Composting

1 09 2012

Hello there! We are starting a new project in the House of DLC.

Composting!

We love gardening a lot. It’s always nice to enjoy the fruits of our labor, but lets face it, our harvest isn’t exactly bountiful. I wouldn’t say it’s too bad considering we are beginners, but it definitely isn’t producing enough to jar and freeze enough to last through out our entirely too long and drabby winter. Which is our main goal. Self sufficiency.

We decided to compost as an alternative to pumping our gardens full of poisonous fertilizers.  They didn’t seem to help much anyway.

As with all new projects that have a bit of science to them I started out with research. I was amazed at how particular composting is. My belief was that you just throw all table scraps into a pile outside, keep it moist, and watch it rot away into “dirt-y goodness”.

WRONG!!

How does composting work?

Composting works when microorganisms in soil break down organic waste into a simple form. The process microorganisms use during the break down is called aerobic respiration. Aerobic respiration requires oxygen which is received from air introduced through a container that allows for a lot of “breathing” and from turning the compost. During this process the microorganisms give off carbon dioxide and heat. Through active management of your compost -regular turning and watering- decomposing can take as little as two to three weeks. Without active management, months may go by before the process is complete.

Where should I store my compost?

  • Most people have two areas for composting. The first is a small container to keep in the kitchen for gathering compostable items. Some people have a bowl tucked away in the kitchen, other cut the top off of a milk jug and store it under the sink. The possibilities are pretty limitless and the location of this area isn’t all that important. You’ll be emptying it into your outside area regularly anyway.
  • The outside area is where location and bin type matter. The ideal container should be topless and bottomless for best results. You can use anything really, it just has to allow for a lot of air flow into the compost. A lot of experts recommend using a bin compiled of pallets or a container that is 3 cubic feet. I am using the crate seen in the picture below. The area you place this bin should get adequate sunlight in the winter to keep it warm and plenty of shade in the summer to keep it from drying out.  Next to a large tree is ideal.  I also recommend placing it downwind from your house… it shouldn’t stink, but its better safe than sorry.
This should work well because there are 3/4 inch spaces between each plank on all four sides.

 

What goes into my compost pile?

  • For the best results, a balanced mixture of high nitrogen items “green stuff” and high carbon items “brown stuff” is needed.
  • Green stuff is needed to activate the heat process in your compost.
    • alfalfa
    • algae
    • clover
    • coffee grounds– I throw my coffee filter in too
    • food waste– please read “What does NOT go into my compost?” for further information
    • garden waster– please read “What does NOT go into my compost?” for further information
    • grass clippings
    • hay
    • hedge clippings
    • manures – of herbivores, please read “What does NOT go into my compost?” for further information
    • seaweed
    • vegetable scraps
    • weeds – that haven’t gone to seed yet, this will likely promote weed growth when you use your compost in your garden
  • Brown stuff serves as the fiber of your compost.  Basically it’s what makes the “”dirt-y goodness” we are aiming for.
    • ashes– please read “What does NOT go into my compost?” for further information
    • bark
    • shredded cardboard
    • corn stalks
    • fruit waste
    • autumn leaves
    • shredded newspaper
    • peanut shells
    • peat moss
    • pine needles
    • sawdust
    • shredded stems and twigs
    • straw
    • vegetable stalks
  • Random things that can be composted:
    • paper towels– obviously not used for cleaning with chemicals
    • paper bags
    • torn up cotton clothing
    • crushed egg shells
    • hair (any species)

What does NOT go into my compost?

  • coal ash because it contains enough sulfur and iron to damage plants
  • colored papers/glossy papers because they may contain properties which are damaging to plants
  • diseased plants because the organisms may spread to your garden when the compost is applied
  • inorganic material because they won’t break down.  These include foil, glass, plastics, and metals.
  • meat, bones, fish, dairy, etc.. because they can “overheat”your compost pile, attract animals, and make it stinky
  • carnivore droppings because they have several disease organisms and make the compost toxic
  • synthetic chemicals such as fertilizers because they are poison and have no business in a natural compost pile.  It ruins the integrity.

How do I care for compost?

  • Whenever you give your compost a “big meal” you should also add a layer of fresh soil with it.
  • Check your soil at least every other day for its moisture.  It should be as damp as a wrung out sponge.  You can add it yourself as needed, but be careful because too much water may prevent adequate air.  Some climates have enough moisture in the air that adding some yourself is unnecessary.  Other climates add too much moisture from rain.  If you live in a wet climate you should throw a tarp over your pile to prevent it from getting too wet.
  • Turn your soil weekly, at least.  This allows adequate air flow.  If your compost starts to smell like vinegar or begins to look matted and slimy then it needs more air. Try turning it and adding more “brown stuff”.
  • Add worms.  You don’t have to, but worms are quite beneficial.
  • Check the temperature.  Temperature indicates the microbial activity of the decomposition.  To check the temperature just feel it with your hand.  It should be warm or hot to the touch.  If it is cold then the activity is slowed and you need to add more green stuff.
  • You can add a compost starter available at your local organic gardening store.

Any other tips?

  • “Big meals”. This means that instead of emptying your kitchen compost collection daily, let it gather up over the course of a few days to a week (use your best judgment) and give your outdoor compost a “big meal”. The more scraps you add at once, the more your compost will heat up.
  • Layer the green and brown stuff in your bin so that both types touch each other.  Avoid any large clumps of one material.

“How do I “harvest” my compost?”

  • Eventually, if done correctly, there will be a layer of good compost at the bottom of your bin.
    • It should smell earthy, like peat moss, be dark brown or black, it should have reduced about 50% or more from the piles original size, and should look like awesome dirt bought from a gardening store… only cheaper!
  • Add it as a layer on top of your garden or mix it in with the dirt.
    It sounds simple enough so I’m excited to give it a go.  We already have our bins set up, I’ve added a few thing to the pile.  I guess I will keep everyone updated as to how things are going.
Advertisements

Actions

Information

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: