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Do I have enough time?

 
Paul Gurnsey
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My family loves bananas. We also love coffee.

After reading about the short decomposition time of bananas and their nutrient values and also what coffee grounds can do.... I am planning to dig a 3 foot square by 1 1/2 foot deep pit to start composting these 2 together with leaves. I found bags of leaves close to home as we just had a monsoon and it literally f#$%ed many trees up. Hence the bags of leaves.

My alternatives are going to a deciduous forest and either collecting leaves, OR pulling back the leaves and digging up noice soil that has already been been sitting for a year or 2.

If I just use leaves will it be enough time do decompose before next years planting?

I will prolly only get about 5-20 days of below freezing weather here.

What is my best bet?
 
Eric Bee
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To compost quickly:

1. Don't dig a pit. Just don't.
2. Get your leaves and any and all carbon material and put them in a big pile. I do in fact gather material from my forest areas to inoculate to increase diversity. It seems to speed things up. If the leaves can be shredded, even better.
3. FInd sufficient green stuff (ie nitrogen) to get the C:N ratio of your pile very high on the N side. You will know because it will heat up and steam and do so within a day or so. The higher the heat the more good bacteria you will lose, but the faster it will go. It's a balance.
4. Turn the pile completely every 4-5 days depending on the temperature. If it gets too hot, turn. If it gets too cool, turn.

Ambient air temperature is of course a factor, but not nearly as much of one as people think. The pile is generating it's own heat and can easily get to 170F or more. I've had piles at 180F when it was 20F out -- it's a matter of C:N ratio and how often you turn. Your weather doesn't seem like it's a factor at all.

Also, you need enough mass. 3x3x1.5 is not nearly enough. I would try for 4x4x3' at a minimum.

If you do this you can turn around a pile in as little as 3 weeks, though with leaves more likely 5-6 weeks minimum.


Edit: also, I don't get this coffee grind thing. By all means throw it in there but it's no better than anything else.
 
Su Ba
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The smallest compost pile I will make is a bit larger than a cubic yard. I will take four standard wood pallets, tie them together to make a box, line the box with either plastic sheeting or a couple sheets of cardboard, and use a sheet of cardboard over the top to cover the pile. With a decent N:C ratio and moderate moisture, this pile will heat up quickly. But it will also cool down quickly, necessitating turning it or adding more N and moisture. I find that small piles need more tending and more watching.

Tough material, such as tree leaves, compost quicker for me if I either run them through a shredder or run over them several times with a lawnmower. I aim to shred them into roughly 1" pieces and not reduce them to powder.

Turning a pile allows you to monitor its progress and add new ingredients as needed. Sometimes a pile needs more dry leaves, other times more greenery. A hot pike goes through moisture quickly and will stop composting when it gets too dry, so turning a pile lets you remonstrance the layers. Of course none of this is necessary if you plan to just let the pile sit for a year or two, but quick compost demands more attention.

Eric gives some good suggestions. I agree, don't dig a hole for your first experiment into composting. .
 
Paul Gurnsey
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I live in a small condo with neighbours who are anti compost due to the smell and fruit flies and dont own a lawnmower. It is now to cold for friit flies.I cant make a pile...all i can do is dig a pit and use my shovel to turn the material over.
 
Eric Bee
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Uh oh.

A properly constructed compost pile will have no discernible smell and if fruit flies (oh no! how terrible!) are a problem (they really shouldn't be), just use the "carbon shell" method I mentioned. A layer of leaves or straw basically eliminates any bugs and helps capture odor if you didn't get the C:N ratio quite right or you are continuously adding material (kitchen scraps) that might throw things off for a time.

The problem with the pit is that it does the opposite of what you want -- lack of oxygen will cause the pile to go anaerobic and reek to high heaven. More air and the right balance of C:N mean NO odor.
Or move. Throwing biodegradable anything in landfills is just... oh gosh how can people even think like that?

I compost 40-60 tons a year. Any time I smell anything at all I know I've screwed up and need to add more carbon.

Incidentally, I'm not saying never use a pit for compost, but it is way harder to maintain and in practice people don't. If any pile will smell, it will be that.
 
Catie George
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Location: Ontario - zone 5b
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Have you thought about vermicompost? I've had a worm bin for the last 3 or 4 years. It's indoors in my kitchen, so I don't have to worry about freezing temperatures outside or nosy neighbours. All you need is some paper, a bin with holes and a lid - and, of course, the right kind of worms.

Like most compost, it's all in getting the right moisture content and mix of browns and greens. Because you cover all of your food scraps with a brown materials (usually scrap paper, for me) it means that I no longer have a stinky compost bin on garbage day. In fact, there's no discernible smell at all - unless I tell people, no one even notices that I have them, and I live in a VERY small apartment. I actually lived with people for a year without telling them about the worms, and they never noticed.

When you're ready to plant, you simply harvest some of your compost from the bin. I usually use mine as fertilizer for container plants. About once a year, I will have a problem with the bin getting too wet and worms escaping and dying on the floor, or with fruit flies, but that's a lot better than before I had worms! I've left them alone without feeding them for up to 3 months when I've been away without problems.

I'm not sure where you live, but some people have been able to get composting worms just from looking around outside (I don't seem to be in the right climate). In my area, I can buy starter worms for $10-30.
 
R Ranson
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Composting is great fun.  There are lots of ways to do it.  Digging a pit and piling things in is one way.  Even if it's not finished decomposing by spring, you can still plant on top of it.  Here's a really cool (and funny) book that can get you started.


What I do for compost is a bit less work (it's actually doing three difficult jobs at once with very little effort).  It's not a method that is currently trending in the permaculture world.  However, I do consider this a permaculture method because this is a proven traditional method that increases soil fertility over generations, not depletes it.  The method my family has done it for at least 5 generations and it builds quality soil quickly and keeps it healthy over time.  It also reduces the amount of rats and flies that can happen with some composting styles.

When a crop is finished in the garden, I dig a trench about 2-4 feet long and the width of the shovel wide.  I dig it as deep as I can.  In a new or dilapidated garden, this is usually about half an inch deep until I get to the hard dirt under the soil.  I loosen a bit of this up the best I can, then scratch as deep into that as possible.  My goal is to get at least an inch deep.  I put my household organic waste (and any stems or leaves left over from the previous crop) in the trench, then directly adjacent to the trench I just dug, I dig a new trench and put the soil from this new trench on top of the raw compost.  Now I have a new trench for tomorrow's compost.  I keep doing this using the soil from the new trench to fill in the old one, until the area is dug.  This disrupts the weed and bug cycles.  Digging down into the subsoil helps bring up trace minerals and improve drainage.  Dig, weed, apply compost, all in one go.  When the section is done, I rake it level and plant the next crop.  If there is nothing that needs planting, I put a cover crop on it to prevent the weeds from growing. 

Using this method, I can usually get the soil depth from 1/4 inch to 2 feet in about three years.  It's a lot like double digging, only with very little work.

My favourite thing about this method is that it doesn't heat compost.  Most of the seeds that were in my compost (apple, date, cucumber, squash, tomatoes, &c) go dormant and volunteer to grow in the spring.  I get free plants. 

When I've left a garden, and that garden gets neglected, it grows into a small food forest.  Fruit trees seedlings are protected by tomatoes, which die back in the winter, to be replaced by the kale/cabbage cross which then shelter the growing fruit trees, until eventually, it's mostly trees with some shade loving lettuce at their base and runner beans up their branches. 

This year, I reached 2 feet of soil on my current kitchen garden.  I started with 1 inch of sand that had been over fertilized and chemicalized so that anything that tried to grow there was stunted.  That was about three years ago.  Now, the garden is lush and healthy with no outside inputs, no money spent, just a shovel and some kitchen scraps. 


I also love that there is no need to care about C:N ratio with my method.  It's just get organic stuff in ground, let nature do it's thing - simple



There are lots of different ways to compost.  This is the way that works for my style of gardening, in my location, with my weather patterns.  It may take a small amount of trial and error to find the method that works for you.  But keep trying.  If one way doesn't do the trick, try another. 
 
Su Ba
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Good point...trenching.  I have a garden next to my kitchen where I do the same thing. When I have foul garbage not fit for the chickens, or coarse kitchen waste that chickens won't eat, I'll walk out my door and bury it in this garden. I keep a shovel handy just for this purpose. Over the years the soil there has become rich and productive, but it took a lot of waste to reach this point. But every piece helps!

 
Eric Bee
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I also trench like that for some areas and of course til-in crop residue in the fields. I just built a new raised bed near the house that is part hugel part raw compost bits and that's pretty SOP whenever I build a bed. I throw everything from meat and bones and dead chickens to rotten produce. It's an excellent and very low labor method and the perfect way to get rid of things you don't want lying around.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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