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Newbie composter help, please?

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Newbie composter help, please?

Post  ander217 on 12/20/2010, 6:46 pm

We pick up rice hulls by the truckload. We try to get the really old stuff that's been sitting in the field for several years. It's almost like soil in itself.

This may be a really dumb compost newbie question, but since there is nothing else added to the rice hulls during their breakdown period, do they count as a kind of compost all on their own, or are they still brown material which should be further composted before using?

What about oak leaves? We have acres of them around us that break down over the winter, but I'm afraid they are too acidic to use as compost. Or do I worry too much?

If I mixed the old rice hulls with some leaf mulch I got from the woods, and threw in some old sheep manure from our shed, then bought some cow manure and commercial compost and mixed it all together would that count as five kinds of compost for the MM?

I can't seem to get my head around this composting business.





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Re: Newbie composter help, please?

Post  middlemamma on 12/20/2010, 6:56 pm

I am with you Ander...I get very confused also....and everywhere you look you find things that say IT'S EASY....pft...I don't hink so! lol

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Re: Newbie composter help, please?

Post  boffer on 12/20/2010, 11:59 pm

I never heard of rice hulls until I started reading the forum! If they have broken down and are not recognizable, then they are considered to be compost ready to use. I guess it's a matter of who you want to believe about oak leaf acidity issues. I've read enough to convince me that it's not a problem in veggie gardening, and oak leaves have been 20% of my MM for the last four years.

Here's what works for me. I take Mel's advice: closies count. I can never remember what's green and what's brown. So, I decided that I want some vegetable matter compost, and I want some poop compost. I usually go 3 poops and 2 veggies. Why? It's easy for me. It goes like this:

In October, my BIL delivers 7-8 yards of compacted oak leaves. They just sit around most of the winter. The following summer, I dump the grass clippings from a half acre onto the pile. When I have the time and energy, I haul home a yard of steer manure and a yard of mushroom compost. The following spring, it's ready to use. I've been purchasing composted chicken manure by the bag. When it's time to make MM, I use 4 buckets of my compost and 1 bucket of chicken manure to make up my 5 types of compost. Ideally, I would compost my leaves and grass separately to see how small they compost down to. Then I would have a better idea of the real mix ratio...nah...too much work...closies count! It's a process that has evolved over time, and it works for me. I don't use amendments...mainly because I'm happy the way stuff grows for me in my Mel's Mix.

Ander, I think your combination looks similar to mine, and I would use it. A general rule of thumb is that your compost is ready when there is nothing identifiable in it, and it smells like rich topsoil.

If you're wondering, it is a big pile, and I give away more than I use. I also have a tractor to turn the pile with.


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Re: Newbie composter help, please?

Post  camprn on 12/21/2010, 6:28 am

@boffer wrote: I take Mel's advice: closies count.

+1

@boffer wrote:I also have a tractor to turn the pile with.

I am sooooooo jealous!!! rendeer

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tractor?

Post  ander217 on 12/21/2010, 7:26 am

Thanks, Boffer. Here's another dumb question for you.

How do you turn your pile with a tractor?

Make that two questions -

How do you keep animals from getting in your pile and scattering it all over creation?

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Re: Newbie composter help, please?

Post  boffer on 12/21/2010, 11:32 am

The tractor has a front end loader (bucket). It saves lots of wear and tear on my body, which also adds to my waistline!

Nobody messes with my big pile. I have a small pile for veggie scraps closer to the house that a coon gets into once in a while, but that's about it. I don't have your vole problem either. I think my consolation prize for having cooler summer weather here, is having less insect and critter problems. sunny

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Just my luck

Post  ander217 on 12/22/2010, 8:33 am

@boffer wrote:The tractor has a front end loader (bucket). It saves lots of wear and tear on my body, which also adds to my waistline!

Hubby and son have been wanting to purchase a front-end loader for their tractor, but so far hadn't been able to justify the purchase. Hubby reads the forum, so it's just my luck he'll read your post. (There goes my new upstairs bathroom - again! It got pushed to the back burner the first time when they bought the tractor. "Honey, don't worry, we're just looking for a small tractor to use for mowing the pondbank, moving hay, and grading the driveway." What do they come home with? A 131 hp turbocharged 1086 International! "But it was too good a bargain to pass up.")

All I can say is, if this tips the balance and they buy a front-end loader, I'd better have the biggest freakin' compost pile in the state of Missouri.

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Re: Newbie composter help, please?

Post  boffer on 12/22/2010, 10:18 am

@ander217 wrote:...All I can say is, if this tips the balance and they buy a front-end loader, I'd better have the biggest freakin' compost pile in the state of Missouri.
darn funny


That's a BIG tractor! Your guys are farming how many sections?! Wink

Actually, if your compost pile got that big, you could use the heat generated to warm your green house or their shop. rock on

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Re: Newbie composter help, please?

Post  davidclubb on 12/22/2010, 1:51 pm

Hi Ander:
You should go to www.compostinfo.com It is produced by the university of Florida. The concept of composting is stated in simple terms, and impressively thorough. I am finding it to be quite helpful in my composting efforts. It is only about 45 pages in length, from start to finish.

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Re: Newbie composter help, please?

Post  davidclubb on 12/22/2010, 1:53 pm

By the way! Lots of illustrations

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Pictures

Post  ander217 on 12/23/2010, 7:41 am

Thank you, David. Maybe the pictures will help.

One thing I learned on the site that I didn't think about was covering the pile to keep out critters.

Sometimes it's the simplest things that elude me. geek

Although, I'm still trying to think of what cover I could use that my Lillie dog wouldn't shred to mulch in five minutes. We live in an earth-bermed home and she runs up the retaining wall, gets on the roof, and chews on the vent pipes, the shingles, she ate the air conditioner cover, etc. (It really freaked me out the night coyotes jumped up there trying to get her. It sounded like a herd of buffalo stomping around on top of the house, yapping and yodeling. Thankfully she runs like the wind and got away from them and, we assume, hid out for awhile before coming home. I really thought we'd lost her for good that night. She's supposed to protect our sheep from any coyotes who try to breach the fence. It may be time to rethink that plan.)

Life is never dull around here. You'd think making compost would be a piece of cake for us, but not so far. As I always say, try, try again.

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Re: Newbie composter help, please?

Post  davidclubb on 12/23/2010, 9:52 am


According to the composting website, the reason you might be attracting flies, animals or etc is because the top layer of your compost pile is rich in nitrogen (fresh food scraps, animal waste, fresh grass clippings and etc). You should lay down a four inch layer of brown matter like dried leaves, ashes, rice hulls. If you're using a 3 ft x 3 ft x 3 ft bin, the site says you should build your pile in alternating 4 inch layers, which is about twenty gallons of material. What I mean by alternating is laying down a layer of brown matter (carbon), then laying down a green layer (nitrogen). Make sure you add moisture to each layer. Wet a rag and ring it out. That is how much moisture you should add to each layer. The reason for this is to create just enough moisture to heat up the pile to 130 degrees Farenheit. If you can maintain that temperature for 3 days, any weed seed in the pile will be killed. Hope this helps. Let us know how it works out.

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Re: Newbie composter help, please?

Post  Odd Duck on 12/23/2010, 4:18 pm

It can sound complicated, but it really isn't. It's mostly just piling stuff up, trying to mix up "greens" and "browns" , then leaving it to rot until it's rotted enough it's no longer identifiable. You can get fancy and try to make "perfect" compost, but you just don't need to be that careful. The only thing I consider really important is to make sure any "greens" are buried deep enough to not attract pests or smell bad.

I'll list my "usual" technique here, but everyone will develop their own way that works for them. This is going to sound like a lot of hassle, but it's really just using what I have, when it's convenient for me to do so.

My usual way of building a compost heap starts with saving up a bunch of browns, sometimes shredded, sometimes not. Then I get my manure (sometimes have to save up small quantities from my friend Dot's horses [we trade empty for full buckets every Monday] or I go get some from the local guy's cow pasture that I found via freecycle.net). I may or may not have a bunch of green garden wastes ready (sometimes I'll have a bunch of melon vines, outer cabbage leaves, outer leaves from the chard that are a bit holey or just old and past prime, etc, plus whatever I happen to have in my indoor veggie waste bin).

I layer 3-4" of browns (leaves, small branches - like shrub or tree trimmings, preferably shredded, but not always, coarse chainsaw dust, shredded larger branches - looks just like super coarse sawdust, whatever browns I can get), then I lay down some fresh (or dried) manure - 1-3" depending on how much I have, I'll layer in another 1-3" of green veggie waste depending on how much of whatever greens I have to get a 2-4" total layer of greens (manure being a "green"), then repeat until all of the GREENS are used up. I ALWAYS keep back at least a double or triple thick layer of browns to top off the pile.

Then, as I produce kitchen waste, I dig a hole deep enough into this extra thick layer of browns to be able to bury the scraps and cover them completely with at least 6-8 inches of browns. Some people keep ready-to-use shredded browns off to the side to cover the fresh veggie trimmings to keep from attracting pests.

As this heap shrinks down and the bottom layers mature, I'm accumulating browns again (I have several rolling, trashcan type bins I use). I'm still just adding my veggie scraps into the top of the heap, though, I don't keep a big bin of veggie scraps. Once I have enough browns to at least 1/2 fill my empty heap area, I get more manure and start layering again in the new location with the accumulated materials. Remember to save out at least a double layer of browns again.

Onto the top of the new layers, I turn the top 1/4 to 3/4 of the old heap, digging until I get down to material in the old spot that looks, feels and smells like compost (guess what, it IS compost). This older, partially decomposed material from the top of the old heap (still with nasty, half-rotted scraps in it) helps get the new heap off to a running start. Be sure to top this partially composted stuff with the set aside browns or you could attract pests.

The bottom layer of the old heap is usually completely ready to use, but if I find a few too many big chunks, I just turn and mix it in place every few days for a week or 2, to finish it a bit more. This stuff is very easy to turn, because it's fine, crumbly (and oddly fluffy for stuff that was underneath a bunch of layers) and is easily mixed with a garden fork.

The amount of ready compost I get depends on the particular mix I started with (especially how much manure), the average temperature, the amount of rain we got, how long the heap has been in place, etc. I will also toss any big chunks of woody material right over into the new heap (those darn peach pits, for instance). There are no slimy, gross bits and no odor of manure left in the bottom part of the heap unless I really got in a hurry. If there is, that means it isn't compost yet and I just keep turning all of the material from the "old" spot into the new spot, cover with the saved browns, and work on my patience!

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Re: Newbie composter help, please?

Post  GardenZen on 12/25/2010, 7:52 pm

Great explanation OD.

I was debating whether to mix horse manure with my leaves or have separate piles.

I have a few horses roaming here and was reading up on ways to compost the horse manure alone.

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Re: Newbie composter help, please?

Post  Megan on 12/27/2010, 8:45 am

Hi GardenZen,

When I was growing up on our small farm, all the horse manure/bedding, gardening detritus, etc, wound up in one HUGE pile. It took a long time to cook, but always grew great volunteer veggies. Very Happy No science whatsoever to it, but it did seem to work.

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too complicated?

Post  ander217 on 12/27/2010, 2:25 pm

Maybe I'm just making this all too complicated.

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Re: Newbie composter help, please?

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