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Understanding compost  RSS feed

 
Darrin Neagoy
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I am very new to composting and have two piles going so far. Currently the first pile is dead white pine needles of eastern texas, a few oak leaves and pine cones make up the brown material along with additional sticks broken into segments as well, and some sweet gum leaves. Should the pine needles and leave be chopped up to in 1 to 2 inch segments instead of whole?

The green material is mostly kitchen produce ie fruit, veggies, coffee grounds, loose leaf leaves and so on. No meat, dairy, or oil is added to the compost pile. I have also added vines growing on trees still green, some weed trees growing with their leaves, they have all been chopped pretty thoroughly.

The other pile is raked up pine neeedles and other leaves. I was planning to add green yard material in the summer and spring when they become available. I don't water that pile. Will it still break down long term?

My understanding is that the pile needs to be 1 part nitrogen to 2 parts carbon. Is that right? How do you quantify this? Is it as simple as having a 45 gallon garbage can with 22.5 gallons green waste and then mixing a full 45 gallon container with carbon material? then mixing the two or layering it throughout?

My pile currently has no manure to add to it. I plan to get chickens in the near future and am planning a coop, but am waiting for spring at this time. How long could it take a composting pile with no manure to compost? The pile is contained by 4 wooden pallets picked up from a local hardware store. It's about half full and I add to kitchen waste weekly upon turning it into a joining wood pallet bin I have loosely tied with string. Am I turning the pile to much or should I continue? I have felt some heat happening, but it wasn't more than 85 degrees, I am guessing without a thermometer.

I am taking anti depressants and am wondering if I should avoid adding my own urine to the pile as a result? I haven't because of this concern.

I really don't mind the work as it takes all of 10 to 15 minutes to do and I look forward to the resulting compost, so in my mind more labor is even desirable so long as the results happen.

My last question is are there any plants I can buy and propagate specifically to add to the compost pile? Ie some kind of tall growing grass?

Any help is greatly appreciated please let me know. Thank you!

 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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The best ratio I have found over 45 years of composting is 1/3 greens to 2/3 browns.  Greens are nitrogen materials.
That works out to a 1:3 ratio instead of the 1:2 ratio you mentioned. But that is also just my experience.

Heaps do need moisture in order to heat properly. If you are adding fresh cut grass clippings, be aware that these will heat things up very quickly and at the same time give up a lot of moisture.

There are two methods for "normal" heaps, the first is a hot compost which is aerobic then there is the anaerobic, which depends more on bacteria, molds and fungi to do the main decomposition.
fungi are the prime movers and shakers in woody composting since they are the natural decomposers of lignin which is what makes up the structure of all things woody.

You can measure by volume or by weight but only one methods per heap or you will get the ratio out of kilter quickly.

I have made and used continuous heaps over the years where I was always adding the new materials of the years work on the top and removing finished compost from the bottom. 
Hot composting can take as little as 14 days via use of a tumbler, or up to six months for a huge, stationary heap. Turning a heap can be a lot of work and is used (by me) mostly to speed up the process of decomposition.

I also have special heaps where I compost dead animals from the farm and special heaps for composting manures, neither of these are for the faint of heart but neither of these heaps smell bad, they just have different target temperatures and moisture needs.

If you are hot composting, don't worry about anything bad happening from using additions of your own urine, the bacteria will process any "contaminants" by the time the heap has turned to finished compost. For a heap that has received such additions, don't use any finished compost until the entire heap has finished out.
If you do, there is a very slight risk of urine contaminate making it through the process, not that it would really be a vegetable concern, but it some folks get a bit squeamish about things like that.

Redhawk
 
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