on the C:N ratio in their altered state?

2. Ratio of manure to hay. 
a) Are the recommendations of 2:1 or 1:1 by weight or by volume?  The hay is so variable in volume and so light!
b) If the hay has a ratio of 58:1 and the manure is 20:1, does that mean that to get to 30:1 I'd need about twice as much manure?  (My logic was that the hay is 28 from 30:1 (58 - 30 = 28) and the manure is 10 (30-20 = 10), so you would need more manure to bring the hay down from 58).
c) Are thin layers as good as thicker (2-4 inch) layers?

Thanks so much.

Briony
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Pallet containers
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The fininished pile
 
Briony Beveridge
Posts: 13
Location: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
forest garden trees urban
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PS - The pile hasn't really heated up (it's been over 12 hrs).  Maybe all my watering cut out air - but the hay was taking forever to get damp! 
Also, the manure was quite well aged, dark, and clumpy - is this good nitrogen-rich material? 
I'll look for some more greens to add, and turn it to the middle bin.
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 3132
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
254
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
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When you look at greens, the fresher the better. When I use grass for a green it is cut and used in the pile straight from the catch this material will contain enough moisture to heat up.
Once grass has sat for even two days it should be considered a brown, the nitrogen is still there but the moisture is spent and wetting does not bring it back. The moldy grass is very compostable but think of it as forest floor leaves for composting purposes.

I don't get caught up in trying to figure Carbon or Nitrogen ratios, I use a simple 2/3 browns, 1/3 greens  this is very easy to visualize and put together. If you don't do Nitrogen testing (chemistry tests) then you are better off using the easy method.
I have a lab but think it is far to time consuming to perform nitrogen testing besides I have better tests to spend my reagent money on.

Manure that has already composted partially or has dried out is better thought of as a brown, you can also think of it as a "dirt" layer.
Layers can be anywhere from 1" to 6" thick, I like the 4" since they are going to compress as the composting process moves along, they (green layers) also provide enough material to heat well.
When layering you can make just about any addition you want as a layer.
I use bedding straw and old hay as browns, the bedding straw always has some manure in it.

When building a HOT heap, I like to put down a thick layer of browns as a bottom, pile all my greens in the center of this bottom layer, then I build browns around the center of greens.
I don't usually add water to a HOT heap, there will be enough to get things going from that center of greens. I've had good success using this method and they will get so hot they can char some of the straw.

I can't remember ever mixing before building a heap, I am fairly sure I have always just layered them up then covered them. I have even used fresh cut grass as a cap (it didn't work as well as I had hoped) for an experimental heap.
 
Briony Beveridge
Posts: 13
Location: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
forest garden trees urban
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Thank you VERY much, Bryant, for all of this advice.
It doesn't seem to matter how much I read about composting, there are always still questions remaining!

I think I may try some large-scale vermicomposting with the aged manure/hay pile if I can't get my hands on some hotter greens soon.  In the fall I'll try hot composting again with all the maple leaves that will be falling, and will make sure I find fresh manure and/or fresh clippings and/or coffee grounds for it.

Bryant, do you find you get finished compost in less than 3 weeks with your method?

Again, thank you, your advice has saved me a LOT of trial and error and time on the internet finding answers that don't quite apply to my situation

Briony
 
Briony Beveridge
Posts: 13
Location: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
forest garden trees urban
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PS - my pile has now heated up to 100 deg F.  Maybe it won't take so much greens to heat it up after all!
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 3132
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
254
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
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When I need finished compost in a hurry (14-20 days) I use my "tumbler" rig.

A good tumbler can be made of untreated wood and these will last up to 4 years before you start seeing them degrade (the tumbler wood starts to decompose).

I build mine with doubled 1/2" thick plywood (use exterior grade sheathing, this is not treated but does have waterproof glue) for the ends.
I cut a sheet in half, giving me 2-4'square pieces which I glue and screw together to make one piece which = 1 end.
Next I mark the center of this square and put in a nail to which I attach a piece of string with a loop then I tie in a pencil, this makes the compass to draw the circle which creates the diameter of your tumbler.
Repeat these steps so you have two ends that are the same. (I make my cuts with a jigsaw)
Now you get 2x4's (I like to use 8' length since you can cut them in half to get by with less money spent) stand one on end at the edge of your end piece and mark out all the way around the circle, you want these to touch at the inside edge.
Next you cut out where you marked, do one end, lay it on the other end so you can use the first as a template.
Next you need 4- 1" pipe bulkhead junctions, a hole saw and some pieces of 1" pipe, two end caps for the pipe and a couple of 90 degree bends to make a handle.
Set one junction on each end, mark all the holes (center and the four bolt holes) then use a hole saw for the center hole and drill the bolt holes. You attach one junction on each side of each end piece (stainless steel bolts, nuts and washers last forever).
Now you can attach the 2x4's to one end and then the other (I use epoxy coated "deck screws 2" or 2 1/2" for this)
now you mark for a door, I use two strips of pre-drilled flat metal to attach these 2x4's together to make the door, add two hinges to one side and two hasps or hook and eyes to hold the door shut.
From this point you need to add some pieces of either 3' angle iron or some 2x4 pieces to the inside of the drum to stir up the contents when you turn the drum.
You can make a really good stand out of some 2x6 pieces. I use the hole saw and the jig saw to get the stand able to hold the pipe ends so you can turn the drum.

Once one of these is built all you do is fill it up with your compost materials, add some water and give it a spin once a day for 14 days, check it and keep going along till finished.
I built my stand high enough to get the wheelbarrow under it. This way you can empty the tumbler easily by opening the door and spinning the drum so the compost falls into the barrow.
Tumblers work best if you fill them all at once and have plenty of green material. The usual 2/3 browns doesn't work as well for tumblers. I have found that a little more green is needed to get a good heat up at the beginning.

I think there is a good set of plans available on MEN for this type of tumbler.  You can also use metal 55 gal. drums or the plastic 55 gal. barrels for this type of tumbler.

Your photos show a really nice set up by the way.

Depending on manure content, I like to shoot for a 160 f temp.  your heap already being at 100 f is a good sign you are about right on for brown/green mix.
 
Briony Beveridge
Posts: 13
Location: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
forest garden trees urban
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Thanks Bryant.  I don't have time to build a big tumbler now, but good to know that's the fastest way to make compost.  I just need some good stuff for next spring, so hopefully my piles will get me there.

I do have a store-bought tumbling composter (2 compartments at 2.5 ft3 (18 gal) each). I'll take your advice to add more greens than the usual 1/3.

Briony
 
Briony Beveridge
Posts: 13
Location: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
forest garden trees urban
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It's day 3 and I'm now at 130-150 deg F!
Should I turn tomorrow (as per the Berkeley method)?
Should I add some nitrogen (I found a source of coffee grounds finally!)
Thanks!
Briony
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 3132
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
254
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
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I would wait one more day to see if you can get above the 160 f mark, if you can, then weed seeds and all other seeds will fail to germinate.
I always add coffee grounds any time I can, they are a great source of not only nitrogen but also microorganisms love to grow in coffee grounds.
I usually make additions by making a hole in the top center of a heap (Poke and stir method) pour in my new stuff then cover over.
I've been able to get heaps up above 180 f this way. 

I don't turn a heap until it starts to show signs of cooling off, at that point fresh air is needed to keep the heat going.

I've even built heaps that never needed turning, it doesn't happen all the time but on occasion.
I keep adding nitrogen rich items and poking holes into the heap for air circulation (bottom to top along the sides), if there is enough air and nitrogen the heap will keep cooking along nicely without exercise (turning).

Redhawk
 
Briony Beveridge
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Location: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
forest garden trees urban
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Thanks again, Redhawk.

My pile is now at 130-140 only. 

I dug in some coffee grounds as you suggested, and discovered that the pile smells light cooking manure. 
* 1) Does that indicate methane, which indicates it's anaerobic?*
It's also lost about 4 inches of height.

I'll turn it tomorrow, I think.
*2) Does it sound like I need to add carbon?*

Thank you.
Briony
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 3132
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
254
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
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The loss of height indicates it is time to turn the heap. At the same time you can add more browns on the bottom and around the outside edge.
If you can get them some new grass clippings or other green materials would be a good addition to the core as you turn the heap.

I always try to have stuff on hand for additions when I turn a heap, it makes it easier on my back and takes less time to do the restack of the heap.
My biggest problem right now is all the rain we are getting, hard to keep moisture in control but I build my heaps on a slight slope so they are draining pretty well.
the cooking manure smell is normal and a good thing, if it starts to smell like something died in there, you definitely need to turn the pile since that indicates it has gone anaerobic.

One other thing you might like to give a go is compost (manure) tea.
All you need is a big barrel or large trash bin with a lid.
Put the solids like manures, semi finished compost, fish guts, urine, Epsom salts and just about any other mineral or nitrogen containing items.
Fill 3/4 of the way up with water that doesn't have chlorine in it ( rain water or tap water that has de-gassed for a couple of days in the sun ) put the lid on loosely and let it rot for a few weeks.
Then you can fill watering cans and use it to water around (not on) plants and watch them take off.

Redhawk
 
Briony Beveridge
Posts: 13
Location: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
forest garden trees urban
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Thanks once again Redhawk!

I turned it 3 days ago (day 6) and it wasn't too wet - rather dry around the edges, in fact.  It's back up to 140 deg.  I was away for a couple days, so I'll never know if it went up to 160, which I am finding quite tragic . The manure smell was rather nauseating - I'm hoping my next turning will be less smelly!  I'll wait for it to start cooling again, and then turn it again.

Thanks for the tip on the compost tea!  I've been planning to make some with my vermi compost, but I'll consider doing a batch with some other compost as well.  Is this a way to make your compost go further?  Do you know what the physiology/mechanism behind compost tea is?
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
254
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
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Teas are the best method (my personal opinion ) to stretch your compost's reach in a garden.

There are two methods to make compost tea, if you keep air bubbling through then you are getting aerobic bacteria to break down the compounds from the ingredients so they become water soluble.
When you put the tea around your plants they get the nutrients and these bacteria soak into the soil and continue their wonderful work of making more nutrients available to the plant roots.
Worms will be attracted to the bacteria infused soil as well.

The other method is anaerobic, making use of non oxygen needing bacteria (same idea as a bokashi type but without needing the bran starter).
These bacteria do the same sort of thing as the aerobic bacteria but with the fermentation part you get slightly different compounds since some methane will be freed up and gas off.
This is the method I use but after a week I go back with a big paddle and stir air into the brew, this adds oxygen to it and that tends to stop the anaerobic bacteria and gives any aerobic bacteria a chance to work.
once I start adding air via stirring, I stir once a day for a week then I use the tea. I have not done much of a study on what changes but Next year I plan to do one with two beds planted with the same plants.
One bed will get anaerobic tea the other will get my change over tea, this way I will be able to document any differences.

I've used teas for years on show roses and vegetable gardens with great results. I can make one heap of finished compost cover 5 times the area that would be helped by just incorporating the compost into bed space.
I have never used a bubbler setup for making teas but I may give that a go next year as well. What I will use is an air pump for an aquarium and a long bubble stone, this should work pretty well and won't cost much on the electric bill (I think).
 
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