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What is the best way to compost with wood chips and kitchen scraps?  RSS feed

 
carl gibson
Posts: 7
Location: Ithaca NY
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I have access to a very large amount of free wood chips and a very large amount of free kitchen scraps. I am a very inexperienced composter, and I am hoping to get advice from anyone who has experience composting with these specific materials. What ratio should I use? How thick should the layers be, or should everything be thoroughly mixed? How big should the pile be, and how often should I turn it? If I make it big enough will it heat up even in a zone 5 winter?

Many many thanks, in advance.
 
Mike Jay
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Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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I haven't tried composting those particular materials but they should generate compost.  Jean Pain composted with just wood chips but he had a huge pile (something like 15' diameter and 15' tall). 

If I were trying it, I'd do the following:
Mix the food and wood chips fairly evenly. 
50/50 mix or a bit heavier on the food scraps.
Ensure it's damp enough as you build the pile
Coil a 4" perforated plastic drain pipe under the pile with one end sticking out to let air in under the pile.  If you do that there's a chance that the open spaces of the wood chips will draw air up through the pile and you won't have to turn it.  That's how Jean Pain did his piles.  But he didn't have kitchen scraps mixed in so that may hinder airflow.  But it will certainly increase the speed of the decomposition.
If the air pipe doesn't give good aeration (and a hot pile) then you need to turn it.  The more you turn it the quicker it composts.  Every other week is better than every other month. 

If the pile is big enough, it should keep cooking through the winter.  If it works out, you could coil a water line through the pile (like Jean did) to get free heat out of the pile.  He heated his house with his pile...

Sorry I don't have direct experience with those materials.  Good luck!
 
carl gibson
Posts: 7
Location: Ithaca NY
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Wow thanks Mike Jay, those are several good ideas that I might never have thought of on my own. And now I will try them. The power of Permies is really amazing. Does anyone else have advice or experience to share?
 
Marco Banks
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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I love Joel Salatin's method of composting post-butchering animal wastes:



If you get too many wood-chips, it will take a much longer time to break down, but that's not all bad.  If you want hot compost, you'll need a lot of greens to heat up any amount of wood chips you utilize.  Comfrey and coffee-grounds are my go-to compost activators when I want to heat up a pile.

Perhaps consider trench composting, with wood-chips used as a top layer to keep the critters out.

Or you could get a couple of chickens and let them convert kitchen scraps to eggs.  The wood chips could just mulch your orchard/garden and let the girls scratch away to find the bugs and worms.

Of just be really patient and let the chips and scraps decompose over about 2 years or so.  I do a lot of that.  I turn my compost pile MAYBE once every 3 months.  (I turned it today, ironically enough).  If you are that patient, you'll have sow bugs and worms helping you out.  Probably ants as well.
 
Tom Rodgers
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I use 8 foot thin wall PVC drain pipe and drill 1/2" holes from the middle to top, and lay them under and sometimes through the bigger piles. The oxygen and water are really important to speed things along. the pipe bottoms are solid and it help drain and also when I need to hose them clean when they are in the pile. The area I do this in has become home to so many worms and myco that I do not do much to start one anymore,  but I do use a lot of wood chips from my yard chipper. Sometimes I have to throw some dirt and sugar water to boost it off. I try to incorporate some greens in the shredding, but if its chips only the sugar stands in pretty well. I use some deer molasses in water, which has a proprionic acid preservative, but the acid breaks down pretty quick and there is not much of it to begin with, though it is there to stop mold growth in the container which you would think would be a big deal but its not. One of the secrets to greens is the nutrient content, like sugars, or I guess some would say carbohydrates. The bacteria love it and then the fungi show up to eat the bacteria. It will steam when it gets rolling. Other than that the piles get a few scraps and used beer. My chipper is a 3" machine so those types of branches have a different C:N ratio and compost pretty well compared to trunk wood chips.
 
Casie Becker
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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Our front walkway is a shovel depth trench filled with wood chips. We bury our kitchen scraps under the chips. There's never any recognizable scraps left by the time we make it back to the first section.  The pile of scraps is usually 3 to 6 inches deep and the chips covering it are 10 to 12 inches. There's a couple of days were that section of path is softer then it firms up under regular traffic.  There's a minimum of one burial a week and a maximum of two months before we reuse a section.  Eventually we're going to need to dig up the whole walkway and replace the chips because the soft, dark, fine textured soil that is forming is too good to not use in the garden. Until then we have a walkway that is very kind on our joints, and no flies, odors, or animals digging in a traditional compost pile.  I think digging a narrow trench through our wood chips is less work than turning a traditional pile, too.
 
John Duffy
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Wood chips take a good while to compost.  A good supply of nitrogen-rich inputs such as grass clippings, urine or manure will accelerate the process. Frequent turning will help as well. Moisture levels need to be monitored. Keep the wood chips very moist but not soaking wet.
 
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