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restarting an old compost pile

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restarting an old compost pile

Post  Pepper on 6/18/2012, 1:10 pm

Last fall I started composting in preparation to gardening. I bought a chipper shreader and toted leaves in by the trailer full(5by10). So much so the misses said "NO MORE TILL YOU FINISH THESE". My bales are made of 2in by 4in regular fence wire cut to 12.5 feet. I cut one side smooth and the other side has the 2in tag end which I bend around the other smooth side to hold the bale together. So my bales are 4 ft tall and about 4 ft across/round. Most of the folks around here in the city use 'weed and feed', and other chemical fertilizers so grass clippings are out. I added rabbit food and coffee grounds to the leaves till I had 5 bales going. I never really did get the "hottie" thing going on so over time other things took center stage. So now my problem is how to restart old water logged time compressed piles.

So I gathered up some 'addatives"

and coffee grounds and some non treated grass( pic taken when nearly finished)

Then started rebuilding a new bale from this old pile.

It seems like every fork full had to be 'broken up from the clump' it had become. The outside of the old bale was dry so I mixed everything up added the "greens" addatives watered it down. After each layer I would stick the fork in and twist things up to get a better mix.

Here is hoping this works

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  toledobend on 6/18/2012, 2:32 pm

Maybe a little off your topic, but I have the exact same setup, but i got tired of raking around the bin every time I turned it. I used plastic 1/4" hardware net 15'x3' (about $15.00) and it keeps all the stuff in the bin.

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  crs on 6/18/2012, 2:56 pm

Let me know if it gets hot. I have been trying for 2 months and can't get heat Mad Haven't put any store bought ingredients but that is gonna be my next step. Mainly straw, dried grass clippings, cardboard, kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells and alpaca poo. Turning every other day or 2 and watering I am not sure that i am watering enough though. I am going to start watering in between pitch fork layers. I also have a tumbler that i am about ready to dump on the ground to see if I can get that one going at all. Was going to try and save money but at this rate I will have to give up sfg! Sad Sad Sad

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  WardinWake on 6/18/2012, 3:19 pm

@crs wrote:Let me know if it gets hot. I have been trying for 2 months and can't get heat Mad Haven't put any store bought ingredients but that is gonna be my next step. Mainly straw, dried grass clippings, cardboard, kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells and alpaca poo. Turning every other day or 2 and watering I am not sure that i am watering enough though. I am going to start watering in between pitch fork layers. I also have a tumbler that i am about ready to dump on the ground to see if I can get that one going at all. Was going to try and save money but at this rate I will have to give up sfg! Sad Sad Sad

CRS: To check for proper moisture in your pile reach in and pull out a hand full and give it a squeeze. You should get a few drops of water. If you do not you need to add water. If you get a mushy mess you have too much water. BTW coffee grounds are considered a "green" in a compost pile. Another way to check for proper moisture levels is to sniff the hand full. If it smell dry is it too dry. If it smells like a swamp it is too wet.

God Bless, Ward and Mary.

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  Pepper on 6/18/2012, 3:21 pm

I am a first year gardener so this is a "LEARN AS I GO "project. All suggestions are welcome!!!!!!

@ toledobend to the forum. That is a great idea . I too get tired of constantly picking it up, I have found the worms love it though.

@ crs Oh I will let ya know. I am documenting my successes and failures. That way a wise person can learn from my mistakes or successes just like I learn from these threads.

thanks WardinWake that may be why I never got the "HOTTIE" thing goin. Please jump in with your assistance at any time. I need all the help I can get.

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  plantoid on 6/18/2012, 5:16 pm

Pepper and others who have an already made cold compost heap for over 10 months old without doing anything to it after the initial biulding.

After nearly year most of the heap will have cold composted in any case , you will not benefit from the retention of nutrients or the bulk volume of the hot compost as a lot of it will have washes away or rotted down even further and leeched away .

So trying to remake it as a hot heap will be fairly pointless unless you are going to used this heap as part components for a hot heap .

I for one wouldn't bother with it , I'd just use it in the beds neat as needed and put up with the weed seeds . There will still be some very useful nutrient contentton it but the bulk volume will be almost one third less of a hot composted pile .

One thing I would do though before using it is rub it through a 1/4 inch garden sieve to remove any big lumps.

If the heap has any mother earth soil in it perhaps not use it in my ANSFG beds . ( why undo what you have learnt from Mel and his soil less growth medium system ? )

Perhaps instead spread it out on my lawns or other non ANSFG beds to ease out a few hollows or as a lower quality enrichment additive than hot composted materials or use it in plant pots and tubs .

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  Kelejan on 6/18/2012, 5:32 pm

Yesterday I spent the better part of three hours turning my main compost box that consists of four 4x4 SFGs stacked one upon the other giving me a four foot cube. My intention was to sift the bottom as I usually do, and turn over the rest.

The first two feet were pretty easy, then I came to a layer of leaves that I had put in there last fall. And weren't they packed solid, and wet? Then I remembered that I had dumped them in there after collecting them, but I had done nothing about them at the time or since. After all the rain we have had this year, it is no wonder that they were a solid lump. No air circulation and precious few greens added.

The top layer had plenty of worms, but when I came to this layer, obviously nothing had happened. The leaves were still the brown colour of autumn instead of the rich dark of composted leaves. It did not smell too bad, but there was a definite odour there, unlike the top layers.

So, newbies, don't beat your selves up not doing it right first time. Even someone like me who has read enough to know what's what and thinks she knows it all, can make mistakes and can do better next time. Very Happy


Last edited by Kelejan on 6/18/2012, 5:41 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Why is it I never see the spelling mistakes my computer makes until I post?)

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  ramarks on 6/18/2012, 9:26 pm

This topic came up in another forum - thought it might be helpful here.

ramarks wrote:
Wow - I'd never heard of the Berkeley Method of hot composting - and UC Berkeley is just down the road from me.

This is the site I checked out - Hot Composting

Very clearly explained and illustrated. Having compost in 18 days is worth trying.

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  Pepper on 6/19/2012, 12:43 pm

Plantoid, I defer to your experience. Since these are only about 5-6 months slack and were turned several times before me letting them go slack I feel I need to atleast try. It may just end up a tribute to frutility but it will be documented as a failure. I have several of those on here already. I may just use the outsides of the 4 bales I have left that are dry and not wet compressed.

@ ramarks thank you for posting the link; I did a desktop shortcut of it just to see I had it on my desktop already Laughing

@ Kelejan your last paragraph says it all:

"So, newbies, don't beat your selves up not doing it right first time. Even someone like me who has read enough to know what's what and thinks she knows it all, can make mistakes and can do better next time. Very Happy"

Sister

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  Pepper on 6/19/2012, 4:29 pm

I don't have a thermometer but the cool tent pole heated up amazingly hot after about 15 seconds. I plan to turn this pile starting Thursday every other day.

Plantoid since the pile is heating up do you still think this is a waste of time?

Now should I continue to add 'green material' every time I turn the pile or just keep adding water only??????????

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  Kelejan on 6/19/2012, 6:22 pm

@Pepper wrote:I don't have a thermometer but the cool tent pole heated up amazingly hot after about 15 seconds. I plan to turn this pile starting Thursday every other day.

Plantoid since the pile is heating up do you still think this is a waste of time?

Now should I continue to add 'green material' every time I turn the pile or just keep adding water only??????????

I think you may have cracked it, Pepper. I look forward to hearing Plantoid's advice whether to add more greens. I plan to add some chcicken manure to the pile then as I know I have a shortage of 'greens'. When I turned mine over this past weekend, I marked on my calender a reminder to turn it over on Thursday, then every other day, so we are on the same schedule. It will be interesting to compare notes.

I have just been out to have a look at my pile and to remove all the water that had collected there after a very heavy thunderstorm. I am so very glad that I covered it up with plastic, there was quite a pond in the middle, I could have had a couple of goldfish there and they would have been quite happy. It is again raining heavily right now, and the air is downright chilly. We have been in the high 50Fs and low 60Fs recently but are promised warmer temperatures starting tomorrow.

I have one strawberry just turning pink, all the rest are green.

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  Kelejan on 6/19/2012, 6:31 pm

Reading my last post here, I mentioned having a couple of goldfish in the sagging plastic on top of my compost heap.

Now there's a thought. What about a raised goldfish pond? Last time I had a pond I spent hours digging into the ground to make it deep enough. Must get down to planning for next year.

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  RoOsTeR on 6/19/2012, 7:06 pm

@Pepper wrote:I don't have a thermometer but the cool tent pole heated up amazingly hot after about 15 seconds. I plan to turn this pile starting Thursday every other day.

Plantoid since the pile is heating up do you still think this is a waste of time?

Now should I continue to add 'green material' every time I turn the pile or just keep adding water only??????????

Why turn the pile Thursday? If your pile is hot, leave it be. You don't need to turn your pile till it starts dropping temps. At that point you know the bugs need more food and it's time to turn and perhaps add more moisture. I turn my compost no more than once a week, sometimes longer if it's still really cooking. Turning too much will disrupt the process, and in my opinion just make for a longer time composting. Also, the above link is a good source for information, but pretty misleading. Finished compost in 18 days is far from typical. Be patient, the process is going to happen regardless.
Just my .02, but if I had leftover compost, I would throw it in the pile and use it.

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  floyd1440 on 6/19/2012, 8:04 pm

I had a sililar problem with my pile cooling down as I had a lot of leaf mold that I added this spring. got some rabbit food and after a couple of days it had gone over 140 degrees.

Got one of those areators and it works great and have only used it once since it has been hot. Just let it cook and do its thing..Am new at this process but I feel it is essential for the future of my garden.



Shocked

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  Pepper on 6/20/2012, 12:17 am

Thanks for all the input. As a rookie this is one thing that has stumped me the most.

@ Kelejan: raised goldfish pond: TOO FUNNY and yes we are on the same schedule if I use the link's suggestion. Being a lazy gardener I am leaning to RoOsTeR's ideas.

@ floyd1440 Tell me more about this "areators"; turning can be such a pain. But 'no pain no gain' as they say....

@ RoOsTeR thanks for your advise. So I take it from your post just add water when I do turn the pile. I have more than plenty of coffee grounds( thanks to a nearby Starbucks) but seems like to much old coffee would hurt the PH levels.

Time to order a compost thermometer

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  camprn on 6/20/2012, 6:34 am

It may be worth sifting out the completed compost. The incompletely decomposed stuff back in the bin and the done stuff into the garden.
Coffee grounds are considered neutral pH.

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  plantoid on 6/20/2012, 9:29 am

Hi Pepper , Going back a few posts.

I see that you have used the old material that is part or completely composted . adding the new materials to it and wetting & turning it will indeed give some temperature rise as the new ingredients start to decay and get attacked by the bacteria in the old material but I doubt that you will experience the massive rise in temperatures offered in the Berkley method of 50 centigrade 125 oF so you may well still end up with a shed load of weed seeds in the finished material as the temps will not have reached seed killing point.

To do that you would need to go the 2/3 route using new materials with 1/3 of the old stuff .as told in the Berkley link , though they reccommend using a 1/3 of composted manure to rework an old heap if memory serves me correct.



Now that the heap is heating make a decision as to when enough will be enough and stop adding to the heap then take it through the stages of decomposition/compostiing , for if you are continually adding new stuff to the heap the process will never be fully complete .




A while back posssibly in March or April " Too Tall Tomatoes " reworked a big heap and by the time all the new ingredients were added it seems to have changed from an old heap to a fantastic new Berkley method formula.. They recorded some fantastic temperatures and I think managed to have great finished Compost in just over a month .


I'm AFKB for a few days with a funeral etc. and hope to be back here on Monday . Hope you do reach the higher temps in the meantime

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  WardinWake on 6/20/2012, 4:47 pm

@Pepper wrote:Thanks for all the input. As a rookie this is one thing that has stumped me the most.

@ Kelejan: raised goldfish pond: TOO FUNNY and yes we are on the same schedule if I use the link's suggestion. Being a lazy gardener I am leaning to RoOsTeR's ideas.

@ floyd1440 Tell me more about this "areators"; turning can be such a pain. But 'no pain no gain' as they say....

@ RoOsTeR thanks for your advise. So I take it from your post just add water when I do turn the pile. I have more than plenty of coffee grounds( thanks to a nearby Starbucks) but seems like to much old coffee would hurt the PH levels.

Time to order a compost thermometer

Howdy: Used coffee grounds are nearly neutral in PH, so use all you want. BTW used coffee grounds are considered to be a "green" in the compost pile.

God Bless, Ward and Mary.

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  floyd1440 on 6/20/2012, 7:30 pm

@Pepper wrote:Thanks for all the input. As a rookie this is one thing that has stumped me the most.

@ Kelejan: raised goldfish pond: TOO FUNNY and yes we are on the same schedule if I use the link's suggestion. Being a lazy gardener I am leaning to RoOsTeR's ideas.

@ floyd1440 Tell me more about this "areators"; turning can be such a pain. But 'no pain no gain' as they say....

@ RoOsTeR thanks for your advise. So I take it from your post just add water when I do turn the pile. I have more than plenty of coffee grounds( thanks to a nearby Starbucks) but seems like to much old coffee would hurt the PH levels.

Time to order a compost thermometer

This is the tool I use

http://www.bing.com/shopping/bosmere-36-compost-aerator/p/ADF5B46AF26359739285?q=compost+aerator&lpq=compost%20aerator&FORM=HURE

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  llama momma on 6/20/2012, 10:32 pm

Rebars are really inexpensive and at 4 ft. they are pretty heavy for their size and easily poke holes in the compost. I leave mine in the slats of the wooden pallet for easy access.

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  GWN on 6/21/2012, 12:06 am

Hi Pepper
I love any discussion about composting. Seems like one of those topics that you never run out of something else to say about.
There are 2 camps when it comes to hot composting, the ones who are against it argue that at those high temps all the nutrients are lost and of course those who are for it would like to do it faster and to kill weed seeds and ?? weed roots.

I am interesting in your chipper shredder. I have had the really big ones in the past (the ones you can put a full tree into), but just yesterday my DH surprised me with a mulcher shredder, one that we can put twigs in up to about half an inch in diameter....
So I have spent the day putting all the tomato plant carcasses from last year through the shredder so that they can compost faster.

I have also started a new pile today, layering and adding water etc.
So far the hottest I have gotten my pile is up to 121 degrees. Hoping this time to get to 140 ....
It is fun having a thermometer, I get up and first thing in the morning head out to see what the temp in my compost is....

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  Coelli on 6/21/2012, 12:11 am

I just got one yesterday that's similar to the one Floyd linked. It's this one:

http://www.amazon.com/Yard-Butler-CA-36-Compost-Turner/dp/B000RYL1BQ

It doesn't work as advertised; the wings don't open when you pull it up, which a lot of the reviews complained about. However, it worked well enough to mix and turn the contents of my bin, which is a trash can with a bunch of holes drilled in it. It went easily to the bottom of the bin and did let me mix it up.

The bin is sitting in the hot SoCal sun and I think it's finally going to break down quickly now that it's getting turned and watered. It's pretty much exclusively a mix of kitchen scraps & eggshells, LOTS of coffee grounds (thanks, Starbucks!), the occasional trimmings from the garden, and my guinea pig's bedding which is compostable; it's like soft paper granules. I have a feeling I'll have some fine compost in just a few more weeks at this rate, and it's only been a few weeks! It already smells fabulous, but I guess that could be the coffee. Very Happy We don't have any trees or lawn, just bare dirt/dead grass, so I've been struggling to find materials for compost.

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  Pepper on 6/21/2012, 3:40 pm

my shreader

I got a 'steal' on it used, was left as a consignment for far too long as deposit on unpaid bill. It does have it's issues; the leaves seldom gravity feed so I made a pusher stick that won't make it to the blades.

me using the stick to push several hands full from the wheel barrow

I carted in many trailer loads of bagged leaves from the neighborhood almost exclusively the large leaf and acorn oak leaves. Here is four of the five 4ft by 4ft round bales I chopped and tried to compost.

I made the bales from regular fence wire the 4in tall 2in wide 4ft tall kind. Cut to 12 ft 6in makes about 4ft diameter bale. I cut one side close to the vertical strand the other the same way so that one end has a 2in 'tag'(sharp) end that I bend over the smoth side to close the bale. Just open the bend to loosen the wire to remove. Reform the wire bale turn the mix into the now empty cage.

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  camprn on 6/21/2012, 3:45 pm

FARM TROUT! That's AWESOME! nice color too. Very Happy
I do something similar with the holding pens and when I get enough grass clippings in another pile and lots of garden and kitchen scraps, I build my compost pile in the Autumn, by layering and watering. A few weeks of turning and then let winter do the rest...

You are so going to be a hottie!! okay

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Re: restarting an old compost pile

Post  Kelejan on 6/21/2012, 3:57 pm

Very Happy I have one of those compost turners; it goes in OK but usually is very had to pull up.

Anyway, I turned my heap this morning and it was much easier going after the three hours I spent last Sunday. The pile was getting warmer, but I think I will leave it more than the two days suggested. I have covered it with black weed cloth and if it rains I have a sheet of plastic to cover it as the compost is still too damp in my opinion. Today we have warm weather, then more rain in a few days time.

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