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Compost from scratch - layers

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Compost from scratch - layers

Post  ETNRedClay on 5/2/2014, 11:47 pm

University extension sites explain loading a compost bin with layers of material.  Then you let them sit for a time and shovel into the next bin, or turn the pile, to speed decomp.  AND to mix it all up at the same time.

Are they talking about layering so you'll get the ratios right?  Or is there some reason to START the new pile in layers?

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  yolos on 5/3/2014, 12:20 am

I had the same question about layering when I first started composting.  Someone eventually told me that it was layered to get the ratios right and then mix up the layers immediately.  Don't know if you should mix up immediately but that is what I do now because it just seems logical.  Actually, I now measure by volume using 5 gallon containers.  Two containers of this, two containers of that, mix, water and start measuring again.

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  sanderson on 5/3/2014, 1:28 am

Yolos,  How long does it take for you to get usable compost, and, does it heat up?  What size is the original pile or enclosure?  Just curious.

Add: I perused "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide" and didn't really find an answer about why we layer. I only know I do it in my Berkeley pile and it slowly becomes mixed each time I disassemble and reassemble.

Maybe someone can find the answer.


Last edited by sanderson on 5/3/2014, 2:41 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Add:)

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  yolos on 5/3/2014, 9:48 am

@sanderson wrote:Yolos,  How long does it take for you to get usable compost, and, does it heat up?  What size is the original pile or enclosure?  Just curious.

Add:  I perused "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide" and didn't really find an answer about why we layer.  I only know I do it in my Berkeley pile and it slowly becomes mixed each time I disassemble and reassemble.

Maybe someone can find the answer.

It takes forever for me to get usable compost - 6 months to a year.  My main brown is live oak leaves and my main green are grass clippings.  The live oak leaves do not compost very fast. They have a lot of ligin in them and it just takes forever.  I try to get a hot pile.  I usually can keep it hot for a few weeks.  I turn it about every weekend depending on the heat.  I do this until it will not heat up.  Then I have to put in new greens (coffee grounds, blood meal, table scraps, grass clippings) because the leaves have not decomposed very much.  It still will not heat up much after that.  I then turn it about once a month.  All my compost ingredients have been finely shredded with a gas shredder.
My pile starts out in a 4 x 4 x 4.  Then when it cooks down a little it ends up in a 3 x 3 x 3.  Then after about 3 months of trying to keep it going, I put it in a 2 x 2 x 6 and keep it moist until I am ready to use it. 
This year I took my left over leaves in the fall/winter and put them in a holding bin and kept them moist.  Worms are crawling all thru this holding bin.  When we start getting grass clippings I will mix them in and maybe the leaves will decompose faster.

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  CapeCoddess on 5/3/2014, 5:41 pm

Mine takes about a year to decompose also, because of oak leaves. And even then they are not completely gone. But I use it anyway. I figure it has to be a good mulch as well as a compost.

Last fall a neighbor gave me a bunch of oak leaves in black bags to which I added urine. I haven't opened a bag yet to see what is happening in there. I thought I'd wait until they were a year old. But curiosity may just get the best of me especially since I'm writing about it now.

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  plantoid on 5/3/2014, 6:32 pm

@ETNRedClay wrote:University extension sites explain loading a compost bin with layers of material.  Then you let them sit for a time and shovel into the next bin, or turn the pile, to speed decomp.  AND to mix it all up at the same time.

Are they talking about layering so you'll get the ratios right?  Or is there some reason to START the new pile in layers?


 It's easier to put stuff in layers to start the initial decay and let juices , bugs & bacteria move through the heap till you turn it .

 Turning it oxygenates the heap & helps the beneficial bacteria & moulds grow , allows you to lightly spray water on the compost as you rebuild the pile / bin .

over the last few years I've played and changed things so that they are easier for me .. I try and stick to , " The Berkley 18 day hot composting method",  but am finding that I'm only able to do it as a 30  day or so  method due to disabilities .

 I'm kind of lucky for I have seven plastic lidded Dalek/conical  bins , I fill a bin with whatever is to hand, keep it well damp , use a garden claw to stir/ agitate  the top 4 inch or so layer before adding new material .  As it rots down usually end up combining three or more 2/3 rd filled bins into just two ,, this mixes things quite well .

 These secondary filled bins then get combined with other secondary bins of compost to make a full bin of good quality compost and when this has sat a few months I've been decanting it into strong heavy duty rubble sacks  carefully folding the tops over to keep rain out & then  leaving the worms in it to go through it for several months more to give me a compost with a high worm cast content ....it seems to work well for me  .

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  Marc Iverson on 5/3/2014, 6:41 pm

Oregon State University and its Master Gardening program do not recommend leaving material in layers. Doing so limits the biological activity. Which is not to say it cancels it out. It's just less than ideal.

Browns (carbon-rich and dry) and greens (nitrogen and moisture-rich) work well together, but on their own not as well. Too much green on its own without adequate carbons mixed in to bind it, for instance, can result in a lot of the nitrogen seeping down through the bottom of the pile and out into the ground. That both results in less nitrogen-rich compost and makes your compost shrink down more. Similarly, carbon on its own doesn't have the ideal level of either moisture or active biologicals to degrade it quickly. Once you mix it all up, as thoroughly as you can in as small pieces as you can get it, then one material can do its best to help the other make the most nutritionally rich compost, as quickly as possible, with minimal shrinkage.

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  plantoid on 5/3/2014, 6:52 pm

That minimum shrinkage is the secret to it all, as it is a nutrient filled desiccated material rather than a half rotted one that has had a lot of nutrients draining out of it while it decomposes so much .

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  camprn on 5/3/2014, 8:50 pm

@Marc Iverson wrote:Oregon State University and its Master Gardening program do not recommend leaving material in layers.  Doing so limits the biological activity.  Which is not to say it cancels it out.  It's just less than ideal.

Browns (carbon-rich and dry) and greens (nitrogen and moisture-rich) work well together, but on their own not as well.  Too much green on its own without adequate carbons mixed in to bind it, for instance, can result in a lot of the nitrogen seeping down through the bottom of the pile and out into the ground.  That both results in less nitrogen-rich compost and makes your compost shrink down more.  Similarly, carbon on its own doesn't have the ideal level of either moisture or active biologicals to degrade it quickly.  Once you mix it all up, as thoroughly as you can in as small pieces as you can get it, then one material can do its best to help the other make the most nutritionally rich compost, as quickly as possible, with minimal shrinkage.
Do you have a link to this info? It would be great if you could share it.

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  Marc Iverson on 5/3/2014, 9:18 pm

It was from both our textbook and our lectures. I can see if I can find a direct quote in my textbook, but unfortunately the book itself is not online.

A preliminary quote from a Master Composter course PDF which go toward what was noted above about the close mixture of greens and browns enabling better composting by encouraging more biological activity:

"The microorganisms in compost use carbon for energy and nitrogen for protein synthesis, just as we use carbohydrates for energy and protein to build and repair our bodies (shredding helps release Carbon -SA)"

p. 40, [underline]Intro to CEC and the C/N Ratio[/underline]

What the above quote highlights is that the decomposing microorganisms need both C and N at the same time to function optimally. Therefore it follows that whatever increases their access to both simultaneously -- finely shredding items to increase surface area, and thorough mixing to increase C/N proximity -- will increase their biological activity.

The above does not address how thorough mixing reduces shrinkage. And it leaves untouched another question which arises -- is it good to leave some greens whole, so they decompose more slowly and therefore feed the carbon/nitrogen fuel system over a longer period rather than draining out of the bottom of the pile too quickly? And if so, what percentage of greens and what is the ideal particle size of green materials given X particle size of available browns?




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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  Marc Iverson on 5/3/2014, 10:24 pm

Here is a link to some of the OSU materials on composting:

http://extension.oregonstate.edu/lincoln/master-composters




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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  camprn on 5/3/2014, 10:34 pm

http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/factsheets.htm

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  landarch on 5/4/2014, 8:36 am

I've learned that there are two basic methods of composting; passive and active.  If you want to build a pile and let it sit for a year or so without doing any work, layering right from the start is probably worth doing.

If you want usable compost sooner and are willing to aerate and water the pile (turn the pile) then layering form the beginning probably isn't necessary but gets you a head start on blending everything up.

I would also mention that water is very important...I have four large bur oak trees in my yard (leaves the size of small violins) so I mulch them twice with my Honda Quadracut lawnmower...it is a dry, dusty mess.  We've had tons of snow and rain since then and I'm still finding pockets of dry leaves deep in the pile and I sweat I soaked everything down that I put in the pile with the hose.

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  yolos on 5/4/2014, 9:45 am

This is a good explanation of the moisture needed in a pile.  I never liked the statement "it should be as wet as a well wrung out sponge".  The following quote is from one of the Cornell fact sheets that is referenced above.

Optimum moisture content for compost is 40-60%, damp enough so that a handful feels moist to the touch, but dry enough that a hard squeeze produces no more than a drop or two of liquid.

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  llama momma on 5/4/2014, 10:23 am

That's Right Yolos, the reasoning behind that -  is too much water forces out oxygen from the small pore spaces where the bacteria needs not only some moisture but sufficient oxygen to multiply quickly.

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  camprn on 5/4/2014, 11:08 am

I think that the layering is used in the quick composting method to allow the microbes access to the elements they need to multiply and do their business. If you pour into the bi four feet of leaves and then 2 feet of grass clippings, those elements are not available throughout the pils and the composting process takes longer.

http://web.extension.illinois.edu/homecompost/building.cfm

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  plantoid on 5/4/2014, 4:15 pm

The above does not address how thorough mixing reduces shrinkage. And it leaves untouched another question which arises -- is it good to leave some greens whole, so they decompose more slowly and therefore feed the carbon/nitrogen fuel system over a longer period rather than draining out of the bottom of the pile too quickly? And if so, what percentage of greens and what is the ideal particle size of green materials given X particle size of available browns?

 @ Mark

 When you get the better ratios of C, N & O,  the heat produced by the bacterial & fungal actions  in the pile causes the moisture to quickly evaporate if there is no lid on it. This is the reason for a greater volume ( less shrinkage ) of compost.
 
So the pile actually dries out whilst holding most of the nutrients and a good amount of material that will decompose further when it is mixed up in the warm moist dark soil .

 The nutrients absorbed by the drying matter start to return it to a liquid or gel form once in it in warm moist soil .

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  camprn on 5/4/2014, 5:41 pm

Planetoid, did you see the previously posted link to Cornell composting?

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  kensadams on 5/29/2014, 1:17 pm

Hey Gang - quick question on making compost.

I put a ton of leaves about a year ago into one side of my composter - they are partially decomposed and would be a good brown to use - but there is a fair amount of pine needles mixed in due to the number of pine trees around.

Should I be concerned about the pine needles having an impact on pH of the final compost or would the impact be minimal?

Thanks for any insight you can share!

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  CapeCoddess on 5/29/2014, 5:10 pm

A few pine needles, not a lot, seem to be harmless in the compost, but I prefer to save them to use as mulch.

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  camprn on 5/29/2014, 6:39 pm

Naw, no worries. Once they break down, the resulting compost from pine needles is about neutral in pH.

Carry on!

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  kensadams on 5/29/2014, 8:29 pm

Thanks!

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  Windmere on 5/29/2014, 8:54 pm

@camprn wrote:Naw, no worries. Once they break down, the resulting compost from pine needles is about neutral in pH.

Carry on!
Yay!  I have more than an abundance of pine needles.  I love the earthy smell of my finished pine needle compost!

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  sanderson on 6/30/2014, 9:55 pm

I don't want to start a new topic so I'm using this one.  Here's the question:  Can I top off the last 1 foot of the Berkeley pile with alternating layers of sweet alfalfa hay and horse manure?

I started building the 3 x 3 x 3 cage yesterday evening.  We are around 100* and the chopped fruits/veggies started rotting and getting moldy by the time I quit for the evening.  This morning the pile was much shorter.  I think the fruits, especially, liquified and ran out the bottom, also due to the pressure from the overall weight.  I thought I had judged the overall volume of ingredients pretty good, but this morning it was real obvious it wasn't.  [Duh, second time I've done this.]  The main ingredients were going to be dry leaves, coffee and summer produce culls from the Farmer Market's.

This morning, DH found some dry horse manure about 1-1 1/2 months old, and bought a bail of alfalfa hay to supplement the leaves. I got it built to 2' before the heat go me, and still have a foot to go.  All I have left is basically alfalfa feed hay and manure, and a cup of blood meal. Will this work for the last foot?

Thank you

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

Post  camprn on 7/1/2014, 6:28 pm

Just toss the alfalfa in the bin. Save the dried blood.

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Re: Compost from scratch - layers

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