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sheet composting

 
            
Posts: 58
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OK so I imagine this has been discussed before.....but I have been adding my kitchen scraps directly to the garden, under some dried grass/weeds/straw mulch, and took a peek today and wow I am so impressed.  I have done your somewhat ordinary composting setups and often wondered about the loss of nutrients during the process.  Such as nitrogen loss mainly.  I love the idea of feeding it to the worms that live on my land-base as well.  I have done the indoor vermicompost thing and felt like I was cheating the locals out of a meal.  So anyways when I looked under the mulch today I saw many worms looking very fat and happy.  Not kidding there was a worm as big around as my fattest finger.  I think this is the superior way to compost.  It is simple and direct, I suppose there are some drawbacks though, but what are they?
I can post pics if anyone cares for a view of my waste!
 
Jeff Hodgins
Posts: 193
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I did the same but rather than worms I got little blackflies and a bit of leaf rot. I over did it. It's best done a little here and a little there to avoid problems.
 
            
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I have been making sure to cover the scraps very well to avoid flies.  Time will tell.  I also have a big garden/yard with lots of trees I "fertilize" as well.  What about planting near these pockets of compost?  Will it be too strong?  I have noticed that about a month is all it takes for the food to be decomposed/eaten.
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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That works well now, but what about winter when there are several feet of snow/ice?
Depending on what is in your kitchen scraps, you can also be inviting rodents, who may prefer your tender plants.
 
maikeru sumi-e
Posts: 313
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I think both have their place. Composting is useful for treating certain kinds of waste, sanitation, or creating large amounts of humus-like material. Mulching builds soil, saves water, and enhances soil life and diversity as you've seen.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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i too used to do a compost heap and after reading some good info decided that it was a waste of time and nutrients,

the nutrients wash out into the soil under the compost heap.

I also bought a tumbler and am in the process of selling it to my sister for a loss.

not the best idea for my $ ..and now I'm back to sheet composting right in my gardens.

not so pretty, but very efficient
 
James Stark
Posts: 79
Location: Manitoba Canada
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I still use compost heaps, but with a twist. I make the standard straw bale composter, but I rotate the location every year. We built our home a few years ago, and the fill the contractors used was poor soil with lots of clay. When the compost pile is removed, what is left behind is a large patch of healthy groud that's once again ready to support life. It will take ten years of this just to cover the ground around my home (although I also do other things to help the land recover) and once that's done I'm sure I'll find more places that could use this rejuvination.

If you prefer to compost in a pile, consider putting the pile on a spot that could use all those lost nutrients, then find a new spot next year.
 
                    
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i was thinking of starting a post like this. glad its already going. I mean i'd read this in masanobu mostly. not sure any other of my sources acted like compost is a waste of time. but masanobu has a target on the 'organic farmers' back and this is one of his prime wastes of energy in 'scientific farming'

i am a first year farmer for those of you who havent heard me say so. i am good with a shovel and am doing it all natural as i can. i'm trying every method i can think of. so far i have made plenty of compost piles, but it is simply the top level of plants that i dont want, pushed to the side. there i will let them compost the year and in the late season i can throw them back on top with minimal effort.

i have been simply skimming the surface with my shovel and leaving the pile at the end of the row. some of the piles i even planted some seeds in to see what will happen. i can't imagine wasting my time bringing this to another location only to have to bring it back again. makes no sense.

im thinking that in future years ill have less of this to do because my planting areas will be a little more healthy and decomposed come planting time. plus i suspect to have volunteers and therefore less turning or tilling with the shovel.


the other point that i think makes it useless, and please stop me if i am wrong, (remember i have no idea whats going on) is that come spring i am simply able to recover the skimmed area with leaves that have not finished decompossing. this stops my need for composting or mulch. i have plenty of leaves here.

im a little worried the oaks will remain to heavy for plants to push through so i might remove some at some point. between that process and planting all my paths with clover i can return the vegetable matter, old weeds, and clover to my planting areas at the end of the years. I can think of no way more natural to accomplish what i need to do.

in some of my areas the fertility is low currently. its a good open woodland spot so there are natural soil fertilities goin on, but im just wondering if the nutrients my crops use up this year will be compensated for by next year. i assume i should have enough fertility in this spot for a year or two, and hope that proper management never leaves a lag in fertility.
 
Sergio Santoro
Posts: 256
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
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Hmmm.... I also have a compost related question. I wanted to start my own thread, but since I seem to have all the compost experts' interest already in this one...

What makes the compost turn gray and powdery?

At the same time, going by the others' comments my composting seems a little different. People in this thread are talking of kitchen scraps as the main ingredient and it seems to take a year to be ready.
The bulk of my pile is cow manure, barn bedding (wood chips) and the hay the cows throw around and snob later. The kitchen scraps are but a condiment.
Oh, I also dump all the whey from cheese making in there, and that pile is COOK-ING!
Never measured the temp, but it's pretty steamy. Just two hours ago I was turning it and kept smelling south Italian sausage (made with fennel seeds), and then I realized we harvested some fennels and threw the stalks in there.
So, anyway, a 4'x4'x4' pile takes me a few weeks to become crumbly and dark. The only problem is that the center literally gets incinerated sometimes. It becomes dark and powdery. I heard it's from over heating. I guess the whey overpopulates the pile with insatiable bacteria. I'm fine with fast compost, though, we never have enough of it, but I'm already turning the pile every 3 days so the core doesn't turn into ashes and lose nutrients. However, turning it often oxygenates it, making the process even hotter/faster. I'm confused.

I need to have my compost super hot, because I live in the middle of the forest in Costa Rica and fungi here are the king. I'd rather start with a sterilized medium (or at least full of good MOs).

So, sorry if I'm a little off topic. Feel free to ignore me, but that's just going to mean you'll see this whole text in another post
 
Troy Rhodes
Posts: 618
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Long term composting in a remotely located hot active pile is useful if you want to safely deal with Humanure, as I do.

I don't think you want to sheet compost that directly in your garden.

For more ordinary compostables, sheet composting is wonderful.  One of the bigger community gardens in town does it that way.  Compost ingredients get turned under in between the rows, but then next year, those ARE the rows.

Finest regards,

troy

 
              
Posts: 52
Location: Australia
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Composting takes a bit of know how to set them up right, the big problem for beginners is getting the nitrogen/carbon ratio wrong and ending up with a hot pile that burns off a lot of carbon bulk leaving you with a little pile. The new Permaculture soils DVD has a simple compost recipe and watching it done lets you visually see the right ratios which helps if you have a harder time reading words and translating that to your own real compost pile.

Cheers,
PeterD
 
maikeru sumi-e
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We should keep in mind there's a stark difference between the kinds of microbial life in hot compost and what's living under and in mulch. And I agree with the folks who recommend it for humanure, since it's a sanitation and disease issue. Proper hot composting should take care of and eliminate disease issues. Not doing that runs a risk. I think I've made posts with similar thoughts in the past. That said, my preference is for mulching as Fukuoka mentioned in his books.
 
Leila Rich
steward
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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My (slowish) compost heap is a handy place to dispose of giant weeds, soft prunings and anything vaguely resembling paper.
I can't imagine getting most of the things I compost to fit on a small bed, around my randomly growing plants, without lots of chopping and fiddling.
But I'm going to try it out with my scrap bucket.
SergioSantoro: as far as I know, the ashy looking stuff at the centre of a compost heap is a type of fungi. Funguz rulz!
 
Sergio Santoro
Posts: 256
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
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Thanks Leila, fungus does sound more inspiring, but I don't know, I do remember reading Steiner in some BD website and there was a table that said: Gray powdery=demineralized, no good.

I guess I could be less lazy and make my own research. I just thought that a forum would be more alive and give rise to less misunderstanding than my researching that may be ill informed.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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i'm kinda thinking that with human or pet manure it would be better to go ahead and have a real compost pile..or a pit..
 
Jordan Lowery
pollinator
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
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compost has its place imo. i started out composting a lot in the beginning but over time i slowed down. i have now limited myself by making the gate to the forest garden too small for the wheel barrel. all that should be needed now is me and a bucket of compost for top dressing.
 
Mike Turner
Posts: 315
Location: Upstate SC
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I sheet compost all of my garden and kitchen waste in the paths between the beds and the occasional foot steady traffic on the paths helps to crunch the debris down so the worms can get better access with it.  This way the local soil flora and fauna can get to work straight away and vegetable roots can access the released nutrients as soon as they are released.  The weeds and old plants removed from a bed go onto the adjacent paths, then the compost formed on the path gets shovelled onto the adjacent bed when needed.  Instead of hauling plant material 50 to 100 feet off to a corner of the garden to form a compost pile and then hauling the finished compost the reverse trip back to the bed,  the plant material moves 2 to 3 feet to the nearest path and then the compost moved straight back on the bed a year or two later.  Saves a lot of wheelbarrow time.
 
Jack Shawburn
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SergioSantoro - be very wary of white dust in a compost pile !
my wife breathed some of it and was very seriously ill.
Antibiotics did not help ! until I checked and reaserched to let the doctor know exactly what happened.

Baasjoos, Tks. I like what you do by mulching the paths. Will definitely try this.
I will still make a small compost pile for using in seedling mixes.

We get a lot of leaves from other sources and use it to mulch directly under and around larger trees with logs in circle around them.
...Fungus and mushrooms where they were never seen before !
 
                            
Posts: 42
Location: Central Missouri
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I've got to agree with almost everyone 

Decades ago, I followed the quick composting directions; had multiple compost bins, from which I would fork material back and forth to aerate the compost.  I could also monitor the progress and add N or H20 as needed.  I even built a perfect 4'x4'x8' pile once; layered with proper N and C ratios.  Stuck my hand into it a couple of days later to see if it was warming up, and scalded myself!  But that is too much work for this old man, now.

IIRC, the gray and powdery compost indicates lack of moisture.  But I'm too tired to pull out my composting book right now.  Will do that if someone wants a definitive answer.

Our kitchen scraps now go into a slow bin.  I don't care if it takes a year to break down.

Some finished compost on hand is handy.  But now, most of our organic matter is applied on the surface as mulch and sheet composting.  That's how nature does it.  As OP said, why should I waste the labor carrying it all to one place, compost it, then carry it back to where I wanted it originally?
 
                                      
Posts: 172
Location: Amsterdam, the netherlands
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Hey,

Sheet mulching or sheet composting is great,

but to come back on topic starters final question, are there any disadvantages?

- I experienced a fast growth of the slug/snail population. All this nice, wet, organic materials are a great way for snails to go around in. Specially mulching kitchen scraps developed some nasty snail invasions here.

- ph levels can drop temporarily. When adding big amounts of Organic Matter acidity increases. but when its converted this will be compensated, worms especially will neutralize the ph levels.  So, plants that are sensitive for low ph levels might not thrive as much as other plants in a thick, deep, sheet mulch. If chalking is a practice you do, a bit of chalk around those more sensitive plants will do...


 
Matt Ferrall
Posts: 555
Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
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I also no longer use a compost pile.Instead I have many little piles.I plant 4 comfrey plants in a circle and put the scraps in the middle.The comfrey suppresses weed growth and acts as an accumulator to catch minerals and nutrients.These piles are under shrubs and trees and are always within throwing distance of where I am working decentralized throughout the landscape.I put household compost on different ones every time and thereby decentralise the nutrients and minerals from food brought in from off site.
 
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