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Compost, here I go again

 
gardener
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I totally suck at composting. I have tried many times several different ways. It never gets hot. Even the cold compost that sits for a year didn't compost. I tried to use it this spring having waited more than a year, and nothing had broken down.
I buy organic compost. I work for a co-op, and even with my discount it's expensive. One bag isn't to bad, but with all my gardens, it really adds up. Besides the expense, I wonder how good it is. It's organic matter, but I would think most of the soil life is dead. I could be wrong, but I've never found a worm, or anything alive in the dry plastic bag.???
So here I go again.  Even though I suck at it I still compost if for no other reason then to have a place to put my garden and  kitchen waist.  I watched a YouTube video, the weedy garden. He got usable compost in 21 days.  I don't really expect results like him, it inspired me to try again.
I add a second stall/compartment/bin next to the one I have. I was going to use some old pallets, but noticed one of my boys had put an old wood bin in the burn pile. Perfect. I removed one side.  I cut the side I removed in half and added them to the back and outside of the box then I patched some of the holes with scrap wood.
Now I'm ready. The first thing I do is water the soil and use the garden fork to loosen up the soil. This took a while because the soil is like concrete. (Also I have hurt my low back somehow, so I'm moving slowly. Plus I trying to be careful. I want to be able to move tomorrow). Once I've loosened up the soil I started adding stuff. I'm not a measuring type person. I'm trying to add small layers of browns, greens, and soil.
I hope I have enough. I thought I did, but as I'm removing compost from my other bin I noticed I don't have a compost bin , but a drying bin.  Everything is dry, with no composting going on at all. It looks  like more than it is. So I'm braking everything down into much smaller pieces, and watering between each layer. I hope to have at least 3 feet high when I'm done. I ran out of light and will have to finish tomorrow. I will put a piece of black plastic on the top, and a removable front.  My plan is to turn every two days.( Probably won't happen, but as close as I can manage)
I will post my progress, or lack there of
Wish me luck, I'm going to need it
IMG20231103122323.jpg
making garden compost at home
Original compost pile
IMG_20231103_185412.jpg
Wood bin
Wood bin
IMG20231103172236.jpg
making your own composting facility
Bin installed, & enlarged
IMG20231103184854.jpg
Several layers, only about 6 or 8
Several layers, only about 6 or 8
 
pollinator
Posts: 141
Location: Indiana
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Composting has a recipe.  Getting the ingredients right but in the wrong portions will leave you sad - for a while.
Everybody knows green and brown but also white (air) and blue (water).
Sounds like you were short on blue and maybe green.
Add lots of water initially and a good activator - comfrey, dock, grass, coffee grounds, urine.
It is excess pumpkin season here and they make great compost ingredients.
And if you get tired of turning, add another color to the recipe - red (worms).
They do all the heavy lifting and make a better compost to boot.
Good luck and have fun.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Every time I think I have enough to make A hot compost pile I'm wrong.   I only managed about 2 &1/2 feet.  Then I was working on my greenhouse, then the holidays. So today I started again. I stapled cardboard to the side of the other compost section.  I made it so it would be 3'x3'x3. I moved the compost and added everything I could find in the layers. I believe I have enough to heat up.  Time will tell.
Even though it hasn't heated up it has definitely been breaking down. It was nice and moist, and loaded with worms. The stuff on the bottom actually looked like rough compost. So that is encouraging. It didn't smell until I started moving it. Even then it wasn't to smelly with the exception of some pockets of kitchen scraps. I made sure it brake them up and add shredded cardboard or wood chips on top.
I know ideally I should turn it every couple of days. I doubt that will happen. But maybe once a week.  With some luck and hard work maybe I will have useable compost by spring.
IMG20240105172833.jpg
nice and moist, and loaded with worms
 
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It’s not that hard.  

Get a big pile (about a cubic yard at least) of wood chips.  Mix enough of a heavy N source (chicken manure is ideal) to get it perking; a hot pile.

If you don’t have access to chicken manure, use urea commercial fertilizer and swallow your pride.
 
pioneer
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Jen Fulkerson wrote: Once I've loosened up the soil I started adding stuff. I'm not a measuring type person. I'm trying to add small layers of browns, greens, and soil.

My plan is to turn every two days.( Probably won't happen, but as close as I can manage)



I think you are getting close Jen!  The main thing is that you are willing to go through the process of learning and practicing.  The more mistakes that are made the better you will end up understanding in the long term.  

There are a couple of things that you mentioned that might be preventing the outcome you are looking for, which im seeing is...Hot Compost!  There is a difference between compost and decomposition, btw.  Technically it is not compost until it has reached a certain temperature.  

Firstly, it is not recommended to add soil (mineral) to compost.  This is not something that feeds the bacterias responsible for heating up a pile.  A lot of people will even add wood ash, and this is something that I used to do to, but again, its a mineral material.  What you want is the organics.  It is the "greens" that will really help to produce heat. Chunks of woody pieces like sticks and branches, or even wood chips, can slow down the heating up process.  It depends on the pile, of course.  If it is large enough, and has just the right amount of oxygen, nitrogen, and moisture, then even wood chips and small branches can turn into a long lasting heated pile that can be tapped into as a heat source for many months, to possibly even more than a year!  A great resource for this type of approach is "The Compost Powered Water Heater" by Gaelen Brown.  He also has a free youtube video you can watch from Living Web Farms... https://youtu.be/cvMi6hgfcnw?si=V351VJzfaZge1bD6

Secondly, turning compost is actually counter productive, and not necessary.  With excessive turning there is a release of bio-aerosols, which can result in the loss of organic matter, and nitrogen.  A properly made pile does not require turning.  This can be accomplished by having a lot of insulate type carbon material on the outer edges of the pile such as leaf litter or saw dust.  The center of the pile is where the rich nitrogenous type material is continuously added over time, and then covered up by the carbon material to prevent rodent activity and nutrient loss.  When you are ready to add more, then you simply rake away the insulate material from the top, add more "greens", then cover up again.  The core of the pile is where it will be the hottest anyway, so it makes sense to add the nitrogen source closer to there.  

I have had smaller piles heat up fairly quickly using a similar technique.  I could throw a dead chicken in the center and within a few days i could go back and feel a noticeable warmth coming from the pile without having any bad smells released.  At that time I was making biochar from rice husk and adding that to the piles. Its what we had available to us in abundance at the time.  Now I am using mostly leaf litter gathered from neighbors who bag it up and leave it on the street to be thrown away.  

Something else that can really help with heating up piles is manures. This is one of the big reasons most people aren't able to get their piles to the temperatures they are shooting for.  Any kind of animal manure can work, even your own excrements!  

The humanure handbook is an excellent resource to learn more about this type of composting, and it is available for free! https://humanurehandbook.com

Geoff Lawton also has a video about making a very quick compost, although it is a lot of work with all the turning involved.  But it is a different method shared by one of the permaculture masters, so worth checking out: https://youtu.be/CRSm4kIG5yk?si=i3H0vGiWJBMbHQz3
 
master steward
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I am not in need of quick compost. I have four 4x4x4 bins + one drum type bin + four 5x5 mushroom beds.   I rotate the 4x4 bins annually.  After four years of sun, rain and snow, they seem to be ready.  I don’t watch what goes in them in terms of mix.
 
Keith Odell
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Arthur and John both gave you really good advice/information but drastically different in the amount of Jen time the compost will take.  
I'm really glad that you're trying again.  I also hope you don't stress over compost.  It should be very chill.  
Everything rots (I stole that!)  Is there a specific reason you are trying to get a hot compost?  
I'm a worm guy and you said it was loaded with worms.  Great job.  Spike the football and go work on something around your place that only will get done by you.  
Let the worms take care of your compost.  They will definitely get you useable compost by Spring.  
Keep them fed, wet and add lots of cardboard/paper/leaves and they will reward you for leaving them to do their work.  

Enjoy.  

I'm going to go chill and harvest my worms and compost.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Thanks everyone. I love to learn new things, so value all points of view.
I try not to add weedy stuff in the compost, then I don't have to worry about it. This time I used a bunch of grass clippings. The problem with that is our grass is really weeds we mow and pretend is grass. I want to use the compost in the veggie garden, so I don't want weed seeds.  This is why I would like it to heat up.
It still hasn't heated up.  I will keep trying, but have decided after this I will put the "grass" clippings in a black bag, or in water to kill any seeds, then add it to the compost. Then I got stop worrying about it heating up.
Thanks everyone.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I been busy, and haven't turned the pile yet.  Yesterday I noticed the cat sitting on top of the compost. I went and checked, and sure enough it was warm.  Not steaming, or hot, but not cold, and it was cold out and rainy.  Maybe it's starting to heat up.  I'm contemplating buying a long temperature gage .  
 
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Good sign the microbes are eating and multiplying. If you feel there's too much heat escaping, cover the top with some corrugated cardboads. They work really well for insulation without restricting air supply.

This is my free standing compost pile last month. It was steaming hot inside filled with thermophilic actinomycetes. The cardboards and tarp help a lot with retaining the heat.
20231227_110624.jpg
1/4 cu ft pile
1/4 cubic yard pile
20231227_105719.jpg
Day 7 2nd turning 32F ambient temperature
Day 7 2nd turning 32F ambient temperature
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I was gearing up to move my compost into the other bin. It's been 21 days since I turned it,(so much for once a week). My son came and asked me if I wanted him to do it. I was just about to give my normal response which is no I can do it. Stopped myself and let him help.  He turned the whole pile for me.  It was great not only did I get a free pass, my son asked how long it took me to do it (wayyyyyy longer than it took him). And he commented on what a work out it is.  It's a win win.  He got a workout and a a little insite on the work I put into growing our veggies. And I didn't have to do the back breaking work, and spent time with my son.

While the compost was being Turned I added some wet pine shavings, and some handfuls of alfalfa pellets.

It's definitely breaking down. It was warm, but not hot. It had an unpleasant smell, but wasn't very bad. You can't smell it until you start turning it.  Maybe the pine and turning will help.
 
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