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Compost SOS!!!  RSS feed

 
Theo Patterson
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Location: Santa Barbara California, USA - Zone 10a
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I am not very experienced in Permaculture, but I would say that I have at least some book knowledge. My family is vegetarian and we generate about 1 cubic liter of kitchen scraps every day. I want to be able to compost this but I'm not totally sure how. So far I have dug a shallow hole and put a couple of bags of scraps in there, but I know that repeatedly digging up the soil is bad for it, micro-rhizal fungi, microorganisms etc. I am looking for a relatively fast way to compost quite a high volume of scraps. We used to have a worm bin/ vermiculture set-up at my old house but since we moved we haven't started a new one. I just learned about Black Soldier Flies today and that seems like a viable option but my only concern is that we have nothing to feed the excess larvae to. I saw something that said that it may not be the best way to go if you don't have fish/poultry. We aren't allowed to have chickens on our property but we do have several flocks of wild quail that roam around every couple of days that would likely be open to a little larvae snack. I have kitchen scraps building up as I write this and I am eager to hear from more experienced permaculturists. We are in zone 10a so we stay quite toasty most of the year. Thank you in advance!
 
James Freyr
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Location: Middle Tennessee
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Hey Theo! I would start by choosing a permanent spot in the yard, perhaps off in the corner, to compost. Digging a hold and burying food scraps is a technique, but it may not be the method that will yield the results that you want, at least that's what I gathered from your post. Composting requires oxygen, and digging holes in the ground to pitch the kitchen scraps in isn't the most efficient method. Anaerobic decomposition can yield compounds that are undesirable for growing plants. You want a spot above ground to start building a pile of these scraps. You should not have to buy a compost starter, which clever entrepreneurs have put on the market. If you have the right ratio of nitrogen containing stuff to carbon containing stuff, it will spontaneously start. The microbes that do the composting are in the air, on the veggies, on the ground, everywhere. At a cubic liter a day, it may take a few weeks before the pile is large enough to start generating heat and be in a state that we consider "composting". That's one of the reasons some piles don't start is they are physically too small in size. When they get large, they get hot (like over 140f), and rapidly break down the biomass. I don't want to imply that small piles don't compost, they do, they will decay. I see your in southern california, do you have a lawn that you mow? I know some homes there don't. If you do, add the grass clippings to the pile. I believe a large pile (like cubic yard) that has the right carbon:nitrogen ratio (about 40:1, but this ratio is forgiving) will give you the composting speed that you desire.
 
Theo Patterson
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Location: Santa Barbara California, USA - Zone 10a
dog forest garden hugelkultur
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Thanks so much! I don't have a lawn but I do have quite a few non-native grasses that have been encroaching on the garden that we can use for the nitrogen to get the right ratio. Thanks for your response!
 
Marco Banks
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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If you are generating that much volume in veggie scraps, you're going to need a lot of drier carbon sources to sop-up all those potentially stinky juices that come from so much biomass.  Do you have access to shredded paper at work or perhaps wood chips/shavings?  Straw from animal bedding is a nice carbon source.  Wood chips from hamster or bunny cages . . . anything like that would work.  If you don't have a good green to brown ratio, your pile can go anaerobic and get stinky pretty quickly.  If nothing else, just shredded newspaper is a high carbon source.

Pile it up and turn it twice a week, if you can.  Veggie scraps will quickly break down.  The Berkley method promises finished compost in 21 days.  I don't worry about being so aggressive, but then again, I'm not generating the volume of biomass that you sound like you are.

If you don't want to turn it so frequently, I'd recommend a 3 bin (or 3 pile) system.  Scavenge a couple of pallets and make a 3 bin system.  Turn the pile in the first bin a couple of times, and then toss it into the second one to breakdown further.  Finally, toss it into the last bin and let it set for a couple of months.  It will do its thing --- it just needs time.

Another simple solution is to get one of those big black compost tumblers with a crank on it.  You put your veggie scraps in and give it a turn or two.  It mixes everything for you.  You'll still need to pay attention to your green/brown ratios.  Too many wet peels will mat together and get slimy and stinky. 

I'd also recommend you not bury stuff in a hole because it's a pain in the ass to try to turn a pile that's underground.  Yes, it'll feed the soil and the worms, but it can also compact and go airless/stinky.  If you just pile it on the surface of the soil, the worms will still find their way to the pile and enjoy its goodness.

Best of luck.

 
Theo Patterson
Posts: 4
Location: Santa Barbara California, USA - Zone 10a
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I have looked into the Berkeley Method before and it seems promising. Thanks for the tip on shredded newspaper, we have a paper shredder here at our house and we also generate a fair amount of waste paper that we can shred down and layer with the biomass. Here is the website that I am planning on following based on the Berkeley Method. It mentions that the C/N ratio for shredded newspaper is about 175:1 and that should hopefully break down nicely with some lower 20-25:1 kitchen scraps etc.
Thanks again for sharing your expertise with a Newbie!
 
Theo Patterson
Posts: 4
Location: Santa Barbara California, USA - Zone 10a
dog forest garden hugelkultur
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Okay so I did my best to start something at least. I hope within the coming months this will turn into an effective composting system but for now we have well a small pile with probably too much nitrogen (there is carbon layered in too, it just blends in) but I soaked it and hopefully it will start composting in a couple of days. I'll do my best to add more shredded paper to it to help balance the overall ratio but I am hoping that eventually I'll be able to master hot composting and get a real good cycle going.
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Here is the pile
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And here is where I am planning to flip it to after a little while
 
James Freyr
Posts: 251
Location: Middle Tennessee
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Theo that pile looks great! If you have a thermometer, that will be a great tool to let you know what's happening. Probe the center of the pile, and then check again 24, 48 hours later. If there is an increase in temp, you have microbial activity.
 
Marco Banks
Posts: 534
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Perfect!

Just pile it up and turn it from time to time.  You'll be amazed how quickly it breaks down.  You'll have some nice compost within 2 months or so.  Less if you turn it regularly.

Do you have a pitchfork?  That's the tool of choice for turning a compost pile.  Buy a good one.
 
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