I want to start composting but I am not much of a chemist and I worry about getting the right balance. Is there an easy way to get kitchen scraps and yard waste to compost? Right now we just dig a hole in the garden, we have a row just for this purpose, and throw in the scraps and cover up.
Middleburg, Florida (north of Daytona, west of Jacksonville)
I went to an environ/eco centre in North Wales (UK) last year and they had a bunch of interesting stuff on composting. Couple of things I remember (in addition to the points already made)
- put in balls of scrunched up paper and or egg cartons. The idea is to create air spaces as apparently the worms love it, and it's the worms that really help break down what you put in there
- Urine is supposed to be good (I guess the nitrogen content). Our compost heap is visible from the neighbours so, so far, I've resisted the urge for a quick pee in the garden, but maybe it's more practical for you
I am a beginner composter (composteur??). I have LOTS of brown matter (no, not that!) in the form of leaves, but little green. At least it doesn't look like it's enough. I've been composting leaves, some grass clippings, and kitchen scraps for a couple of years, but my compost isn't as pretty as the compost I see on TV (Paul James, Gardening By The Yard ). I try to turn it frequently & keep it moist. What am I doing wrong?? Are there any tips you can offer me?
The trick with compost is that it shrinks to about 10 to 20 times smaller than it started. So it's probably composting just fine, only it seems like it isn't because it's getting diluted with new material.
Plus, it sounds like you are a little carbon heavy. More greens should get a hotter (faster) compost going.
If you are willing to spend money, I really like the compostumbler.
Joined: Mar 07, 2006
I have seen them, but I wasn't sure how pricey they were.
I don't think my greens will ever be enough for my browns (carbon). I have 5 mature oak & maple trees in my yard, so I have billions of leaves!
I'll have to look into the tumbler. It would make the whole job much simpler!
Weeds are generally excellent compost fodder! Seeds too!
Seeds are usually killed at about 140 degrees. Compost temps can exceed 160 degrees, but you need to be an advanced composter to achieve that. And even then, only the core gets that hot (and most advanced composters prefer to not exceed 155).
I must be the quintessential amateur. After two years of composting, I finally added some to my raised vegetable garden but never had time this year to plant my tomatoes and squash. I was rather bummed
About three weeks later I decided to at least weed the area and began to suspect it wasn't all weeds. Sure enough I ended up with 18 tomato and one spaghetti squash plant. The only place I have had these varieties is at the organic produce market which means they must have come from the compost.
Obviously I am not hot enough...
This year I added about 100lbs of fruit scraps...do I need to pee on this too?
Joined: Sep 25, 2006
I keep a couple yogurt tubs in my garage for spreading pee around areas in the yard where my neighbors cats (I have at least 8 now) are fighting for litter box space.
I think I will start putting some in my compost. If your not so bold like me, the neighbors will think you are just adding more compost.
I would not pee on fruit scraps. That would be putting a nitrogen on a nitrogen.
If a person were going to add pee to compost, you would definitely want it to be a carbon (straw, dried leaves, woody stuff ...). In fact, some "country outdoor urinals" are nothing more than a bale of straw with a sign on it that says "urinal" or "pee on me". The high carbon controls odor. The urine adds nitrogen and moisture to start the composting process.
Chances are that your compost did get hot enough to kill seeds at the center of the pile. but the edges are always cooler - too cool to kill seeds.
I've heard of people peeing in a watering can and then filling it the rest of the way with water. Then watering. Although I would not be comfortable doing this, I think it should be just fine. Watered down, the pee isn't going to be too much for the plants. I think I would prefer to run pee through compost first. It's sterile when it comes out, but it just seems ..... yucky. But going through compost seems fine. Probably just my own conditioned fears and lack of knowledge on the topic.
Joined: Jun 20, 2007
Location: Middle Georgia
you say you add grass clippings if its green and fresh it counts as a green but if you let it dry out and turn brown it counts as a brown. So put it on fresh. when weeding the garden all weeds are put into a pile of compost that counts as a green as well.
I've been doing some online research about composting. I am looking for the easiest way to do it. I came across a site that was promoting a book about colloidal humus. Do you know what this is and is it better than the traditional compost? BTW I love the forum!!
Here's a compost 'problem turned solution' I stumbled on lately, housemates who aren't so into compost as I am. I personally prefer to have my wormbin indoors in the kitchen. It's close enough to keep an eye on so doesn't smell bad, and then I have easy access for throwing in food scraps after I cook a meal.
BUT, the problem is that not all housemates like to have a pet worm box in the kitchen, which means I was faced with the whole 'what to do with food scraps when i'm too lazy to make trip to outdoor compost' (?) I've heard of all sorts of ideas: a bucket or tupperware with tight lid, a container with carbon(?) filter on lid to let in air but not let out smell, etc. I just happen to notice I've nearly always got an 'essential bread' paperbag sitting on the counter. They're not very reusable paperbags because of their odd shape. When I'm done eating the bread I put my food scraps in it. Duh! Carbon! And, folks, it works really well! If my food scraps are especially greasy or wet I may double it, but the paperbag just kind of Absorbs and the whole bit is tidy until its full. I also rip up paper eggcartons as worms *love* those, and put that in the bag, along with any used napkins or whatever crazy compostables turn up in the kitchen. These are the small type bags, but they can last up to a week like that if I forget about them.
The best part is the cleanup: nada. No bucket to rinse out that is gross. I just toss the paperbag in the outdoor compost or wormbin, along with shredded paper from the office. Nitrogen + carbon. Granted this is Not an ideal way to make compost: the nitrogen and carbon aren't well mixed, and i'm adding to it very slowly. But it Is a good way for that pile of foodscraps that can take its time composting, while I can have other 'garden-oriented' composts going. And eventually the foodscraps will be compost too.
Along with the housemates not so wild about composting. How can I pee in the compost with suspicious folks about? (Yes, I've had someone yell out the window "Stop peeing in the yard will you Kelda!!!" And the compost pile is even more inaccessible than just the yard around it.... So that leaves peeing in a bucket somewhere and then dumping it. First thing is: it's best for others not to know too much about it. Which means keeping it tucked away on the porch where only I go, and dumping it before I leave the house everyday. BUT, here's the real problem I need advice on: the Noise when you're peeing in a bucket sounds Loudly Distinctly like someone peeing in a bucket. Has anyone else cleverly thought around this problem? Maybe a bunch of dry leaves I put at the bottom of the bucket everyday? I don't know....
I want something just as simple as the paperbag trick or from mess and hassle I just won't do it. Any suggestions?
Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Location: W. Seattle, WA - planning to be rural soon.....
I'm not sure if this is a "solution" or just one less step or maybe more....
Something my grandparents did and now I do is bury my compost vs. using a worm bin (as much as possible). I dig down 6 inches or so, dump and chop in dirt while covering. the "natives" go for it and don't get overwhelmed in the worm bins I've worked so hard at building over the last year.
It may be too much to ask for from your housemates (mine have trouble even putting things in a compost bucket as well) but I am enriching the soil right away and getting to spend more time outside (where I love to be anyway). I am grateful to a sister community member for reminding me of this method and am curious if anyone else has tried it.....
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Supporting vibrant health in my community by providing education, nutrition, herbal connection and ritual through grateful interaction with Gaia.
Joined: May 30, 2007
Location: Central IL
While this doesn't address the whole "how to get my pee discreetly into my pile" question, it does help some of those earlier posts of "where to get more greens." I've started hitting the local Starbuck's and collecting their "Grounds for your Garden" bags of used coffee grounds. It's considered green (despite the brown color ), FREE, neatly packaged, FREE, and in great supply, despite being FREE. Some people say that UCG is more greenish-brown, kinda having both, but if the scales tip towards having enough nitrogen to ultimately classify it as green, I'll take it! Something's better than nothing, especially when it's FREE.
I don't even drink coffee. Most of the stores I've gone to even have their UCG in a large bucket by the door, so you don't even need to talk to anyone or engage in the Starbuck's culture... I asked the first few times, but they always just pointed me towards the bucket and said "take as much as you want." So I do. So now they don't have to throw it away, and I don't have to wonder where I'm going to get additional greens from when needed! That's not to say that UCGs are the only greens in there. Whenever I can get anything else in there, it goes. I'm of the "variety is the spice of life" opinion, but in winter (or other scarce times) you take what you can get, so my spicy mix just has an aroma of coffee, until I can get more varied things into it.
Come spring I'll continue feeding my pile with it and additionally spreading the stuff over my lawn and garden straight, since it's so easy to get the stuff. The grounds, plus my finished compost, plus the grass clippings, plus whatever else makes it to the ground ought make my "ground community" happy!
My understanding is that they're a green while green, and brown while brown. If a green dries out and turns brown, then it is now a brown. This is a general rule, and I'm sure there are exceptions to it. I have good results without even fussing about it. I just turn my pile every few days and keep just enough greens in it so that when I put my hand in the middle, I need to take it back out because its too hot to keep there.
"Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it." - Helen Keller -- Jeremiah Bailey Central Indiana
Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Location: North Central Michigan
I think the green that has laid just a day or so is still green..it isn't really brown until it gets kinda brittle dry..so if you pull your weeds and wait like 2 or 3 days to rake them up..they might still be green..as they aren't fully cured?? or at least partially green.
Bloom where you are planted.
Joined: May 05, 2009
For moisture, I just let the rain do most of the work. Occasionally adding a bag or two of grass clippings gives me the right amount of greens and moisture. It gets really hot! Then it starts cooling down the fourth day or so. Then I'll mix it up. Then the next time it cools off, I'll add more grass. Kitchen scraps are gone in a week or two.
Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Location: Oakland, CA
The color coding is good as a general rule, but I've read some online sources that consider coffee grounds to be "browns".
"the qualities of these bacteria, like the heat of the sun, electricity, or the qualities of metals, are part of the storehouse of knowledge of all men. They are manifestations of the laws of nature, free to all men and reserved exclusively to none." SCOTUS, Funk Bros. Seed Co. v. Kale Inoculant Co.
Joined: May 05, 2009
Um... while grounds are in fact brown, I've always heard they are actually green in the eyes of a compost pile. Again, I don't really monitor my kitchen scraps other than making sure they are compostable. I just monitor the heat of the pile and when it cools down, I add a couple bags of grass clippings. By cooling down, I mean when turning doesn't heat the pile back up to its full heat. Toward the end of summer, I'll add less grass and let the pile become a warm pile. By the end of the year, I'll have a nice pile of finished compost.
I think you should not think in terms of "greens and browns" but, rather, that you want to get your C:N ratio to about 30:1.
So you have your "carbons" and your "nitrogens".
Typically, your "nitrogens" (greens?) would include weeds, kitchen scraps and manures - many of which are not green.
And your carbons would be straw, sawdust, dry leaves, twigs, wood ... so you have some whites and yellows that are far from brown.
For what it's worth: hay is already 30:1 - it's perfect for composting - just add water! Of course, diversity of ingredients makes much better compost.
Before talking about the ratios more, let me just say it isn't such a big deal. If you have a lot more N, it will still compost, but it will stink - that stink is your N leaving you. Less than optimal, but, oh well. If you have a lot more C, then your compost will be cooler and slower. No big deal there either.
My first google brought up this chapter from the humanure book:
It shows coffee with C:N ratio of about 20:1 - so it it more of an N. (I always thought coffee grounds was more around 7:1)
Softwoods 641:1 - so a lot more carbon. (I always thought sawdust was more like 300:1)
The most important thing to keep in mind here: I never weigh my ingredients or get all that concerned about the right C:N ratio. It's still gonna compost, no matter what. I don't mind if it composts slower. And if it smells, I throw some sawdust or straw on it.
Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Location: Oakland, CA
I second Paul's response, but would add: there's almost always a lump in my pile, about 2/3 of the way down and usually less than 1/2 the pile's diameter, that's nitrogen-rich, wet, and anaerobic. The pile above and surrounding this lump has enough aerated, nitrogen-poor, fairly damp material that it absorbs any smell. I could keep the pile thoroughly mixed the whole time, but this way works OK and is less work. It also allows me to make sure tastier things don't attract attention from outside the pile. Needless to say, I make sure to mix the anaerobic part with the rest after it all slows down, a while before I call the whole thing done.
Methods for Assessing Soil Quality. SSSA Spec. Publ. oil Science Society of America, Madison, WI.
Soil Quality for Crop Production and Ecosystem Health. Developments in Soil Science Elsevier, New York.
Biological Indicators of Soil Health. CAB International, New York.
Erosion and Carbon Sequestration Soil Quality and Soil Erosion. CRC Press, Boca Raton.
Management of Carbon Sequestration in Soil. CRC Press, Boca Raton.
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"Emilia Hazelip (1938 - February 1, 2003) was an organic Permaculture gardener who was born in Spain and began gardening seriously in the late '60s. A former Merry Prankster and pioneer of the concept of synergistic gardening, her farming methods were inspired by the work of Masanobu Fukuoka. Where Fukuoka focused most of his attention on orchards and the rice/barley crop rotation, Emilia Hazelip focused on creating and maintaining market gardens of vegetables and herbs. Emilia Hazelip, who introduced the concept of permaculture to France over a decade ago, drew on many sources as she continued to develop gardens. The work of Permaculturist Marc Bonfils with self-fertile cereal production and the microbiological research of Alan Smith and Elaine Ingham are frequently mentioned. To see more videos by the maker of this film and for contact information on how to purchase a high quality full length version (SVHS) on DVD please visit: http://www.youtube.com/user/BULLEBOULO For More Information on the Global Permaculture Movement Please Visit: http://www.permacultureplanet.com"
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Joined: May 03, 2009
Location: Inland Central Florida, USA
I'm gonna second Paul's comments. Relax, compost happens!!! Don't get too wound up in perfect ratios or fast compost.
Compost should take a long time in my book (cause I'm not about to go out and flip yards worth of material every few weeks.)
I continuous compost, building a pile for a year (or how ever long it takes to fill the bin) and then we leave the pile sit for a year to age before using it. (Start a new pile once you say the old pile is ready to age.)
Wanting to add pee to the pile or the garden or whatever...... If you don't want to actually pee outside, you can always pee in a bottle indoors in private and then take the bottle out to pour around the pile. A funnel works fine if you are female. If you wish to use a bucket, put lots of leaves, shredded paper, or sawdust in it to absorb the urine and muffle the sound. But then you need to clean the bucket after dumping into the pile and covering. The smell can be strong during the process of dumping and you need to cover it well after adding to the pile.
I have had a pile of leaves get to 160 F in the center of the pile in three weeks of three people adding their urine to them. This becomes the perfect place to bury stinking stuff like fish heads.
I've composted all sorts of stuff. Brown paper rolls, newspaper, leaves yard and garden waste of all sorts, every kind of food I've ever eaten. There's a dead cat in the pile right now. I fixed the fence beside the heap and lost my hammer. I believe it may be composting as we speak.
If you did nothing but pile stuff up and walk away it will all compost eventually. There is one and only one problem that you may want to address: The Smelly Heap. There are other issues that you may think are problems, but none of them will make the neighbors complain. The solution to your problems is simple and is one of 3 possibilities: 1) turn the heap 2)water the heap 3)add browns or greens.
Lets look at the Smelly Heap. If it smells, the reason is that the greens are too concentrated and are putrifying rather than decomposing. To fix this problem you need to turn the heap which will mix the greens with the browns in the heap, making the greens less concentrated. It will also add oxygen which will halt the putrifaction process, eliminating the odor. You may also add browns to balance the greens. Simply covering the smelly greens with browns can also do the job. If you did nothing at all, the odor will eventually dissipate.
Seed the Mind, Harvest Ideas.
Joined: Apr 21, 2010
Location: New York
I've been composting for over 20 years without knowing it. Kinda dumb, I'll admit, but I had no idea. I didn't even know what composting really was two months ago.
Before finding this forum I just put all the fall leaves in one corner of our property, at the edge of a drop, which is mostly wooded and in the shade. When I needed help with our lawn I went looking, and found this permaculture forum.
I was advised to use compost on the lawn. I figured I had to wait a year to make good compost. Then a light went on in my head and I decided to check the leaf pile. I dug down and there was the black gold. It is probably all browns, with the occasional lawn clippings that were added the first year when I bagged. Been mulching ever since. The worms and whatever else must have got to it turned it into beautiful compost. It even has the stringy, rubbery fungus in it. And it never once smelled.
The lawn is making a miraculous recovery. I don't know if it is due to the compost, humates, or high mowing, but it is going to get another 1/4 inch of compost.
So, I guess everything will turn to quality compost given time, like Paul said. 20 years may be too long to wait, but now we mix in green food scraps and pulled weeds and the pile does decompress more quickly.
Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
Everytime we cut the grass, all grass clippings go in the pile. Since I can buy 40 kilo sacks of chicken droppings (mixed with rice hulls usually) for 1.20 USD each (translated), I will dump a few on the pile if I want it sped up. Having lots of room, what I do is compost in place - in other words, pick a place for a raised bed and start a pile - I will make the pile a meter high, across the entire bed. Takes about 6 months or less to completely break down. Turn over lightly with fork or hoe, and plant squash or corn. After the squash or corn, beans or something like that, and then on down to eventually carrots (which really don't want the soil too rich) - when the soil appears to be a bit depleted, well, time to make another pile.
I have unlimited amounts of raw material - we own a furniture factory / sawmill so I never lack sawdust and wood shavings. I have sheep droppings as well, and the farms who wish to have sawdust are more than willing to exchange sacks of horse or cow manure mixed with the sawdust. So, building up a new bed is pretty easy to do.
I don't turn the piles, in the tropics, there doesn't seem to be any need - so what if it takes a bit longer. I would prefer to go fishing - and I have the room to wait.
Sustainable Plantations and Agroforestry in Costa Rica
Joined: Apr 21, 2010
Location: New York
I've noticed you live in Costa Rica. Our family has been there twice in the last 4 years and we have been considering it for retirement. A lovely country with lovely people.
How well does the hardwood compost there? I know rain forests have very little topsoil and many of the hardwoods down there are impervious to insects and rot.
Have to admit, the native Tico culinary experience leaves a little to be desired in the way of variety, but the veggies and beef taste way better than in the USA. At the very least, the tomatoes always taste like tomatoes.
Gallo Pinto con Salsa Lizano y huevos revuelto is awesome. Best way to start the day.