Composting

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Lily left the valley
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Composting

Postby Lily left the valley » Tue Sep 05, 2017 5:00 pm

I realized we don't have a thread just for composting in general, so I thought it might not hurt to make such.

So here it is in case anyone would like that.

Since I started this, here's a bit about my history with composting and what I've managed to do here so far.

My grandparents had an open compost area tucked behind a large garden bed that was also the short of the L off their sizeable kitchen garden within their large yard behind their multi family home where I also lived with my parents. They would use a milk or orange juice container to gather kitchen scraps to add to the their yard leavings as well. They would also put in skins and other leftovers from my grandfather's fish debonings from our many fishing trips each year--I want to say in the late summer/early fall--in the kitchen garden directly before laying over straw for winter, with most of the catch being focused on flounder. Even though my own parents never contributed to the compost, I was used to observing and helping my grandparents with the process during my childhood.

A lot of what my grandparents did back then stuck with me, and made me want to have/make those things too. I was always determined to try my hand at gardening in general, but moved around too often to be able to do much of anything. I have read many things about composting over the years, and have had very tiny composting piles at some of the rentals we've lived at over time.

At Beebe, this is our first chance to have what I'm used to seeing in my childhood days. Although I decided to go with a more organized "bay" set up, I'm getting closer to that as time goes by. Of course, since we also let the back yard to a bit wild, and already had quite a bit to handle from the neglect the yard had had prior, so the bays have proved insufficient. I have a few spots in the woody areas of our backyard for specifics like "woody pile" and "leaves", as well as a few baking bags (black contractor) I've been using for weeds and such I leave out in the full sun area which have been working out great, although I'm looking into longer term methods for the same results.

I've already made a lot of newbie mistakes, like adding too much newer material to a bay that was coming along well, hindering the process. Still, I'm learning.

I know I've a long way to go before I get, well I guess I could say competent at this, but I like the daily routine of turning the piles and how we use pretty much everything Beebe has to offer in this way.

Due to my newbie mistakes, aside from some leaf mould we'll have for bed cover, we won't have much else to supplement the garden this year. I hope come spring, more of my efforts will pay off then.


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--Currently pondering ways to encourage thoughtful restovation and discourage mindless renovation.

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Manalto
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Re: Composting

Postby Manalto » Tue Sep 05, 2017 7:20 pm

The nice thing about composting is that, except for including the the wrong things (most animal products, non-biodegradable items), it's impossible to get it wrong. As the old saying goes, "compost happens." There is, however, an optimum way of doing things, which is what you're working on.

Also consider manure for your garden. (While compost is great for the structure of the soil, it is low in nutrients.) I like to find someone with goats who is willing to give it away; I got lucky and know someone who will also load up my truck with his backhoe.
James




It is difficult to find happiness within oneself, but it is impossible to find it anywhere else.
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Willa
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Re: Composting

Postby Willa » Wed Sep 06, 2017 2:36 am

I started doing some haphazard composting, while neurotically reading about composting rights/wrongs and controversies there-of.

Basically I started a pile in one corner of the yard where I piled up all the trimmings and weeds last fall, which made a mighty pile. There was a base of branches then whatever organic stuff was gathered in the yard. When it started to warm up in the spring I started adding kitchen scraps.

I use wood pellets for cat litter. When it gets peed on, the pellets turn to sawdust. It's kind of the opposite of clumping clay litter. I scoop the poop and flush it, then sift the litter with a soil sifter. Intact pellets go back in the litterbox and sawdust goes to the compost pile. Clay litter can't really be composted. I am not planning to use compost for an edible garden, so my concern about possible e-coli contamination is nil.

I just kept raking the pile to make sure stuff was moving around. From reading, it seemed that the location was not 100% ideal as it was in a shady corner so it wasn't really heating up, as is optimal.

During this time I wound up with a gigantic pile from the trees and brush I trimmed down. I considered getting it chipped, but this gets expensive. For the best price I would have to move the giant pile from the furthest corner of the backyard to the driveway, which would be a drag.

I started reading about Hugelkultur - where wood is buried with compost and soil on top. The decomposing wood acts like a sponge to keep the soil moist. This got me thinking: I had pulled apart the "retaining wall" (i.e. a pile of unsupported cinder blocks that were falling over) by the chainlink fence by the parking lot. Their level is about 24" higher than my yard.

I started trimming all my branches into sticks as untrimmed branches would make a messy pile that would not lay flat. I had several piles of S,M, L and XL branches and sticks. The big stuff went on the bottom, and I just piled upwards against the neighbouring ground where the retaining wall had been. I put the largest/thickest branches and left over rotting posts as sort of a barricade at the bottom to pile against. I have been adding kitchen scraps randomly to the pile, and cat-litter sawdust. I can't really rake or turn this - and my intention is not to use it to create compost but to have the whole pile become gradual compost to feed itself. Properly I should have added manure and/or compost with soil on top. I will do this eventually. I do give the sawdust a good soaking from the water barrel after it has been spread, to attempt to get it to sift down through the layers v.s. sitting as a pile. I have NOT noticed my pile smelling like a used cat box, or get whiffs of ammonia, so I guess the layering is helping this to break down ?

As an experiment it seems to be doing okay - no terrible stench, and no increased amount of vermin. Hugelkultur has its own rabid devotees. I am not planning to raise a garden on this but will plant hostas and encourage vines and other shade loving plants. Eventually these piles will get smaller as the wood breaks down.

I was careful to not include the wretched goldenrod rhizomes in any of the early compost or later piles. I also have a black walnut tree on the perimeter. I read about juglones (compound in trees like black walnut) that are toxic to other plants so I have been very careful to NOT include any branches or trimmings from that either ? I hesitated to include the trimmings from the much hated emerald cedars, as they also have a compound that resists decay, but I did finally include them, but concentrated in one area only.

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Lily left the valley
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Re: Composting

Postby Lily left the valley » Wed Sep 06, 2017 5:16 am

Manalto wrote:Also consider manure for your garden. (While compost is great for the structure of the soil, it is low in nutrients.) I like to find someone with goats who is willing to give it away; I got lucky and know someone who will also load up my truck with his backhoe.
We do have some farms nearby, and I have been trying to talk Sean into considering trading in the PT Cruiser for a small truck. I told him he can drive my hybrid anytime there isn't snow on the ground, and use the truck the rest. I even went so far as to find some really sweet older (pre computer) trucks locally for sale to heighten his interest. He's still considering it.

I know when he worked out of the next town down, there were a few llama, alpaca and other material oriented farms. I think my biggest concern with manure would be what chemicals might be in it for food raised animals. I know this is taking my notion of keeping as many chemicals away from our gardens as possible to the extreme, but it is something I'm thinking about. I need to do some more research, really. I just keep thinking of our future bees (and current, really), and how I want them to be as healthy as possible.

We have talked about possibly getting some chickens, which I was surprised to learn we can have here in Gardner. I'd rather get guinea hens if only because they love to eat ticks. Not as much as possums, but I don't want to even try to keep them as pets, let alone farm them. :D

Willa wrote:I started doing some haphazard composting, while neurotically reading about composting rights/wrongs and controversies there-of.
That sentence felt so familiar reading it. Despite reading I've done prior about composting before we moved here, once you are actively doing it on a scale larger than a small rubbermaid bin, it really does feel like there is so much to absorb.

Your pit reminds me of an article I read a long ways back about a large farm compost. The one thing that struck me at the time was they lined the pit with clay every year if it had broken down the year before. They also had a mechanism set up to make it easy to get the chicken poop from the barnyard to the pit. I might still have that bookmark somewhere, but I think it's old enough I lost it in the great "What do you mean this house isn't ground" electronics disaster we had in NC.

I have read up on the various pits more recently, and I also recall some Japanese method that sounded like more work than it likely is where you could put just about anything in there. I've also watched some lazy gardener videos (I think on Treehugger) where they sort of use a few of their raised beds each year for their compost piles, and rotate each year. It also helps with general crop rotation for the soil too. We were thinking about possibly doing something like that for what few kitchen garden beds we hope to have next year.
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--Currently pondering ways to encourage thoughtful restovation and discourage mindless renovation.

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Re: Composting

Postby phil » Fri Sep 08, 2017 6:28 pm

maybe a moveable chicken coop would suit you. you can build a little one that is easy to move or even on wheels then they will pick away at the soil where you want them to.

My neighbor composts. I don't we have a huge bin that they pick up weekly, theirs attracts mice so my cat loves sitting over there watching for them to run out. I don't really like attracting the mice but on a larger lot maybe I wouldn't care so much.

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Manalto
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Re: Composting

Postby Manalto » Fri Sep 08, 2017 8:27 pm

Phil, I can understand your caution. Compost advocates claim that, as long as you don't include oils or animal products in your compost, you won't attract "vermin." I don't believe them. I have done every kind of composting on the spectrum from intensive to what I do now, which is throw my vegetable scraps into the shrubbery. (No oils or animal products except eggshells.) It's pretty far away from the house. I had a family of woodchucks living in a quiet spot where some of the scraps get tossed, and I'm sure they don't mind my contribution. When the weather gets chilly, mice find their way into the house; I'm not sure how much I'm contributing to that population (and the likelihood that they'll seek refuge) with my casual composting - I suspect it has more to do with the dense cover and natural food sources from the landscape plants.

Maybe 'vermin' is a synonym for "rats"? I'm grateful that I haven't seen any of those around here.
James




It is difficult to find happiness within oneself, but it is impossible to find it anywhere else.
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Willa
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Re: Composting

Postby Willa » Fri Sep 08, 2017 10:04 pm

Manalto wrote:Phil, I can understand your caution. Compost advocates claim that, as long as you don't include oils or animal products in your compost, you won't attract "vermin." I don't believe them.


Ages ago in a different house where I didn't compost, I had a cat who was a serious mouser. Within 5 minutes of being let out, he was chomping on prey - which were mice or voles that lived in my hostas. I had no clue there was a mouse city in there until he started eating them daily. There was also a very, very healthy raccoon population due to the abundant garbage generated by a city.

I'm in a smaller community, where I see many fewer raccoons. Skunks do come out after dark - but they seem more interested in the grubs in the lawn.

I have read accounts by serious composter types who compost everything - even meat/fat/bones. This is typically not recommended - but under the right circumstances anything can decompose and become part of the life cycle. In close quarters like a dense urban location, I suspect this type of composting could quickly and easily become anti-social as it would have the potential to stink terribly if done wrong. City wildlife like raccoons and rats are very smart and industrious survivors. Toronto raccoons quickly learned that if they tipped over a green bin (small city provided bin for kitchen waste) that it would unlatch. Many people had the unhappy experience of having to re-collect stinky kitchen waste from their yard thanks to those wicked raccoons.

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Lily left the valley
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Re: Composting

Postby Lily left the valley » Fri Sep 08, 2017 10:37 pm

There is a home not far from us with an enormous kitchen garden. They have quite a few elevated barrel type bins where you turn a handle to mix them. I'm not sure how easy it is for animals to get in them, although raccoons seems to have the best dexterity. I don't know if they did that for easier turning, or because their kitchen garden is in the front. The home is newer built, with the house was set way back on the property. It used to be a two family rental, so likely the front was all parking and some lawn prior. So they might also have done barrels as it would be less messy looking than a regular bin, perhaps. Their set up looks really good from my perspective, which I know doesn't mean much. But they seem to know what they are doing. We never seem to be on our walks by there when someone is outside tending, though. So we haven't met the folks who live there yet.

I grew up with a compost pile a reasonable distance away from not just our home, but the neighbor's part of the property that backed it as well. We sited ours in a similar fashion. We kept it deliberately away from the one neighbor's yard because they have a dog, and I was worried it might dig at the fence to try to get at the bin area. The neighbors on the west side hold a lot of parties in their backyard, so it made sense to not put anything other than a leaf and wood pile anywhere near there, even if the wind is typically in favor of them not being upwind in general. So the neighbor to the east was smartest since that is an area they hardly ever use now. It's mostly plantings and their two pear trees back there. There is a garden bench, but I've never seen anyone sit on it.

So far, our pile has been fairly mild scented at worst. Only once did we have a spot that got missed a few too many times that had a lot of kitchen scraps, and I think it was some onion bits that had found a pocket of water to fester in there. :sick: The smell made it easy to track, and when we moved it to an inner hotter area of the pile, the smell quickly went away.

When you put kitchen scraps in, I've always been taught to immediately put a layer of grass or recent green clippings on top and do a quick turn down. This doesn't completely prevent any animals from getting it, but it does help "bake" them if they are in the heart of the compost instead of a top layer.

Only once here have we noticed a bit of banana peel strayed outside the compost area. I'm not sure if a cat got/scared whatever was dragging it away or what happened, but we just picked it up and threw it back in. We have not noticed a higher uptick in creatures in the house. We do have quite a few feral cats in the neighborhood, though. Ours is an indoor only kitty. Our back yard in particular, though, has an abundance of greenery and berries in particular for them to snack on without them needing to hit up our compost.

I've seen squirrels and chipmunks so far, but I'm fairly certain we have a vole or two digging about. I haven't seen any moles or groundhogs, nor holes big enough for them. We do have some attic mice, but that was an odd "come and gone" thing. We think it was just one mama that had babies, because we didn't even trap, and then they were gone soon after we first heard the pitter patters. It might have been Kira's smell that scared them away. We really don't know.

Sean and I have remarked that since we moved here, we haven't seen any raccoons nor possums here, though we know they are here. The apartment we used to live in had a skunk family living under the front porch that we saw regularly. Only once have we seen one skunk here, and it was on the neighbor's front lawn, likely, as Willa noted, grubbing.
--Proud member of the Industrious Cheapskate Club
--Currently pondering ways to encourage thoughtful restovation and discourage mindless renovation.


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