compost

New Compost Arrangement

We're implementing a new compost arrangement:  three bins instead of two.  In the past, we used two -- a square wire frame, and a cylindrical black plastic.  However, with being able to keep the compost pile over-winter, as well as the huge amount of winter rye at the beginning of the year going into the compost this spring, we exceeded our capacity.

So I decided to have us use three cylindrical plastic ones, because they are deformable, and so can be squeezed into the space allocated for composting.  Three bins will facilitate turning.  With just two bins, we were forced to turn one into the other even while adding new matter, or else not turning to keep new matter separate from more decomposed matter.

With three bins, one bin will be emtpy, and we can alternate turning one of the other compost piles into the empty bin, or even turn both.  New matter will go into one of the piles, so that the older pile can more completely mature into good compost.  When the older pile is ready for compost extraction, the newer pile will then become the older pile, and we will start a newer pile.

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The Father of Compost - Sir Albert Howard

Sir Albert HowardWhile listening to Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma", we were reminded of the contributions of Sir Albert Howard, the "father of composting", and a pioneer of organic gardening methods:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Howard

His 1940 book "An Agricultural Testament" on soil conditioning and particularly composting is online here:
http://journeytoforever.org/farm_library/howardAT/ATtoc.html

"From the point of view of farming the towns have become parasites. They will last under the present system only as long as the earth's fertility lasts. Then the whole fabric of our civilization must collapse."
 

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Season-end Compost

Because we are returning the garden back to the Park for the winter, the remaining compost was bagged to be taken away.  But first I sifted it to extract usable soil, and got nearly a wheelbarrow full!  This from two months, the second of which I turned it naught, and it suffered from low night temperatures (which slow decomposition).

The sifted compost was spread over the empty garden and raked in.  The remainder filled over a bag, which then had to be divided amongst several bags because of its heaviness.

 

 

Compost yields again

Saturday we sifted the compost for the second time, extracting about half a wheelbarrow-full.  I was impressed with the quantity, given that most came from garden waste (including grass clippings from the borders).  The rest of the compost is decomposing well, except for the bamboo twigs (waste from setting up the bamboo trellis).

Black Gold!

Steven turning compostTo gardeners, wealth is in the ground.  And rich soil is made richer by adding lushly black compost.  The last Saturday in June, we harvested our first batch of compost, much earlier than I expected.  The top was wet and slimy -- the result of adding clippings of grass from the fence edge.  The sliminess results from suffocation, and therefore simply remedied by turning.  A suffocating compost pile will give off an ammonia-smell from the anerobic bacteria.  But in our case, there was little smell, because below the layer of grass was nicely composted soil.  I was a bit worried about the straw added the previous week, as I feel it decomposes slowly, but it may have provided some aeration to the lower mass.

We sifted the compost as we extracted it, using a rectangular frame with a wire mesh about 1/4-inch fine.  The plastic tray we used to sift into cracked, so next time we'll bring a wheelbarrow to sift into.  Sifting allows earlier use of ready compost, as different materials decompose at different rates, and were put into the compost pile at different times.  The apple cores and banana peels of April were completely decomposed, but the straw of the previous week was quite present.  I had been keeping the compost moist by covering it, since hydration speeds decomposition.  Compost should be kept about as wet as a damp-to-wet sponge, to give room for air, which soaking wet does not.  The downside is that wet compost is harder to sift, but we managed.

We extracted several buckets of the "black gold" which was then used to "top-dress" a number of vegetables.  The compost thus put around the plants served two purposes:  first, nutrients from the compost will leach into the soil to feed the plants.  Second, the compost also serves as a mulch, keeping sunlight from reaching new weeds.  We also put some compost into the holes destined for transplanted tomatoes.  This is a better location than the soil-top, as the plants have yet another reason to send roots downwards (which makes them more robust during dry spells).

At the bottom of the compost we found many earthworms, a great sign of good decomposing, as well as many scurrying black bettles.

The first Saturday in July I turned the compost again.  First, the de-harvested snap pea plants were put into the empty bin, nearly filling it.  But the heavier compost-in-progress turned atop that easily flattened the pea plants.  With the forecast for hot weather upcoming, it looks like the compost will need to be turned at least weekly (especially with the continual addition of grass clippings).

Both compost bins seem to work well, it's hard to tell if either is working better, though I might give the black plastic bin an edge (because it may retain heat and water better).

First Compost Turn

 
Saturday the compost pile received its first turn, from the wire-mesh bin to the black plastic bin.
 
I'm hoping the black plastic will "cook" it faster; though I was impressed how much was already dirt.
 
I didn't see any of the apple cores we had put in; although I did see some of the banana peels.
 
I capped it with the cone cover, so the bin could also be used for storage.

 

Turning your Kitchen Scraps into Black Gold -- even in the Winter!

Vermicomposting, (the "official" name for using worms to do your composting), is a great alternative to outdoor composting, especially during the colder, winter months.  Using red worms in an indoor compost bin, you simply layer any plant-based scraps with some shredded paper (e.g., newspaper, but avoiding glossy paper and colored inks), wet with some water that has been allowed to sit uncovered over night (to off-gas any chlorine), and then cover the bin and let the little red wigglers do their thing.  I've been composting all of our kitchen scraps and indoor plant trimmings t
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